Kennedy, Rogers Retire After School Scandals
By Associated Press
Montgomery, AL – The state school board voted Thursday to accept the retirement of Bishop State Community College President Yvonne Kennedy and Shelton State President Rick Rogers, despite calls for their firing over financial scandals on their campuses.
Kennedy's retirement will be effective July 31 and Rogers' will be effective Sept. 30. The vote for Rogers was unanimous, but the vote in Kennedy's case was 7-1 with Ella Bell of Montgomery abstaining.
Some school board members said they were concerned about sending the wrong message by not terminating the presidents. Rogers will receive a greater retirement pension by remaining through September. Kennedy will retain an honorary title of "president emeritus" effective Aug. 1, but will not get extra money by delaying her retirement.
"In the interim they're still paying (Rogers) and he's going to even benefit from staying until the end of September," board member Stephanie Bell of Montgomery said. "So for that reason, I'm not entirely pleased. I was ready to fire both of them."
She said she worried the board's move sets a "poor precedent."
System Chancellor Bradley Byrne said he understood those concerns but felt accepting the retirement plans was in the best interest of the system.
"I don't think either one is being let off easy," Byrne said after the meeting. "In both cases you got presidents and people that have been in the system a long time and they're retiring. ...so I don't think it would be easy for them. It wouldn't be easy for me."
Phone messages left for Rogers' and Kennedy's attorneys were not immediately returned Thursday.
Gov. Bob Riley commended Byrne for promptly resolving the matter.
"We can talk for a long time about what could and should have been done. He took immediate action and that was what was needed," said Riley.
The board also approved a resolution against pass-through appropriations, also known as "pass-through-pork." The Alabama House passed a similar bill in the recently ended legislative session, but it died in the Senate.
The House voted 103-0 to approve the bill that would also create a legislative commission that would review spending by the governor.
Kennedy, a Democratic state representative from Mobile, has served as president at the Mobile school since 1981. Rogers, who was placed on administrative leave in November, has been president at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa since 2000.
Byrne, hired to overhaul the two-year program a month ago, has been reviewing records from both colleges, where system officials have been conducting internal investigations.
Former Southern Union Community College President Joanne Jordan was named acting president of Shelton State in Rogers' absence. Byrne said Thursday she will continue in that capacity and the search for a new president will begin on Sept. 17.
Byrne named Jim Lowe Jr., the system's vice chancellor for college operations, as the interim president for Bishop State.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools announced earlier this month that it was extending Bishop State's probation status for another six months. The school was first sanctioned in December and faces losing its accreditation, which would mean students could not receive federal financial aid.
A fraud investigation at Bishop State has resulted in 27 arrests of students and employees, including the school's financial aid director and softball, baseball and basketball coaches. Kennedy has said corrective actions were taken to address the problems in the financial aid department.
Lowe will lead a four-member team in what Byrne is calling "Project Phoenix" to restore the college's integrity.
"This school will rise from the ashes," Byrne said.
"It's pressure always and this is nothing new for myself and some of the team members," Lowe said. "I have some experience in doing this kind of work, although every time it's up it's a new venture and you never know what you're going to get into."
Bishop State spokesman Herb Jordan said the college "welcomes the transition team and looks forward to working with its members" to move the college forward. He said news that Kennedy's 25-year term was ending spread quickly throughout the campus, but it was largely "business as usual" there.
Former interim two-year chancellor Thomas Corts arranged the system's investigation at Shelton State last fall and placed Rogers on paid leave while they probed allegations that Rogers received money from a fraud scheme.
Those allegations surfaced after Robert Nix, former Alabama Fire College board member, agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of money laundering, wire fraud and theft from a government agency.
The Fire College is based at Shelton State. Nix said in his plea agreement that the school's president received $11,000 worth of furniture for his home and $14,000 to pay a personal cell phone bill from money Nix doled out from the Alabama Fire College Foundation.
Rogers has said the Fire College's foundation did provide a cell phone package, but he did not know about the furniture purchases.