By Larry Lee
Things really got funky at the state board meeting on July 12.
Each board member got an envelope with an unsigned “complaint” to the state Ethics Commission alleging that Pouncey plagiarized his 2009 doctoral dissertation for Samford University, as well as getting excessive help from department employees.
The Ethics Commission will not investigate unsigned complaints, so the info became a moot point. In fact, six of the eight board members testified that they paid no attention to this letter and discarded it.
But Hunter saw things differently.
She gave the info to interim state superintendent, Phillip Cleveland, directed him to give it to Dean and then called the executive director of the Ethics Commission to tell him about it.
Hunter, who is an attorney, was asked at a legislative hearing if she knew that the Ethics Commission does not investigate unsigned complaints. She said she did not, even though the board had recently had a retreat about ethics.
Not long after the letter surfaced on July 12, Hunter attended a statewide Business Council of Alabama event where she told several legislators that Pouncey would not be considered for state superintendent because of the ethics complaint.
This statement was untrue since there never was a legitimate complaint.
After Hunter’s call to the head of the Ethics Commission – she did not disclose that the complaint was unsigned – he asked his legal counsel to get a copy of the bogus info. This was hand-delivered to the Ethics Commission by the department’s general counsel.
The Ethics Commission lawyer sent a letter back to the education lawyer saying that they had received the info concerning Pouncey, who was identified in the letter.
Not long afterwards, a copy of this letter was leaked to media. Suddenly, news sources across the state were reporting Pouncey was under investigation. All of this took place prior to the state board selecting the next superintendent on August 11.
Each board member could nominate up to five applicants to be interviewed. Seven were nominated. One was the choice of only two people and was eliminated. Sentence and another tied with three, so both were interviewed.
Seven members selected Pouncey. Only the governor and Hunter did not have him in their top five.
Six candidates were interviewed in early August.
Looking back, one has to wonder how well each was vetted by the department’s legal counsel. The requirements advertised stated that applicants should have “experience in successfully managing a large organization” and “experience in administering large budgets.” Alabama Code Section 16-4-1 requires that the state superintendent be “knowledgeable in school administration.” Two of the six interviewed did not meet these qualifications.
A former legal counsel for the state department said these two applications should have been tossed by general counsel and never even given to the board.
Sentance was an applicant for the Alabama job in 2011 and did not generate enough interest to get an interview. Five of the board members who made the 2016 selection were also on the board in 2011. However, they were never told that Sentence had previously applied. Nor were they told about the numerous job rejections he had in the last several years.
The board voted on August 11. But even the process used that day was contested. The governor wanted to use paper ballots. However, one board member pointed out that such a vote must be done publicly. So, the paper ballots were discarded.
Someone would nominate a candidate, then a show of hands recorded. Sentance was nominated on the second ballot by Matt Brown, the governor’s 2015 appointee to the board, and by this time, a lame duck board member having been soundly defeated in the Republican primary earlier in the year.
Sentance got four votes.
Then Pouncey was nominated. He, too, got four votes. No other candidate got more than three.
Since no one received a five-vote majority through the first “round,” Hunter nominated Sentance for the second time. The governor clearly counted votes before raising his hand to be the fifth and deciding vote.
There were 25-30 local superintendents in the audience that day. They began to file out, each looking as if they had seen a ghost. And why not? Not a single superintendent had encouraged any board member to pick Sentence.
The education community throughout the state was dumbfounded. How do you pick a state superintendent who had no formal training in education, and had never been a teacher, principal or local superintendent?
It was a huge slap in the face. It was acknowledgement that five members of the state board felt those who work in schools and administrative positions are not professionals, and training and experience mean little.
Those who voted for Sentance scrambled to explain why they did so. Governor Bentley hung his hat on the fact that 4th grade NAEP math scores in Massachusetts were the highest in the country and tried to rationalize that hiring someone from there would magically advance Alabama performance to the same level.
But he never mentioned that Sentance had not worked in Massachusetts in 15 years, nor that they spend $6,000 more per pupil than Alabama does.
Hunter said the longer she looked at Sentance’s resume’, the more it grew on her. Yet, she did not say that since he had not worked since he applied for the Alabama position in 2011, his resume’ was the same in 2016 as in 2011. And it obviously did not grow on her back then when she was in her first term on the board.
Alabama educators woke up the morning of Aug. 12, 2016, with a brand-new state superintendent selected with a process that was definitely tainted.
Enough so that Pouncey later filed a legal action against Hunter, the department general counsel, two of her associates and the interim superintendent. He charged that they had acted in concert to discredit his name. This suit is awaiting a judge’s decision concerning dismissal.
Also, an internal investigation by a state department attorney – selected by Sentance – concluded that there had been collusion among these five individuals. And though he called for this investigation, Sentence did not agree with its findings. This report has been given to the Ethics Commission and the attorney general.
Opinion | On the Nov. 3 ballot, vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1
On Nov. 3, 2020, all Alabama voters should vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1. Vote no on Amendment 1 because it could allow state law changes to disenfranchise citizens whom the Legislature does not want to vote. Because Amendment 1 has no practical purpose and because it opens the door to mischief, all voters are urged to vote no.
Currently, the Alabama Constitution provides that “Every citizen of the United States…” has the right to vote in the county where the voter resides. Amendment 1 would delete the word “every” before citizen and replace it with “only a” citizen.
In Alabama, the only United States citizens who cannot vote today are most citizens who have been convicted of a felony of moral turpitude. These felonies are specifically identified in Ala. Code 17-3-30.1.
Without Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution now says who can vote: every citizen. If voters approve Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution would only identify a group who cannot vote. With Amendment 1, we, the citizens of the United States in Alabama, thus would lose the state constitutional protection of our voting rights.
In Alabama, no individual who is not a United States citizens can vote in a governmental election. So, Amendment 1 has no impact on non-citizens in Alabama.
Perhaps the purpose of Amendment 1 could be to drive voter turnout of those who mistakenly fear non-citizens can vote. The only other purpose for Amendment 1 would be allowing future Alabama state legislation to disenfranchise groups of Alabama citizens whom a majority of the legislature does not want to vote.
In 2020, the ballots in Florida and Colorado have similar amendments on the ballots. As in Alabama, Citizens Voters, Inc., claims it is responsible for putting these amendments on the ballots in those states. While Citizens Voters’ name sounds like it is a good nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), it has secret political donors. One cannot know who funds Citizen Voters and thus who is behind pushing these amendments with more than $8 million in dark money.
According to Citizen Voter’s website, the stated reason for Amendment 1 is that some cities in several other states allow non-citizens to vote. My understanding is that such measures are rare and only apply to voting for local school boards.
And why would a local government’s deciding that non-citizens can vote for local school boards be a state constitutional problem? Isn’t the good government practice to allow local control of local issues? And again, this issue does not even exist in Alabama.
The bigger question, which makes Amendment 1’s danger plain to see, is why eliminate the language protecting “every” citizen’s right to vote? For example, Amendment 1 could have proposed “Every citizen and only a citizen” instead of deleting “every” when adding “only a” citizen. Why not leave the “every” citizen language in the Alabama Constitution?
Amendment 1 could allow Alabama new state legislation to disenfranchise some Alabama citizens. Such a change would probably violate federal law. But Alabama has often had voting laws that violated federal law until a lawsuit forced the state of Alabama not to enforce the illegal state voting law.
The most recent similar law in Alabama might be 2011’s HB56, the anti-immigrant law. Both HB56 and Amendment 1 are Alabama state laws that out-of-state interests pushed on us. And HB56 has been largely blocked by federal courts after expensive lawsuits.
Alabama’s Nov. 3, 2020, ballot will have six constitutional amendments. On almost all ballots, Amendment 1 will be at the bottom right on the first page (front) of the ballot or will be at the top left on the second page (back) of the ballot.
Let’s keep in our state constitution our protection of every voters’ right to vote.
Based on Amendment 1’s having no practical benefit and its opening many opportunities for mischief, all Alabama voters are strongly urged to vote “no” on Amendment 1.
Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution
The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.
A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.
The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.
In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.
While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.
Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.
Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.
On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.
Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color
The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.
This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.
Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.
These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.
We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.
Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.
In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.
We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.
In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.
Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.
Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”
Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.
Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing
The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.
Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.
To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.
Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.
There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.
The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.
State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.
We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.
In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.
The state is depending on it.