By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — In March, the Alabama Political Reporter wrote of a clandestine strategy to eliminate the Alabama Historical Commission.
Reportedly devised under the aegis of Senate President Pro Tem and House General Fund Budget, Chair Steve Clouse, HB584, sponsored by Rep. Mike Holmes (R-Wetumpka), would dismantle the Alabama Historical Commission, terminate all staff, and shutter its building.
The Commission is “responsible for fostering the historical heritage of the State of Alabama and the preservation of historic sites, buildings and objects within the State.” The Bill would transfer the “responsibilities of the State Historic Preservation Office and State Archeologist, Fort Mims, and the preservation supervision of the State Capitol, to the Alabama Department of Archives and History.”
The Bill would also transfer the properties of Fort Morgan, Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson, Old Cahawba, and the Confederate Memorial Park to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Those with inside knowledge of events say Dr. Stephen McNair was tasked by Republican leadership to design the consolidation plan that lead to HB584. McNair, until a few months ago, was the Director of Historical Sites at the commission. It has been suggested that McNair was relieved of his duties, after it was discovered he was secretly developing the consolidation plan.
According to an internal memo acquired by Alabama Political Reporter, someone within the department believes the plan was “developed surreptitiously by a former member of the AHC staff, without input of the AHC leadership or the other affected agencies.”
It also states “the agencies were not given an opportunity to work collaboratively on a solution before it was filed.”
A “transition coordinator” would be appointed by Gov. Bentley, with broad powers, due to the bills vaguely defined authority. It is believed by many within the historical community that McNair would be the transition coordinator, with an eye toward a cabinet position. McNair is the son-in-law of former Democrat State Representative Charles Oliver Newton, who lost an election after switching parties in 2014. Newton’s brother is acting Finance Director for the Gov. Robert Bentley administration.
The memo states a vast divestment of historical sites by January 1, 2016. “Such rapid divestment would abrogate existing management agreements for Belle Mont, Fendall Hall, Magnolia Grove, and Gainswood,” according to the memo.
It also states, “The fate of the AHC’s extensive archaeological collections from Fort Mims, Fort Toulouse, Old Cahawba, Fort Morgan, and other sites is not provided in the Bill. Many of these artifacts are stored at sites specified to go to the State Parks system, which has neither the resources nor the desire to care for these materials, the very fabric of Alabama history.
Over the last few years, the Republican supermajority has fast tracked several “efficiency” plans to streamline government.