By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Most would assume that each of the 22 individuals serving as cabinet members in Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration is being paid by the department they oversee, but such a conclusion would be wrong in the case of Acting Secretary of Information Technology Dr. Joanne Hale. As a former professor at the University of Alabama, Hale continues to receive her salary and benefits as a University employee, even though she works for the Governor (as confirmed by a search of the Open UA Expenditures).
When asked under the open records act to provide documentation for Hale’s loan to the Governor’s Office, communications director Yasamie August provided an interdepartmental agreement between State of Alabama Office of The Governor and The Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama.
She did confirm that neither the Governor’s office or the University had sought an ethics opinion on Hale’s employment which was confirmed by Hugh R. Evans, III, general council for the Ethics Commission.
Ostensibly, the agreement states that Bentley didn’t want Hale to lose tenure, retirement or employment status at UA while serving on his cabinet.
Last February, the State Ethics Commission issued advisory opinion 2015-16, concerning “loaned employee” or “executive on loan” arrangements between non-governmental entities and State government.
While the University is a State entity in Section 36-25-2, the Legislature found it was, “essential to the proper operation of democratic government that public officials be independent and impartial.” The University System of Alabama has many issues before the Governor and the State Legislature setting up the potential for a conflict of interest, according to a high-ranking official in the Administration.
Hale’s position as an executive-on-loan, even if it doesn’t constitute a violation, would seem to undercut the spirit and intent of the law as described in the February opinion. The Commission’s opinion expressed concerns about the “inherent conflicts of interest created by these [loaned employee] arrangements and recognizing that these arrangements in and of themselves run the risk of frustrating the underlying principles of the Act.”
Records show Hale receiving over $220,000 from the University in 2016 and a little less than $1,500 in expenses for travel from the State.
According to the February finding the commission, “presumes an employee who is paid from a source other than public money but who performs all of the functions of a public sector employee cannot serve under that arrangement without violating the fundamental principles underlying the Ethics Act.”
Hale was appointed Acting Secretary of Information Technology by Bentley on January 4, 2016, a position she still maintains. But her involvement in shaping the State’s technology solutions dates back to 2011 when Hale served on Bentley’s Commission on Improving State Government IT Resource Utilization Subcommittee.
In 2012, Dr. Hale served as co-chair of the State of Alabama Legislative Information Technology (IT) Study Group to Streamline State Government, the group was charged with assessing the State of Alabama’s Information Technology. She has in part overseen the failures of the statewide STAARS accounting system, eStart the shuttered time and attendance program, and CARES program to administer State and Federal benefits programs such as Medicaid and others.
Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been squandered under the so-called improvements and streamlining of which Hale was a part of implementing. But these failures had not been addressed by Bentley to the satisfaction of State employees and agency heads who are forced to use these programs.
Hale’s six-figure salary paid by the University is just another stunning revelation surrounding Bentley and the Legislature’s attempt at government efficacies.