By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—On the same day the Clerk of the House certified a bill that would allow for what may become the largest tax increase in the history of the city of Auburn, Auburn Network, owned by Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, received a contract giving his company exclusive rights to broadcast Auburn High School sports.
In a scheme that has become all too familiar, it appears Speaker Hubbard may have traded legislative favors for personal financial gain.
It was rumored during the 2013 legislative session that Hubbard agreed to allow a tax referendum to pass the Alabama House in exchange for Auburn School Superintendent Karen Delano’s promise to grant Hubbard the rights to broadcast the city’s high school sports programs.
Repeated calls by alreporter.com to Delano’s office and repeated promises by her assistant that Delano would return our calls went unfulfilled.
On May 20, 2013, HB266 received House Certification becoming Act No. 2013-321 giving the City of Auburn the right to hold a referendum to raise ad valorem tax on the property owners of the city.
The contract between Hubbard’s Auburn Network, Inc., and Auburn City Schools was signed by Auburn City School Superintendent DeLano the same day. That was also the same day the bill was transmitted to Gov. Robert Bentley for his signature .
For over six decades, WAUD radio in Auburn was the home of the Auburn High School teams. According to station owner Tom Hayley he was not informed that the school system was switching the contract to the Hubbard-owned network.
“We did not get a request for FOP or a bid or anything like that,” said Hayley.
Hayley is the owner of several radio stations in the Auburn market as well as being one of the area’s top real estate developers and entrepreneurs. Hayley has long family ties to the City of Auburn and the University. Hayley’s father, Lee, was Auburn athletic director, assistant coach and player during the Shug Jordan era.
Hayley said he had also heard that Hubbard had a quid pro quo arrangement with DeLano for the the high school sports broadcast rights. “The big word around here is that he [Hubbard] was promised the contract if the bill got through for the school tax,” said Hayley.
The contract between Hubbard’s Auburn Network and the Auburn school system was signed by Auburn Network, VP Chris Hines on May 15, a full five days before the DeLano added her signature.
According to the Auburn Network website, “Hines oversees operations of the corporation’s various divisions and also maintains the company’s financial accounting system”
Interestingly, Hines is also the treasurer of Hubbard’s political action committee Storming the Statehouse PAC. According to a recent campaign filing with the Secretary of State, Hines was pay $5000 in July by the Hubbard-controlled PAC for undisclosed reasons.
Over the years, Hubbard has derided democrats for “higher taxes and wasteful spending…” in 2010 calling for “a revolution in Alabama.” However, in 2013, Hubbard, along with the republican supermajority, approved one of the largest tax hikes in Alabama’s history raising taxes in Auburn by as much as 17 percent as reported by an expert analysis.
But like Hubbard’s contracts with the Southeastern Alabama Gas District (SEAGD) and American Pharmacy Cooperative, Inc., Hubbard has proven he will bend or even break the rules for personal gain.
According the the City of Auburn’s website, the tax hike would allow the city to raise an additional $8.5 million in annual revenue, with a total of $96.6 million for schools. Superintendent DeLano along with Mayor Bill Ham and City Manager Charlie Duggan have been the prime movers behind the tax increase.
According to a report by the Opelika-Auburn News, Mayor Ham said, “This is about education, this is not about government,[or] about politics.”
But Hubbard has established a pattern and practice during his tenure as Speaker of the House of bending and breaking the rules if it adds to his personal wealth.