A Terrified Pachyderm?


Is the Administration at the University of Alabama like a tiny trembling pachyderm who is terrified by a giant mouse? Is The Machine  a huge rodent that gnaws away on any pretense of ethical student conduct when it comes to campus politics.

A article in the campus newspaper The Crimson White (CW) “A look at The Machine’s influence — Breaking Down The Machine” b

SGA [Student Government Association] elections at The University of Alabama are rarely boring. In the most recent contest, candidates drew significant interest for scandals, campaign violations and owning up to membership in an infamous campus secret society. For the first time in the University’s history, a candidate for SGA president publicly said he was backed by Theta Nu Epsilon, a group of campus sororities and fraternities commonly referred to as The Machine.

“Anybody on [the SGA Executive Council] who was looking at doing something [The Machine] didn’t like, or running against them for a position in the future…their threat is going to be like, ‘If you do this, besides individual consequences, we are going to take this out on your entire house too,’ and that is often a very powerful thing,” the individual said.

The consequences for not following The Machine’s wishes typically includes threats of an individual’s fraternity or sorority not having swaps, and also turning the individual into a social outcast.

Additionally, the source said while many University administrators do not necessarily hold favorable opinions of The Machine, a “stranglehold” still exists on administrators preventing them from acting against The Machine.

Just what sort of “stranglehold” would the The Machine have? One person was quoted in the CW article as saying, “The easiest way to explain it is that administrators are scared to do anything because they think they’re going to lose their jobs for it.”

Much has been made of the fact that a Machine backed black candidate for the first time in the University’s history was elected as SGA President in 2017. Not everyone thinks that means a lot. Recently elected SGA Senator Mike Smith in the CW article thinks that things will soon return to the traditional way of doing things.

“They don’t care about diversity, equality or inclusion, no matter how many meaningless SGA events they throw,” Smith said. “The Machine messed up with Stevie Keller a few years back, so they nominated a woman and a black man back-to-back to regain control… after two years of getting over 50 percent, I promise you the basement will throw up a white conservative Old Row fraternity guy for president next year.”


Goats & Ethics



Ethics reform was considered the first order of business when Republicans finally had a a majority of the votes in the Alabama State Legislature in 2010. There was talk of overhauling the state’s ethics laws and making ethics laws tougher. Newly elected Governor Robert Bentley said that his top priority was to call a Special Session to to take up ethics laws.

In 2010 Robert Bentley said, “I campaigned across the state telling people Montgomery needs a bath, that corruption in our government, in the Legislature, would be cleaned up. I meant that.

“I know of no more effective way to clean up the corruption we have seen than to pass the toughest set of ethics laws in the country. And I’m confident, with Republican majorities in the Senate and House, we are going to get it done.”

In 2017 the New York Times reported: “Mr. Bentley’s resignation is the third major transfer of power in Alabama government since June, when the House speaker, Michael G. Hubbard, was convicted of ethics charges and forced from office. Later in the year, Chief Justice Roy S. Moore was suspended for the balance of his term for violating judicial ethics standards.”

The land that the state capitol was built on in 1846 is called Goat Hill, because it had previously been used as pasturage for goats. It is more likely that goats will return to the hill than for the state of Alabama to ever see ethics reform.


Fifty nine seconds & a smartphone in a purse



The expression “Bless His Heart And Other Parts” seems to be popping up all over the place, in much the same way as rumors of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s imminent resignation are.

The recording that hoisted Bentley with his own petard was made using a smartphone that his former wife Diane Bentley had placed in her purse. According to Al.com’s Paul Gattis, catching the “Luv Guv” talking to his indispensable assistant didn’t take long. 59 seconds. Gattis reported on findings in the House Judiciary Committee impeachment report:

The report said Ms. Bentley worked with Hannah, her chief of staff, to make a recording “that she could use to ‘catch’ her husband and Mason in the affair.”

Ms. Bentley came up with the idea of using the recorder on her cell phone to capture audio between her husband and Mason. Ms. Bentley asked Hannah to show her how to do it, the report said.

“Ms. Bentley captured the first of two recordings by turning on the phone’s recording device, placing it in her purse on the sofa, and then announcing to her husband that she was taking a long walk on the beach,” the report said.

“Promptly upon her departure–within approximately 59 seconds–Governor Bentley was on the phone with Mason.”

The first recording included Bentley engaging “in the now-infamous monologue about how much he enjoys feeling Mason’s breasts and their need to lock the door to his office when engaging in certain activities,” the report said. That recording later ignited the public scandal.

His wife made a second recording. Hannah downloaded the recordings to a laptop computer, burned them onto a disc, made a copy for herself “for her own protection” and gave the original to Ms. Bentley.

Bentley had even ordered now-fired Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier to be prepared to arrest Heather Hannah if the tapes were released. Her crime, one could only assume, was that she showed his wife how to use her smartphone and downloaded the recordings that his wife made into a laptop. Is there a law in Alabama against assisting another person with information technology?



The Good Ship Northport



In the last year sailors have really been jumping off the good ship Northport. IT Director Michael Ramm was the latest department head who went overboard. Exactly one year before Ramm resigned, City Adminstrator Scott Collins turned in his resignation papers, receiving a large amount of severance pay.

Finance Director Kenneth McKeown was fired just three days later by the Council without explanation. On February 9, 2017, in a federal court Northport Attorney Bruce Henderson was reported to have said that McKeown had “acted inappropriately during a February 2016 training trip he took with a woman who worked for him in the finance department.” McKeown now works as Biloxi, Mississippi’s administrator. It would be reasonable to assume that either people in Biloxi are not concerned about the sexual harassment charges or McKeown is not guilty.

The Tuscaloosa News reported that, “McKeown testified Thursday that he did nothing wrong and that his behavior on the trip could only be considered inappropriate ‘if somebody was trying to make something out of it.’ He told [U.S. District Judge] Coogler he was placed on leave less than 24 hours after discovering an expense account that a support technician told him only Collins could access.”

The Tuscaloosa News ran an editorial on May 5, 2016 saying:


The Northport City Council and the city’s attorney have gone to great lengths, it seems, to keep a lid on the circumstances surrounding the recent departures of city administrator Scott Collins and city finance director Kenneth McKeown.

Collins resigned suddenly on April 15, and received a lucrative payout on his way out the door. Then, on Monday, the council, without explanation, fired McKeown, who became finance director on Feb. 1 but had been on paid leave since April 8.

On the day Collins resigned, City Attorney Ron Davis sent an email to the city’s benefits administrator, directing her to cut three checks totaling $131,241 to Collins, including one for one year’s salary ‘to be paid in one lump sum today.’ He also sent the email to council members Bart Harper, Jay Logan and Rodney Sullivan. Left off the recipient list were council members Judy Hayes and Bert Sims and Mayor Bobby Herndon.

Given the timing, one can’t help but wonder whether there is some connection between the resignation of Collins and McKeown’s firing. But, related or not, both departures were handled in mysterious fashion. Why? The people of Northport have a right to know how their government is being run.


In the Tuscaloosa News article that reported Michael Ramm’s resignation, Northport Mayor Donna Aaron was quoted as having said that rehiring an IT Director wasn’t a high priority because of the “cyber security” firm that had recently looked at “computer, networking and email systems.” That almost makes it seem that the duties of an IT Director are limited to policing what information might be leaked.

The city spent $220,000 on cyber-security, hiring Viperline, a Birmingham-based IT company.  According to University of Maryland University College, “Cyber security, also referred to as information technology security, focuses on protecting computers, networks, programs, and data from unintended or unauthorized access, change, or destruction.”

The actual duties of an IT Director concern far more than “cyber-security.”

In Cupertino California an IT Director duties are to: “Create and implement a five year technology plan; identify the source of operating problems, including hardware and software aspects for personal computer systems; analyze and assess the nature and degree of the problem and implement or recommend corrective action; perform administrative functions on the city’s wide area network, including user access admission, file management, resource sharing, and system security; evaluate departmental requests for system enhancements/modifications, and oversee and implement enhancements/modifications as appropriate; develop city wide hardware and software standards; analyze and evaluate vendor supplied software and hardware products in accordance with City requirements and specifications; recommend new or replacement products as appropriate; negotiate and/or administer contracts for the acquisition, installation and application of vendor products; maintain and repair computer hardware as necessary and assist departments in use of computers, troubleshooting, and resolving network problems.” The IT Director also trains personnel and prepares an annual IT budget.

Just as in the case with Collins and McKeown, the reason for Ramm’s departure may never be made known to the public. Interim City Administrator Joseph Rose has declined to say why Ramm was put on administrative leave, citing it as a “confidential personnel matter.”

It is thought by many people that the seemingly never ending search for a City Administrator will lead to the hiring of Interim City Administrator Rose.

Stephen Dethrage reported in the Tuscaloosa News:

Four of the 12 applicants to be Northport’s next city administrator already hold leadership positions at City Hall, according to a list of candidates released to The Tuscaloosa News.

Applicants for the position include Assistant Police Chief Keith Carpenter, Human Resources Director Joseph Rose, Public Works Director Brooke Starnes and Planning Director Scott Stephens, all of whom work for the city of Northport.

Hiring a new city administrator has been a priority of the City Council since the resignation of Scott Collins last April, but the search was restarted in November when a new mayor and new council members took office.

The previous council posted advertisements for the position last summer and drew 39 applications. The Civil Service Board narrowed the field to 10 candidates, then to three finalists whose names they passed on to the council for another round of interviews. Those were held in October and a hire seemed imminent, but in the municipal election in August and runoffs in October, Northport voters elected Donna Aaron mayor, replacing Bobby Herndon, and also elected three new council members.

After debating the issue in their first meeting, the new council decided the city administrator should not be a civil service position and voted to start the search from scratch.


When Utilities Director Larry Ingram “stepped down” he was reported in The Tuscaloosa News as saying that “there is $43 million of work that could be done today to maintain the systems in Northport, if the funding was available. Because the city can’t all finance that work at once, Ingram had to constantly prioritize projects to keep all systems running as smoothly as possible.”

Ingram was in charge in July 2016 when a wastewater spill “estimated in excess of 400,000 gallons, and possibly much larger” took place. It is thought that back up pumps were either inoperable or missing, contributing to the severity of the spill. The alleged use of Water and Sewer funds in Northport to pay general operating expenses may have contributed to the city’s inability to “maintain its systems.”

After City Engineer Charles Swann became the city’s Interim City Administrator, his job was filled by John Powell Webb, who was Swann’s apprentice for four years. Apparently some Council members have always wanted Webb replaced.

On April 3, 2017 the Council appointed BKI’s Bruce Higginbotham as the new City Engineer. The Tuscaloosa News reported that Higginbotham told the Council members that “his strength was in his interpersonal skills and told the council if they are trying to hire someone to be a technically minded ‘engineer’s engineer,’ they should look elsewhere.”

The three candidates for the job were John Powell Webb, Bruce Higginbotham and Anthony Hughes. Anthony Hughes, the lead project manager at the U.S. Pipe plant in Bessemer, would have fit better in the Utilities Department but John Powell who had been second in command in the City Engineer office for four years was given the utilities position as a consolation.

Hughes seemed to think that Powell would have been selected. He was quoted in the Tuscaloosa News as having said, “I’m not selling myself short, but the reality is John Powell’s been here a few years, and if you guys move toward him, that’s not going to hurt my feelings at all. I hope that I’ve talked to you guys enough so that when you open up the opportunity to fill the utilities director position that maybe you’ll consider me for that, too.”


When will the musical chairs in Northport ever end? It was rumored in the last year that two or three people were going to be appointed City Administrator. Now, a year after Scott Collins resigned, the position still hasn’t been filled. And three departmental heads have left.

One lingering concern about the Northport City Administrator position is an ordinance passed in 2007 that took away the City Administrator’s responsibilities. A new ordinance was passed by the Council in April 2017 — almost ten years later  — that was intended to restore the City Administrator’s authority.


Going through the motions!


An Associated Press story reports:

A board is seeking an investigation into the election of a new University of Alabama student government president who won with the open backing of a secretive campus society.

The student government’s election board asked Thursday for the Office of Student Conduct to review Jared Hunter’s election earlier this month.

Hunter won after publicly acknowledging he was backed by a campus group called The Machine which is controlled by historically white fraternities and sororities. Hunter was the first black candidate to gain the group’s support.

The election board is asking a review of Hunter’s support by the Machine. It’s also raising questions about violations of election rules.

Does this mean that the Machine über alles way of life at the University might change?

Probably not.

But at least they’re going through the motions.


“It don’t matter if you’re black or white”


If you take the Associated Press’s reporter Jay Reeves article “Black SGA president discusses white support at Alabama” at face value you might be led to believe that a revolution in values has occurred at the University. Reeves describes newly elected SGA President Jared Hunter in glowing terms.

Someone like Jared Hunter was impossible to imagine even a few years ago at the University of Alabama.

A preppy black guy who grew up outside a small town near Montgomery, Hunter not only is the first member of a prestigious, all-white fraternity, Theta Chi, but he has black female friends who are officers in previously all-white sororities. This, at a campus where Greek-letter social groups were racially segregated until protests upended the old system in 2013.

To top it off, the 21-year-old junior this week became the first black person elected student government president at Alabama with the backing of a secretive, white-controlled campus society called The Machine. Think of Yale University’s “Skull and Bones,” but with top-notch football and tailgating.

Reeves thinks that times have truly changed.

Two other blacks have been elected Student Government Association president at Alabama, but not with the blessing of The Machine, a notorious group blamed for social blackballing, vote-buying, vandalism and worse through the years.

Is the fact that Hunter had Machine support such a great thing? Will that change the dominance that a small number of mostly well-heeled students have in campus politics? Does this mean that a non-Machine affiliated candidate will stand a chance to serve on the Tuscaloosa City Council? District Four was purposely drawn up to be a a student-majority district. In its most recent iteration a big slice of non-student residents who had always been in D-4 were cut off. Unfortunately, most of the student votes in municipal elections have come from Machine affiliated students. Most students aren’t all that concerned about local politics although perhaps they should be.

On the day that a non-Machine candidate, even a recent or current student of the University of Alabama, can win in District Four then it might be said that “The times they are a’changing.”

The most revolutionary thing that that Jared Hunter could do would be to work to abolish The Machine. In the interview Hunter said:

Deliberating whether or not I was going to accept The Machine’s endorsement was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to think about. Knowing that they have a pretty awful history here at the university with tons of alleged attacks or whatever it may be on students or other candidates.

Maybe someday Michael Jackson’s lyrics that “It don’t matter if you’re black or white” will mean something. The election of Jared Hunter ain’t necessarily a sign of a post-racial University. Of course he could always become a spokesman for “Black Lives Matter.”


He fought the law and the law lost


In spite of having been slapped on the wrist for a violation of the student code of conduct by the University, Machine candidate Jared Hunter easily won the Student Government Association election.

Bennett Stansell reported in the student newspaper Crimson White:

Before he even heard the official Facebook live announcement, Jared Hunter knew that he had claimed an unofficial victory in the 2017 SGA presidential election thanks to a celebratory roar, yelled by his campaign staff, close friends and fraternity brothers, that enveloped the entire Theta Chi fraternity house on Tuesday night. Unofficial results had Hunter winning with 54 percent of the student vote.

On how much power he will give “The Machine” during his presidency, Hunter said “None.

Hunter had two “major” campaign ethics violations and one “intermediate” campaign spending limit violation according to an AL.com story by Ivana Hyrnkiw.

If Jared Hunter continues his successful political career he may wind up representing District Four on the Tuscaloosa Council. The way that the district was drawn up insures that a student will be elected. That virtually means that  a former member of the Machine will always be on the Council.