By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
The special Joint Legislative Committee that’s investigating possible misconduct surrounding the Board of Education’s selection of State Superintendent Michael Sentance last year will meet later today to resume its inquiry into the controversy embroiling the State Department of Education.
The Committee is investigating an ethics complaint leak intended to smear superintendent candidate Craig Pouncey and deny him a fair chance at being the superintendent. A report authored by the Board’s General Counsel, Michael Meyer, which was obtained last month by APR, found that five individuals conspired to “malign Pouncey” and prevent his selection by filing and later leaking the erroneous complaint.
The Senate last year created the Joint Committee, headed by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, to investigate the possible questionable actions taken by Ethics Commission employees, State Department of Education employees and Board of Education members.
“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,” Dial said late last month when he announced the reconvening of his committee.
The report, which was reluctantly authorized and later accepted by the Board of Education, alleged that board member Mary Scott Hunter, then-interim Superintendent Philip Cleveland and three ALSDE attorneys — Juliana Dean, James Ward and Susan Crowther — hatched the scheme.
Hunter and the three attorneys have hired their own attorneys, denied the accusations and have said that their actions were not illegal or unethical. Dean, Ward and Crowther — whose attendance was requested in a letter Dial sent last week — are not expected to attend, based on “advice from counsel,” sources close to the three told APR.
Hunter was asked to attend the Committee meeting Tuesday, as well. It isn’t clear if she will show up.
Dial also asked Meyers, former Gov. Robert Bentley, Ethics Commission Executive Director Thomas Albritton, Ethics Commission General Counsel Hugh Evans and the other members of the Board of Educations to attend — along with ALSDE IT Director David Pope and Chief of Staff Dee Fowler.
“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,” Dial said last month.
“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.”
Dial reported to the Senate last year that his Committee wasn’t able to reach a conclusion about who was the source of the Pouncey smear even after interviewing 16 different individuals connected to the Board of Education and Ethics Commission.
The committee meeting comes as the Alabama State Board of Education plans to fire Sentance, two sources told APR‘s Josh Moon late last week. The Board is expected to begin that process today.
Several of the board members were already unhappy with Sentance following his hire last year, but several mistakes and political missteps have slowly eroded the board’s confidence in the Superintendent. The release of the report and Sentance’s apparent attempt to undercut it by hiring former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Bernard Harwood to refute it were the two final straws, the sources told APR.