Call it the Million Dollar Move. A curious decision to shift the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles in 2019 from its downtown Montgomery offices to a smaller, more expensive office in the old Colonial Bank building in east Montgomery will end up costing taxpayers more than a million dollars.
After nearly $400,000 in expenses to furnish the new offices in 2019 and 2020, the proposed 2023 General Fund Budget now includes $650,000 to assist one of Alabama’s most maligned and criticized departments in returning to downtown Montgomery.
“Everything that shows as expenses – the $400,000, I believe it was – is accurate, as far as I can tell,” said Cam Ward, the director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. “That’s the money that was spent to try and turn that office building into something it just wasn’t and to make it work for the Bureau. It never did.”
Ward was appointed in December 2020, and he said he never quite understood why his predecessor, Charlie Graddick, decided to shift the offices to the eastern Montgomery location. A source at BPP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Graddick made the decision because there is a history of bad blood between him and RSA chief David Bronner, and “Graddick couldn’t stand to think he was in one of Bronner’s buildings.”
Whatever the reason, the decision was troubled from the start. Employees at BPP recalled being forced to pack up and shift offices in less than two weeks, resulting in employees packing their personal cars with belongings and office equipment.
In addition, the old Colonial building, which is now owned by an out-of-state company, didn’t have space available for the Bureau’s IT department. That resulted in BPP entering a separate lease for office space located off Perry Hill Road.
“I’ll be honest with you and tell you that it just didn’t make sense to me – for us to be way out there, away from the other government agencies, away from downtown where all the meetings are, and also to have our IT folks at a different location,” Ward said. “I wanted to move back. The governor’s office asked us if we’d be willing to make the move back downtown and I jumped at it.
“I hate that this is costing money on the front end to move back, but it will ultimately save money overall and cut expenses for us – by a lot.”
Ward said the lease for the new downtown office is slightly higher than the lease for the old Colonial building. But the new offices will be large enough to hold the IT department, eliminating the lease for the Perry Hill offices.
That should have resulted in savings, but Ward said that when BPP left the RSA building in 2019, it apparently gave away all of the office furniture. As a result, BPP will have to also lease furniture from RSA.
That means BPP will still pay roughly $122,000 per month to rent the five-story building – the same price it was paying for the old Colonial building and the Perry Hill Road offices.
“I still believe that the move will save us money, because it won’t leave us driving back and forth for meetings and for the legislative session,” Ward said. “And it will allow us to construct the hearing area in a way that is much better for everyone involved. Right now, the waiting area has victims’ families and the families of the person seeking parole sitting together. We’ll be able to correct that situation. It won’t be the savings that we were hoping before finding out about the furniture, but it will be some savings and just a better overall situation.”