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Sen. Dial’s committee goes back to work

By Larry Lee

In the wake of last summer’s state superintendent search and all the questions that came up about an effort to discredit applicant Craig Pouncey, Senator Gerald Dial created a joint committee of House and Senate members to investigate what took place and how info from the Ethics Commission about Pouncey ended up in the press.

This committee met several times last fall and we were at each meeting. You can read these reports, here, here, and here.

However, in light of a recent internal report by Michael Meyer, staff attorney at the state department of education, that determined there was questionable conduct surrounding this episode by four ALSDE employees and board member Mary Scott Hunter, Senator Dial has decided to re-convene the committee on July 25.

“In light of the many news articles regarding the internal report recently produced by the State Department of Education, the recurring rumors of retaliatory actions taken against state employees, and what now seems to be conflicting testimony provided to our Joint Legislative Committee, it is necessary to reconvene the committee and get clarification on certain discrepancies,” said Dial.

“We will likely recall some of the same people who have already testified, and ask for explanations of differences in their testimony before the Joint Committee and findings in the recent State Department of Education report. We will also ask for additional documentation from those who testify. Former Governor Robert Bentley, who chaired the State Board of Education and who abruptly changed his vote after the revelation of an anonymous complaint filed with the Ethics Commission, should also have the opportunity to explain his reasons for doing so, especially in light of recent findings”.

This truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Without doubt last summer’s search process was badly flawed and those who have kept up with all the shenanigans that have been revealed since know it was anything but professional.

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Testimony obtained by this committee last fall was truly an eye-opener. Especially when board member Mary Scott Hunter admitted that she did not know that the Ethics Commission does not investigate anonymous complaints. And there is a good chance that testimony on July 25 (which is ironically the day before Mary Scott Hunter has her kickoff for her campaign for Lt. Governor) will be as well.

It is likely that ALSDE legal counsel Juliana Dean and Hunter will be asked to appear again.

Here are some questions for Dean I hope they consider asking:
– As department legal counsel, was it your job to properly vet all candidates and pass your findings along to the board?
– How extensive was your vetting process? For instance, Mike Sentance was a candidate for Alabama state superintendent in 2011. Did you make the board aware of this. From 2011 to 2016, Sentance applied for jobs in Alabama, Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Nashville, Ohio and Georgia and was rejected by all of them. Did you share this information with the board?

– Another candidate, Dr. Steven Paine of West Virginia also withdrew as did Sentance. He had experience as a state superintendent, a local superintendent, a principal and a teacher and had been responsible for a multi-billion dollar state education budget. Mike Sentance had none of these qualifications. Yet you called Sentance and asked him to re-consider, but did not call Paine and ask him to. Why?

And a couple for Mary Scott Hunter:
– You have repeatedly said that you have high regard for Craig Pouncey and called him a colleague and a friend. However, each board member, plus the governor, was allowed to name up to five candidates to be interviewed for state superintendent, but you did not have Pouncey in your top five while every other elected member of the state board had him on their list.
– In addition, on August 11 you voted for four different people to be state superintendent, but you did not vote for Craig Pouncey.
If you hold him in such high regard and consider him a friend, why did you not even want him to have an interview?

Obviously we are still waiting for the Fat Lady to sing the final verse of this whole mess. And in the meantime, Mike Sentance blunders from one mis-step to the next doing more harm than good.

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