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The worst thing Robert Bentley did

Josh Moon



By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

A few weeks ago, the Alabama House Judiciary Committee dropped a report detailing a bunch of awful things former Gov. Robert Bentley did.

There were tales of affairs, of intimidation, of misusing power, of misusing State resources, of acting above the law and of flaunting his overreach of power.

But that report didn’t include one thing: the worst thing Robert Bentley ever did.

Because the worst thing Bentley ever did had nothing to do with sex or campaign finance issues.

It was that time he tried to destroy a State university – Alabama State University.


It was announced on Tuesday that the long-running State investigation into alleged fraud at ASU had been closed. A Grand Jury had declined to return a single indictment in the nearly five-year investigation that cost taxpayers more than a million dollars.

The investigation was, by any measure, a colossal failure and significant waste of State time and resources.

It was also politics at its absolute worst, race-baiting to an embarrassing degree and spiteful revenge that should have no place in our State government.

For those unfamiliar, allow me to give you a not-so-brief recap.

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In November 2012, then-ASU president Joseph Silver, on the job for about three months, began claiming that he was being railroaded out of town by longtime ASU powers because he had uncovered potential fraud. That fraud, Silver said cryptically, was in the form of contracts that the university wasn’t receiving a proper return on.

The situation blew up.

In rode Bentley and his legal team to get to the bottom of it.


According to a number of sources from both ASU and within the governor’s office, Bentley owed a debt to the AEA and Joe Reed, the longtime head of the AEA’s legal department. Reed had been a fixture at ASU until decades-old feuds saw him pushed out of power and the university altogether in the late 2000s. (Trustees even removed Reed’s name from the Acadome, the school’s basketball arena.)

Sources at ASU said that when Silver began having issues with trustees and longtime powers at ASU, he went to Reed for help. And when it became clear that Silver wouldn’t survive as president, those sources said it was Reed who facilitated the meeting between Silver and Bentley.

Silver would eventually make a deal and bow out. Bentley forced a forensic audit on ASU to supposedly get to the bottom of Silver’s allegations.

To do the forensic audit, Bentley contracted with a small Birmingham firm named Forensic Strategic Solutions (FSS). Within a very short period of time, FSS ran into a number of road blocks.

First of all, ASU officials decided they weren’t going to allow FSS to come in and start interrogating employees and tying up daily operations with multiple requests for documents. So, it contracted with former Federal Judge U.W. Clemon, who, to the chagrin of FSS and the governor’s office, established his own system for dispersing documents and handling employee interviews.

While that was troubling, FSS’ biggest issue was something no one saw coming: There was no obvious fraud.

Within just a few weeks, it was readily apparent that while ASU had its share of accounting snafus and goofy screw-ups – like all universities and large companies – there didn’t seem to be any real fraud. No mysteriously missing money. No ridiculous payouts to friends or family. No odd contracts.

But that didn’t cause the governor or his team to back away. Instead, Bentley fought for more control and inserted himself into the search for ASU’s next president.

Believing the process was rigged to allow State Sen. Quinton Ross to land the job, Bentley at one point demanded that the search process be stopped and restarted. When trustees refused, he tried to sabotage the search by revealing the identities of the candidates for the job.

At one of the oddest, most contentious university board meetings in history, several members of the Governor’s legal staff began passing out lists that identified candidates for the job. Several trustees, angered by the move, began throwing the papers at the Governor’s staff.

But the move pushed public perception that several within the university were controlling the search in the hopes of landing a candidate that would continue to cover up their misdeeds. And that public outcry helped give the job to inexperienced Gwendolyn Boyd, who didn’t stray from Bentley’s wishes.

But there was still a problem: the board.

It was controlled by a faction that was unfriendly to Bentley and Boyd. They were blocking a number of her changes and looking over her shoulder.

Bentley’s auditors began digging for anything on the two men who controlled the board: chairman Elton Dean, the Montgomery County Commission chairman, and vice-chairman Judge Marvin Wiggins.

The result, after more than 10 months of digging, was a “preliminary audit report” from FSS that might just be the most embarrassing “audit report” ever produced.

It contained, among other things, completely unsubstantiated claims that Dean had a girlfriend who received contract work and that ASU had more than $2.5 million in “questionable contracts.” The list of contracts was never provided. But we know now that they weren’t too terribly questionable.

The report also contained allegations that Wiggins had a conflict of interest because his wife and family operated a summer camp on the ASU campus. That the camp had operated for several years previously and that ASU didn’t really pay for it didn’t seem to matter.

There were similar allegations against Dean, whose daughter’s company was awarded roughly $8,000 in contracts over three years for inflatables to be used outside of football games. Basically, they had contracts to supply bouncy houses.

Those absurd allegations of conflicts of interest and the school’s mounting financial issues were enough for ASU’s accrediting agency to place it on warning status, threatening its vital accreditation. Shortly thereafter, with public pressure mounting, Dean stepped down as trustee chairman and Wiggins was forced off the board by Bentley.

At that point, things should have stopped.

Bentley had the control he sought. The changes he wanted had been made. The investigations should have moved towards completion.

But that’s not what happened.

The man who pushed, at his mistress’ suggestion, to close driver’s license offices in majority-black counties couldn’t let go the defiance from the leaders of a black university. The insults stung. The attempts to undermine Bentley politically would not be forgiven.

And so, the Governor of Alabama allowed a State school to be ripped apart brick by brick.

When the credit downgrades rocked the university’s finances, there was no additional state funding to help offset the problems.

When SACS issued its warning, there were no calls from the Governor’s office to explain things had changed, that board leadership was different, that the financial situation would be handled. Not a peep.

In its 2014 operating budget, ASU trimmed nearly $26 million away. The next year, another $4 million vanished. The next, another $8 million.

The bad PR from the phony scandals cost ASU more than 1,500 students.

And all the while, ASU was “under investigation.” An investigation that didn’t seriously question a single witness in more than a year. An investigation of a university in which investigators haven’t set foot on the campus to investigate anything in more than two years and didn’t request a single document in more than three years.

ASU is, I guess, easy to ridicule for its myriad issues over the years. But on its worst day, the school serves as an educational lifeline to a community that’s underserved in this state. It has given more hope and prosperity to the poverty-stricken than you can imagine. And it has served as a shining beacon for civil rights for decades.

What Robert Bentley and many others have done to ASU through this five-year ordeal is unforgivable.

Hopefully, it’s survivable.


Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.


Featured Columnists

Opinion | COVID killed the Don

“The March invasion of the coronavirus derailed the Trump Train,” columnist Steve Flowers writes.

Steve Flowers



President Donald Trump speaks during the Republican National Convention. (VIA RNC)

Around Labor Day when this year’s presidential campaign was beginning to heat up, I wrote a column about the classic 1960 presidential contest between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. This pivotal presidential race marked the beginning of television as the premier political medium. The first televised presidential debate that year was the turning point of that campaign. Kennedy won the White House with his performance, or, as some would say, Nixon lost by his appearance on TV that fateful night in October of 1960.

A lot has changed in the past 60 years, America was a more Ozzie and Harriet, Andy Griffith Mayberry America. There was not a lot of difference, philosophically or ideologically, between a Republican Kansas farmer and a blue-collar Democratic factory worker in Pennsylvania. They both believed in American values of decency and hard work. Even though the Pennsylvanian was a union man who tended to vote Democratic and was probably a Catholic, and the Kansas farmer voted Republican and was a protestant, they both were Christian conservatives.

The country was more homogenous and amicable. This America lent itself to a close presidential contest where 40 states were in play in the Electoral College and only 10 predetermined. Today, it is just the opposite, 10 states are in play and 40 are predetermined.

The country is more divided than at any time since the Civil War. You are cemented into either a conservative Republican tribe or a liberal Democratic tribe, and there is no peace pipe to be smoked. There are very few independent voters in the middle. It is these truly undecided swing voters that decide the presidential race. Also, it is even a further defined swing voter who resides in a swing state — primarily the states of Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and now Georgia.

Both parties got their bases out to the maximum. Democrats hated Donald Trump. Republicans loath Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders. They stoked every fire possible, and the two tribes almost broke about even.

Trump lost the middle of America swing voter in the key battleground states and he lost them overwhelmingly. Why? You ask: It is simple, the COVID pandemic.


It would have been impossible for any humble, genuinely caring, kind and compassionate president to overcome a pandemic that has killed over 250,000 people and annihilated the economy. A legendary, revered leader like Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan would have had a hard time surviving the epidemic destroyed our economy.

It is always about the economy. Trump’s administration was the overseer of the most robust economy in years. He could have possibly won re-election with this rosy economy. However, the March invasion of the coronavirus derailed the Trump Train. There is an old political adage that says, “If you claim credit for the rain, you got to take blame for the drought.”

Any presidential election campaign where there is an incumbent president up for re-election is a referendum on that president. Therefore, this presential race was all about Trump. He would have had to have been an FDR or Reagan to have survived the events of this year. Folks, Trump is no FDR or Reagan.

To win a presidency, people have to like you. Very few people genuinely like Trump. All exit polling revealed that even the most ardent Republicans disliked Trump the man. They were only voting for him because he was a proven true-blue, hardcore conservative. Even evangelical conservatives voted for him knowing his personal and business life was not exemplary of a practicing Christian, but he was the vessel for conservative Supreme Court Justices.

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However, key swing voters, primarily suburban women, just did not like a brash, irreverent, egocentric, irrational, narcissist as their president. They had seen the sideshow on television and Twitter for over three years, and they had had enough. There is another tried and true maxim: “More people vote against someone than for someone.”  This played out to the nines on Election Day. Very few people voted for Joe Biden. They voted against Donald Trump.

See you next week.

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Opinion | The blackest Black Friday ever

“The coming weeks are going to be difficult, no doubt about that.”

Joey Kennedy




Thursday was Thanksgiving, and it’s understandable that many people didn’t have a lot to be thankful for. More than 260,000 people are dead because of the COVID-19 pandemic that Donald Trump simply ignored. Around 3 million people have been infected, with many of those suffering lifelong health complications from the virus.

A first Thanksgiving without loved ones. A first Christmas without loved ones bearing down.

Millions of people lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands are in danger of being evicted from their homes. Many don’t have water or power or heat as the winter settles in.

Thanksgiving? Really?

Except …

Yes, there are many things to be thankful for. Our families, if we have them. Our friends, and we all have them. Our animals, and many of us have them.


We can be thankful that the long, horrible tenure of Donald Trump is nearly over. It’s the end of an error.

We can hope that racism will be wrong again. That homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, and cruelty will fall from the everyday ordinary to the awful extraordinary. Kids in cages, separated from their parents, no more. Chaos in government simply an anomaly at last.

We can hope. That alone is something to be thankful for.

The year 2020 has been a hot mess. Masks, social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing are the norm now. They may be forever.

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We should be thankful that COVID-19 vaccines are on the horizon. But that’s a strange thankfulness, and we cherish a vaccine for a disease that didn’t have to spread as far and wide as it did. It was mismanaged as badly as a crisis can be mismanaged.

There still are people out there who refuse to wear masks or who believe the virus is a hoax. A doctor described people she was caring for who were dying, and all the time denying the virus existed, even to their last breaths.

That’s certainly nothing to be thankful for.

Our health care workers, those on the front lines, deserve our thanks and our love. As do grocery store workers, first responders, teachers, and delivery people. Heroes work there.

I’m personally thankful for my wife of 41 years. My daughters in San Diego. My friends here and elsewhere. My pugs and other dogs and animals. I’ve got plenty to be thankful for, when we pare life down and don’t expect so much.

The coming weeks are going to be difficult, no doubt about that.

Too many people traveled this Thanksgiving, and there’s going to be a price to pay. Too many people are making plans for Christmas, and there’s going to be a price to pay. Too many people are planning New Year’s Eve celebrations, and there’s going to be a price to pay.

Oh, I’ll have some champagne and stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, if only to witness that this damn year doesn’t hang around for one second longer than is allowed.

Perhaps we can see a light at the end of this 2020 tunnel. Maybe by spring, we’ll all be vaccinated, and this pandemic will be at the beginning of its end.

But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t count on, yes, anything.

This is Black Friday. The blackest Black Friday ever. Be careful out there. Wash your hands and wear a mask. Take care of each other. Believe in science. Don’t trust a reality show president who, fortunately, finally has been fired.

Do your best to do your best. Let’s have a new year that at least promises hope.

Dig deep and find what you’re thankful for. Then hug it close with all your might.

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Opinion | The emperor has no votes

The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest example of just how far they’ll go.

Josh Moon




Two-and-32. That’s the record of the super-fantastic “strike team” of “elite” attorneys representing the Donald Trump campaign in various lawsuits around the country that contest the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

For a refresher: Joe Biden won that free and fair election in a landslide and will be the next president of the United States. The end.

In case after case after case, despite what the president has tweeted and despite what enablers and spineless politicians have helped him push, the Trump elite attorney strike team has failed to offer even the slightest bit of proof of the grand fraud that Trump has repeatedly claimed on Twitter or that his “dye hard” personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has screeched about during insane, “Veep”-like press conferences. (Have you ever witnessed a stranger, more disturbing image than that of “America’s mayor,” wild eyed and ranting, with his cheap hair dye running down his face as if his ears were bleeding?)

In fact, in the overwhelming majority of the cases filed by strike team Trump, the team has been forced to admit to judges that they have no evidence of fraud or that they’re not able to claim fraud.

It’s pathetic that we’re still doing this — that the transition to a new administration is being held up by this band of grifters looking to squeeze one last drop of donations from the marks who have already forked over so much to this long-running American con.

That’s all this is.


The entire Trump presidency has been exactly this — a con game to enrich him and his closest business partners. To that end, it has been highly successful.

It has also been successful in turning seemingly rational people into googly-eyed yes men willing to sully themselves for a taste of the political fortune or fame that comes with being near the presidency.

It is, to be honest, shocking the ease with which so many in the highest offices of our federal and state government have been convinced to denounce reality and make fools of themselves to ensure they either benefit from being in the cult’s favor or at least not being a target of the cult.

The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest and most horrific example of just how far they’re willing to go and how little of America they truly hold sacred.

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Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill, for example, has given media interviews in which he willingly passed along wild, long debunked conspiracy theories of Biden getting thousands of votes at once, and how there’s no explanation for it. And yet, there was an explanation — one that had been given over and over and over.

Alabama congressman Mo Brooks, a man who so frequently buys into rightwing conspiracies that he almost certainly has purchased an extended warranty for all of his cars, sent a bat-guano insane letter to a constituent this week in which he laid out how “socialist Democrats” were able to “steal” the election through massive fraud and how Republicans in Congress can steal it back.

One of the means by which this election was stolen, according to Brooks, was by excluding Republican poll watchers. None were excluded. And the strike team has now dropped that line of attack altogether.

Brooks and Merrill aren’t alone, however. Up and down the line, Alabama GOP officials and the media mouthpieces they pay to amplify their idiotic ideas have gone full in on this idea of fraud, even when other Republicans — like that poor secretary of state in Georgia — were trying desperately to tell them it wasn’t real.

Honestly, it’s like Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is being played out in real life, right in front of us. Only, the swindlers became the emperor.

Trump and his minions continue to walk around stark naked while insisting that he has on the most beautiful, perfect clothing in the whole world. And there’s this one group of people who are buying it. And then there’s this whole other group who know full well that this guy is buck naked but they’re too afraid of alienating the first group, even if it means undermining the cornerstone of American democracy.

In the meantime, the swindlers just keep sending out fundraiser emails. Because, again, that’s all this is.

Look at the frivolous lawsuits and how thoroughly Trump’s strike team has been embarrassed in every courtroom so far. This isn’t about winning or about massive fraud or about correcting problems in the election system. It’s about money. Pure and simple.

Finally, late Thursday, two influential Republicans, Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, said what we all know.

Sasse said the lawyers have “refused to actually allege grand fraud.” He was also critical of the strike team’s tactics.

Romney said Trump was trying to “subvert the will of the people.” And he said he couldn’t imagine “a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president.”

Hopefully, that will open the floodgates for a river of sanity and basic common sense. Because the longer this goes on, the more likely it is something catastrophic takes place.

It’s not too late yet for the president to put some clothes on.

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Opinion | Be thankful, not regretful

“We can stay home, because maybe next Thanksgiving, we can gather again.”

Joey Kennedy




My wife, Veronica, and I just don’t have much real family left. But Thanksgiving Day is one of our favorite holidays. In the past – many years past – we hosted Thanksgivings.

Over the past few years, though, we’ve attended three Thanksgiving celebrations with friends. One, hosted by our dear friend Jo Ellen O’Hara, former longtime food editor at The Birmingham News, is no longer possible because she now lives at Fairhaven, an assisted living community in eastern Birmingham.

This was a typical Southern Thanksgiving, with turkey, cornbread dressing, various (and too many) side dishes, and featured a dozen or so people.

John Evon and Rian Alexander hosted us later in the day on Thanksgiving. Usually, this was simply the four of us at their Helena home. It was more a Northern Thanksgiving, with turkey or ham, stuffing (not dressing), and various (and too many) side dishes.

And for the past three years, we’ve attended the Thanksgiving bash hosted by APR editor Bill Britt and his wife, associate editor Susan Britt. This gathering, of maybe 20 or so people, was held at the Britts’ farm in Attalla. There was more than just turkey or ham, more side dishes than should be possible. Bill and Susan and the APR’s capable copy editor and the Britts’ assistant Charlie Walker did most of the cooking, but this gathering was also partially potluck. We’d all bring dishes to add to the abundant food choices. (Bill also makes a damn good Raw Apple Cider. Add a touch of whiskey.)

This year, we’ll have none of that. With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spiking in Alabama and across the country, it’ll be just Veronica and me on Thanksgiving.


That’s sad, too. We’re social people. We like to be around others. A lot of others.

That hasn’t been much of a feature in 2020, and I don’t expect it will be through a big chunk of 2021.

The warnings have been issued. Gov. Kay Ivey’s mask mandate is staying in place, thank goodness, though there should be an enforcement effort, too.

Here is Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris: “We all want to see our family for holidays, yet this is a special year when we need to minimize risks because of the consequences of this highly infectious virus. Use your best judgment to plan the safest possible Thanksgiving. Consider hosting a virtual celebration, or if hosting or attending one, be sure to put prevention measures in place.”

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Oh, that Alabamians – and Americans – would heed that advice. But so many won’t. They’ll gather anyway – with grandparents and parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.They’ll gather at Thanksgiving, in a big dining room, have great conversations, and wonderful prayers.

And two or three weeks later, they’ll start to get sick and die, just in time for the Christmas some of them may not be around for.

Or they’ll survive Thanksgiving, thinking this virus is no big deal. And they’ll gather again for Christmas. Two or three weeks later, they’ll start to get sick and die, just before the presidential inauguration.

By then, too, the cases from all those New Year’s celebrations will be cranking up. And another group of people will start to get sick and die, just in the first month of 2021.

This plague is real. It’s killing hundreds of thousands of people – old people, middle-aged people, young people, children.

In Alabama alone, there have been more than 220,000 COVID cases, with more than 3,340 deaths. More than 88,000 people have recovered, but many of those are crippled with longterm, chronic health problems.

Daily cases in Alabama are ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 right now.

This is serious.

This is no hoax.

It is real.

Wear a mask.

Socially distance.

Wash your hands obsessively.

Attend only small gatherings if you must attend any gatherings – and you really don’t have to attend any gatherings.

So for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for New Year’s, it’ll be just Veronica and me. We’ll make the best of it. Have fun together. Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life. We’ll listen to Christmas music and drive around looking at Christmas lights. We’ll have great food (my wife’s cornbread dressing is the best in the world).

And we’ll miss our friends. But we won’t kill them, and they won’t kill us.

We have plenty to be thankful for today and next week. And at Christmas and New Year’s. But we won’t be attending any parties or gatherings. We cannot do that for awhile, just as we have not done it since March. We can stay home, because maybe next Thanksgiving, we can gather again, with our friends (our family) who lived through one of the darkest periods of our lives.

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