INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
By Steve Flowers
The junior college corruption scandal, which occurred around 2006, was one of the worst white collar crimes in Alabama’s history. This highly publicized federal probe of the state’s two-year college system sent a lot of people to jail.
Roy Johnson, the then director, orchestrated one of the most sensational, brazen, flagrant and pervasive robberies imaginable. Johnson justly was sentenced to ten years in prison and was court ordered to pay back $1.4 million in restitution to the state.
Johnson and his cronies were guilty of creating bogus jobs, fake scholarships, wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, phony employment and mail fraud. There were several institutions within the junior college system that were pilfered and used for criminal vehicles. One of Johnson’s conduits was the State Fire College in Tuscaloosa. The fire college was raided by the FBI. People were arrested and people went to jail. It was a very corrupt system.
Now, a decade later, nothing could be further from the truth. The Alabama Fire College is one of the greatest comeback stories in our state’s political history, and it is a story worth telling. Boasting a new director since 2007, one who has been baptized by fire, Allan Rice, a former firefighter, has done what he does best – put out fires.
Since becoming an independent agency from the two-year college system, Rice and the Alabama Firefighters Personnel Standards and Education Commission and staff of the fire college have put out lots of fires to get to where they are today. They have streamlined their budget, while increasing the number of students served by 112 percent.
There is no arrogance or executive privilege at the college, just hard work and public service. They have overcome a negative reputation and they take very seriously the public trust that has been placed in them. Servant leadership is the example that is set by the staff and the mood there is one of humility, not haughtiness.
Every audit conducted since 2007 has not only been good, but flawless. Because of their sordid past, the college undergoes more audits than the average state agency, but they do not mind one bit and it shows in every perfect audit they get. They have twice as many audits and they pass just that many with perfection and with pride. That is good management and that is the kind of accountability and transparency people want and should demand when tax dollars are involved.
The mission of the Alabama Fire College reads, “Our continuing commitment is to facilitate excellence in education, training, certification and support services for the emergency response community.” In addition to training Alabama’s career and volunteer firefighters, they provide their services to private industry and the U.S. Department of Defense firefighting forces located at military installations around the world. The fire college also operates the most successful paramedic training program in the State of Alabama.
To achieve their mission, they are guided by the pursuit of five core strategies: providing excellent education and training, supporting the Alabama fire service, promoting higher education for the fire service, providing excellent customer service and ensuring stewardship of public resources.
Not only do they conduct training classes in every county in Alabama, they also operate 10 regional offices, 19 regional training and extension centers and provide educational offerings and training experiences to almost 26,000 students in Alabama, other states and foreign countries. Italy, Angola, Japan, the U.K., Canada and Greece are some of the countries that have been served by the Alabama Fire College last year alone.
The Alabama Fire College is an institution of higher education and of servant leadership it is a phenomenal comeback story and a bright jewel in the crown of Alabama’s educational system. Many other agencies could learn a lesson from the comeback story they have written in Tuscaloosa, where putting out fires is what they do best at the Alabama Fire College.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.