As revelations unfolded in the long-running federal investigation into the two-year college system, the state school board appeared to be well removed from what turned out to be a multimillion-dollar bribery case.
But now some members of the board that voted to remove former two-year Chancellor Roy Johnson from his post amid corruption and nepotism allegations are being viewed as possible targets in the probe. Prosecutors said some legislators also are being eyed.
Board members and legislators contacted in the wake of Johnson’s plea announcement on Thursday either voiced confidence they were in no legal difficulty or had no comment on the development.
Johnson, along with agreeing to plead guilty to 15 felony bribery and corruption counts, told prosecutors he used his position to secure jobs for legislators and relatives of board members.
His plea states he “provided secret political support to Board Members by directing money and other campaign assistance to them” and also “used his official position to recommend, suggest, and direct that particular individuals be hired and retained in various positions.”
Huntsville board member Mary Jane Caylor said negative speculation about the board is unfortunately nothing she and the others haven’t heard before.
“There’s been numerous news stories, numerous editorials about families of school board members who are employed in the two-year college system. This is not something that’s new,” she said Friday.
What is new though, she said, is that Johnson’s plea amounts to his first public comments in more than a year and the first time he’s talked about what occurred.
“It’s sort of like a traffic accident and five people see it happen. Five different people probably would tell you something a little bit different about what happened,” said Caylor, whose husband retired from the system in December.
She also denied having any knowledge of Johnson arranging for a college vendor to contribute to her Huntsville mayoral campaign in 2004.
“I have said over and over that I have done nothing wrong, have not asked for any favors, have not received any favors,” Caylor said.
House Majority Leader Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, whose previous part-time community college jobs have been cited by critics as an example of “double dipping” by legislators, declined to comment Friday when asked about the two-year college investigation.
“I am not going to comment or speculate about what they are going to do,” Guin said.
Guin has resigned a $48,721-a-year part-time job at Bevill State Community College in Sumiton and a $49,677-a-year position at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa. Guin was hired for both jobs on Nov. 1, 1999, before Johnson became chancellor in July 2002.
The current school board is the same that was in office during Johnson’s chancellorship, which ended in 2006 when they fired him.
Johnson, once an influential member of the Alabama House, was president of Southern Union State Community College from 1993 to 2002 and the plea agreement covers events from 1998-2006.
Montgomery board member Ella Bell, who has been one of Johnson’s most loyal supporters, has a niece employed by the system. But Bell said Johnson did not speak with her or anyone she knew in getting her niece hired.
“As God is my sacred witness, ‘No,”’ she said. “But I know he knew my niece because my niece travels with me a whole lot.”
About three dozen state lawmakers, their relatives or businesses received payments from the two-year college system while Johnson was chancellor, including Rep. Craig Ford, whose wife teaches at Gadsden State.
Ford, whose company has an insurance contract with the college, said he is unconcerned about the investigation.
“My wife got hired before I was elected and she has the needed degrees to get the job,” he said. “Her job has nothing to do with politics.”
Ford said his firm bid for the insurance contract along with other companies.
“As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t concern me. I haven’t thought about it for one second,” the Gadsden Democrat said of the federal investigation.
Having started in 2006, the investigation has netted several guilty pleas, including that of former state Rep. Bryant Melton, D-Tuscaloosa.
Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, who also has a job at Calhoun Community College, said the whole situation is unfortunate.
“I’m saddened about what has happened. Anytime you have a colleague who’s impacted in a negative way … it always brings that cloud,” she said. “The public has given their confidence to us and I think we have a responsibility in conducting ourselves in such a way that we’ve maintained that integrity.
“Hopefully we are not all painted with the same brush because of a few,” she said. “Of course, you know, that’s what happens.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com