MONTGOMERY, Ala.— After months of wrangling and discussion, the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education has implemented a ban on so-called “double dipping,” making it against the rules for employees to hold elected office.
An accompanying policy on leave and flex time means 10 system employees who are currently serving in the Legislature will have to use accrued leave in order to leave work to carry out their Capitol duties.
“I’m glad we’ve finally gotten to the point where we can implement the board’s policies once we had the clearance from our legal department,” Alabama Community College System Chancellor Bradley Byrne said Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Justice cleared the policies late last week and Byrne sent a memo telling college presidents to begin enforcing them.
A lawsuit filed by the Alabama Education Association challenging the policies is still pending, but Byrne said that does not affect the implementation.
“We’ll see what happens next,” in the courts, he said.
Under the new policies, employees will have to use paid leave to be away from their system jobs. Once that leave runs out, unpaid leave may be granted by their college presidents and Byrne, who makes the ultimate decision if unpaid leave is warranted.
Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said he believes he has enough leave available to get him through the current session of the Legislature. But when he runs out of leave, Jackson said he expects he will resign his job at Alabama Southern Community College.
“When my leave is up I’ll probably go to the House and quit that job,” he said. “I don’t like the policy, but I’ve got to abide by the law.”
State school board members passed the policies in August as part of their efforts to reform the system, which has been the subject of an ongoing state and federal investigation that has uncovered corruption and nepotism problems.
Former state Rep. Bryant Melton, D-Tuscaloosa, resigned in 2006 and pleaded guilty to charges related to his job at Shelton State Community College. In January, former Chancellor Roy Johnson agreed to plead guilty to 15 felony bribery and corruption counts and told prosecutors he used his position to secure jobs for legislators.
Gov. Bob Riley, who had tried to get similar polices passed by the Legislature in 2007, said Tuesday’s implementation “will go a long way in ending the corruption that has plagued Alabama’s two-year college system for decades.”
Todd Stacy, a spokesman for Riley, said the governor appreciates what Byrne and the board have done and “will stand with them to make sure the abuses that became all too familiar never happen again.”
Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, said he shouldn’t have any problem doing his work in the Senate while maintaining his job in the college system where he’s been employed for about five years.
Some have suggested the policy would be more reasonable if it did not just apply to educators in the two-year college system, but Ross said he doesn’t think people in any profession should be barred from office.
“I think that any individual that has the ability and fortitude to want to serve in public office should have that opportunity because as young people when you grow up to gain your particular profession, you have the idea that the sky’s the limit in terms of what you want to do,” he said.
“But to tell people you can’t participate in the political process is just not in my opinion a fair deal,” he said.
Rep. Randy Hinshaw, D-Meridianville, said he has saved up leave time in his junior college job and will use that time to attend legislative meetings for the remainder of the current session.
“I will follow the policy,” said Hinshaw, program director of Central Alabama Skills Consortium at Southern Union Community College.
But Hinshaw said he feels legislators are being singled out by the policy.
“This is punitive. I think it’s a shame. If all of us resigned, none of our votes would change and the system would not be improved or made worse,” he said.
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