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Chanceller of community college system plans to retire

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY — Mark Heinrich, chancellor of the State’s embattled community college system, has submitted his retirement and will step down from his job on April 1.

He will be replaced temporarily by the man at the center of the controversy.

Heinrich, who has served as the chancellor of the Alabama Community College System since 2012, delivered his notice of retirement to the board of trustees Wednesday.

He said he plans to retire because of a prolonged illness.

“In spite of more than 400 hours of intense medical treatment to date, a realistic timetable for my recovery remains unknown, a very disappointing prognosis,” Heinrich said in a letter presented to the board. “It’s time for the board to choose its next chancellor so the system can move forward.”

Jimmy Baker, who along with Heinrich has been at the center of controversy, will continue his role as Acting Chancellor until the board selects a long-term replacement.

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The Community College system invited criticism last year with a push to combine colleges under the guidance of the Alabama Community College Board of Trustees, which was formed in 2015 and is appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley.

With the formation of the new board, the State Board of Education lost its powers of oversight.

The plan called for consolidating four colleges in southern Alabama and three others in eastern Alabama. The consolidation, like the consolidation of ALEA and proposed consolidation of the State’s prison system, was intended to save money.

The colleges in south Alabama have been merged, but the merger for the ones in east Alabama didn’t go as planned.

The merger of the successful Southern Union State Community College in Opelika, Alabama, with two struggling colleges — Central Alabama Community College and Chattahootchie Valley Community College —  raised concern among the residents of the communities where they are located, along with some legislators.

CACC President Susan Burrow was tapped to lead the proposed merger, which was ultimately halted last summer. No specific reasons were given as to why the postponement occurred.

Burrow reportedly has a close relationship with Roger Bates, of the law firm of Hand Arendall and Jimmy Baker, the acting chancellor.

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“If you can pull all that power and money under one umbrella, look at what kind of power and control you have in those communities,” said a former college official speaking on background last year. “Jimmy Baker is the de facto chancellor and Heinrich has no clue and neither does the Governor.”

Baker was the former assistant superintendent of education, deputy superintendent of education and finance director for the State of Alabama under Fob James.

In 2015, Bates and Baker were listed with the Secretary of State’s Office as lobbyists for the Alabama two-year college system, but did not register in 2016.

The vacancy will be posted publicly, according to ACCS. Board Vice Chairman Al Thompson will appoint a three-member committee to gather recommendations for a replacement.

“Heinrich has been a good leader for the system, and it was his dream job,” Thompson said. “We are sorry for his continued health problems, and we continue to offer our prayers and best wishes for his full recovery.”

Board members Milton Davis, from Birmingham, Blake McAnally, from Decatur, and Susan Foy, from Alexander City, will be on the committee.  Heinrich will remain on paid accrued leave until his retirement becomes effective.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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