By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Monday, October 31, 2016, Alabama Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) has asked Alabama State Attorney General Luther Strange (R) for an AG’s opinion about a closed meeting of the House Judiciary Committee that Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) has requested. The House Judiciary Committee is investigating into whether Bentley’s actions would justify impeachment or not. Auditor Zeigler believes that a closed door meeting under these circumstances could violate the Open Meetings law and is asking Strange for a ruling.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler said that, “A request by Gov. Robert Bentley to give his testimony to an impeachment investigation committee with no public, no lawyers, no recording, and no news media violates the Open Meetings Act.”
Gov. Bentley had written the House Judiciary Committee suggesting a meeting with committee members only. The voting public and the press, including the ‘Alabama Political Reporter,’ would be barred from attending the secret proceedings.
Zeigler said on Monday that the meeting would violate Code of Alabama 36-25A, commonly called the Alabama Open Meetings Act.
Zeigler said, “This is another example of the unlawful and incompetent actions of Gov. Bentley, because there would be a quorum of the committee present, it must be an open meeting with the public and news media given advance notice and allowed to attend.”
Zeigler announced that he had sent the letter to the attorney general’s office in his speech Monday to the Houston County Republican Executive Committee in Dothan. Zeigler joked, “Unlike Gov. Bentley, I invited the public and the news media to my presentation.”
The House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed Gov. Bentley and several other state officials. Gov. Bentley has said that he will cooperate with the Committee but through his attorneys have argued that the Committee does not have impeachment authority.
While all government councils, commissions, and committees are required to have open meetings; the open meetings law does allow government bodies to go into closed door sessions executive sessions if they are discussing: an economic development project where secrecy is needed, pending litigation, or the good name and character of a person. The Alabama Political Reporter maintains that the public has a right to hear what exactly the Governor is alleged to have done and hear any evidence implicating or exonerating the Governor during the ongoing impeachment investigation.
Gov. Bentley has gained national publicity for his acknowledged “inappropriate relationship” with former top political adviser: the married Mrs. Rebekah Caldwell Mason. The relationship cost the Governor his marriage of fifty years; but despite that and a suggestive audiotape, the 73 year old Governor denies having a sexual relationship with the married Mrs. Mason.
Gov. Bentley denies having broken any laws. There are rumors, reports, and allegations swirling around Montgomery about Bentley. Some of these concern: payments the Bentley campaign made to Mrs. Mason; payments Bentley’s foundation made to Mrs. Mason; payments the University of Alabama System made to Mr. Mason (who heads Bentley’s office for faith based initiatives); and whether or not state resources were used to facilitate or cover up Bentley’s “inappropriate relationship” with Mrs. Mason. Bentley also fired Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) director Spencer Collier and a number of career ALEA officials, allegedly to end a series of corruption investigations and because Collier assisted the Mike Hubbard prosecution after Gov. Bentley ordered Collier not to cooperate with the Alabama Attorney General’s office.
To this point Bentley, the Masons, current ALEA Director Stan Stabler, and other Bentley officials have not been indicted for anything; although there is a grand jury empaneled in Montgomery. There is wide disagreement in Montgomery over what is or is not an impeachable offense.
Auditor Zeigler has urged the Committee to go ahead and impeach Bentley to resolve this situation quickly rather than letting it drag on in the courts.