Ex-Aide to Siegelman and Davis Also Paid By Two-Year College System
By Associated Press
Birmingham AL – While working for former Gov. Don Siegelman and U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, Gina Bailey McKell drew a paycheck from Alabama's two-year college system, The Birmingham News reported Sunday.
McKell received nearly $73,000 a year from one college to work in the governor's office and later more than $76,000 a year to work in Davis' office until she resigned last year, according to the report.
Both Siegelman and Davis are Democrats.
McKell is the cousin of one of Siegelman's former closest aides, Nick Bailey, who became a prosecution witness at the ex-governor's bribery trial. She's the daughter of Jake Bailey, the former longtime president of Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.
With a high school diploma, McKell received her first two-year college job in April 1997. She was hired by Jefferson State President Judy Merritt to work 19 hours a week in the school's community relations office, system records show.
Her pay jumped to just more than $65,000 a year in November 2000, after she was named community affairs coordinator.
It was shortly after that, McKell said, that she went to work for Siegelman. She was assigned to the Gov.'s Office on National and Community Service. Her salary rose to $72,659 in May 2001 while she worked for Siegelman, records show.
After Siegelman lost to Riley in 2002, McKell's salary transferred from Jefferson State to Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, system records show.
Between her jobs with Siegelman and Davis, McKell remained on the college payroll in the governor's office for a few months during Republican Bob Riley's transition into office.
While working for Davis, she was paid $76,883 a year by Shelton State, records show.
Davis said McKell contacted his office for a job, and he believed Shelton's arrangement to pay her was proper.
McKell, described by Davis as "a very active Democrat," in recent months has been sending regular e-mails to friends, fellow Democrats and others urging them to challenge Siegelman's conviction on federal bribery charges.
Davis is one of the few elected Alabama Democrats publicly joining Siegelman in questioning his prosecution and calling for a congressional review of the case.
Siegelman was convicted and is serving more than seven years in a federal prison. Nick Bailey entered a plea agreement in the case and was sentenced to 18 months for bribery and filing a false income tax return.
Davis defended McKell's arrangement to be paid by colleges to work in his office. He said it was clear to him that system officials approved the idea, and had approved her working for Siegelman and for Riley for a few months in 2003, during his transition into the office.
"If it was permissible for a junior college employee to be loaned to the executive office to work for the governor, again, I'm struggling to see frankly what question would exist about her being loaned to this office," Davis told The News.
McKell's situation was criticized last week as another example of inappropriate political behavior by two-year colleges.
"I don't think it makes any sense to ever do this," two-year colleges Chancellor Bradley Byrne said.
Byrne said he learned of McKell's arrangement recently and told his staff to make sure no other employees were being used this way. "There may be others. As we go through researching these things, we find things we didn't know existed," he said.
State school board members said they didn't know college presidents were allowing such arrangements, although records show the presidents who agreed to pay McKell's salary received approval from former Chancellor Roy Johnson.
"If you don't need that individual on campus, then there's no reason to have that person employed by your college and working in someone else's office," state school board member Stephanie Bell of Montgomery said.
Riley's staff said he was not aware that McKell was paid by a two-year college when she worked during his transition, and he would never approve such an arrangement.
Toby Roth, who as Riley's chief of staff at the time agreed to keep McKell while new staff was hired, said he granted her request to continue working on the college system's payroll because it would be for only a few months.
"It was a mutual agreement that she was going to leave," Roth said.
McKell declined requests for interviews but responded last week to written questions from The News.
She said she told Riley personally that she was being paid by a two-year college while working for Siegelman, and later his staff approved a similar arrangement for her time during the transition.
Efforts to reach Riley for comment failed. But Roth and Riley spokesman Jeff Emerson contradicted McKell, saying Riley was never told how she was paid.
McKell said there are benefits to college employees working in the offices of Alabama politicians, including providing more services to the public from state workers.
"I personally believe it would have been inappropriate in a state with as many needs as Alabama to ignore those resources," McKell said in her written response.
Information from: The Birmingham News
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