HAMILTON - Circuit Court Judge Lee Carter of the 25th Judicial Circuit approved a motion by defendants Bevill State Community College (BSCC) President Dr. Kim Ennis and Alabama Community College System (ACCS) Chancellor Jimmy Baker to move an Alabama open records case out of Marion County.
The community college’s motion was heard and granted by Carter during a trial hearing held at the Marion County Courthouse on Wednesday, Jan. 16.
Carter allowed Ennis’ and Baker’s motion to carry after hearing from the respective attorneys in the case. Hamilton attorney Tony Glenn is representing the plaintiffs, the BSCC-Hamilton Campus Legislative Task Force for Education, many of which were present.
ACCS Attorney David O’Brien is representing the defendants. Ennis and BSCC Dean of Workforce Development Al Moore were present for the hearing. Baker did not attend.
The task force filed it lawsuit in August 2018 pointing to the Alabama Open Records Act (Alabama Code 36-12-40), which states that every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state.
The group is alleging that Baker and Ennis unlawfully ignored requests for information concerning the BSCC-Hamilton Campus.
The task force, which consists of a number of Marion County officials and community members, formed in response to what they believe to be malicious actions by BSCC beginning in April 2018, when it announced plans to close three technical programs at its Hamilton location.
These classes included Machine Tool Technology, Drafting Design Engineering and Vehicle Technology and Auto body repair.
The task force believes that BSCC and the ACCS are intent on “neutering” the Hamilton Campus in an effort to ultimately close its doors. Both Ennis and Baker have consistently denied this.
Those listed as members on the task force are: Marion County Superintendent of Education Ann West, Hamilton Mayor Bob Page, Winfield Mayor Randy Price, Hackleburg High School Counselor Charlotte Howell, Journal Record General Manager Les Walters, CIS Home Loans President Paula Reeves, former Guin Mayor Phil Segraves, Tony Shackelford, Tombigbee Electric Cooperative Chief Financial Officer Steve Foshee and NTN-Bower Human Resources Manager Mark Hankins.
Present at the hearing were Foshee, Price, Reeves, Segraves, Shackelford and Walters.
The motion heard
O’Brien successfully argued before Carter that Alabama law gives defendants the right to be tried in the county of their residence, which in this case, would be Walker County, where Ennis resides, or Montgomery County, where Baker is a resident.
The ACCS attorney noted that both individuals are being sued both personally and in their official capacities as BSCC president and ACCS chancellor.
He asserted that the law in this respect as well would hold Walker and Montgomery county as appropriate venues for the trial.
An objection to the motion was filed by the task force; however, O’Brien explained that the cases cited as examples to argue blocking the motion were obsolete as they involved out-of-state residents.
Glenn attempted to persuade the judge by noting that the task force was not seeking monetary damages through its lawsuit, only the release of public records according to Alabama’s Open Records Act.
He said that any court should be able to uphold the law and also noted that Ennis, in her official capacity, has an office on the Hamilton Campus.
A brief exchange took place between the attorneys concerning the trial at-large after Glenn explained the task force’s intention through the suit was to show that both Ennis and Baker disregarded Alabama law in closing the program.
“I have a whole lot to say about this at the appropriate time,” O’Brien said, going on to mention that, in fact, a five-year review had actually taken place before actions were taken.
Carter told both parties that the law was clear on the issue and asked them to agree on either Walker or Montgomery county. The task force preferred the latter.
In a followup interview, Glenn said that he was aware of what the law said in regard to the matter and that he and the task force had anticipated the motion being granted.
Phone calls to O’Brien following the hearing were not returned by presstime on Thursday, Jan. 17.
Were procedures followed?
The task force attorney said the scope of the Open Records suit was to verify if Ennis and Baker adhered to Alabama Code 300-2-2.
According to that portion of Alabama Code, colleges must undergo a closure process after determining that a program is not viable.
The code reads, “The review process will consist of an Identification Year Review and a Three-Year Monitoring Period.”
Another three-year phase-out period is supposed to begin to allow students who are enrolled to obtain their degrees.
In a closed BSCC staff meeting held in September 2018, Ennis recounted the order of events leading up to the announcement of the course closures, saying that BSCC and the ACCS had only initiated program viability consultations for the programs the previous year, September 2017.
It was also told in that meeting that the Alabama Department of Higher Education (ACHE) released statewide program viability data in November 2017 showing lagging figures in Bevill State in machine tool technology, automotive technology and drafting and design.
Attempts to reach either attorney by presstime for comment were unsuccessful.
See complete story in the Journal Record.