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September 29, 1993

Turmoil in the Neighborhood:

The "Accountability" Bill

by Dr. Doug Magann

[Editor's note: This is the seventh in a series about the Mobile County Public Schools System written by former superintendent Dr. Doug Magann.]

A cursory review of the facilities situation during the first few weeks of my tenure, coupled with my previous experiences, led me to conclude that we had about a $350 million challenge ahead of us just to bring the schools up to minimal standards. When asked what I thought it would take to "fix the problem", I said $25 million per year bonded for 20 years to produce the $350 million. Most audiences swallowed hard, but continued to listen.

Various attorneys informed me that the school property tax rate could be increased only 15.5 mills before it reached the Constitutional cap. It was just about enough to do the job. The School Board adopted a resolution urging the Legislative Delegation to set a referendum on the issue. Representative Bill Clark introduced the bill. It passed the House Delegation and was sent to the Senate, where it was promptly buried.

The "accountability" or "cafeteria" bill first surfaced formally around March 26, 1992, although Senator Bedsole had been promoting the idea for several months in various circles. She somehow had gotten the idea from Jackson, Mississippi and was convincing herself that it was the salvation for Mobile.

I had some familiarity with Jackson. The situation there was totally different from that which existed in Mobile. During Bob Fortenberry's tenure as Superintendent in Jackson, the schools had been fairly well maintained and the district enjoyed something of a reputation for being progressive from a program standpoint. Mobile had next to nothing in common with Jackson, other than geographical location. Our facilities situation was so much worse than theirs that it could not even be compared. When Bedsole first mentioned the idea at a Chamber of Commerce committee meeting, no one paid any attention to it because it would not begin to address the problems in Mobile. She continued to bring it up at subsequent meetings, and it met with the same reactions.

My guess is that Senator Steve Windom and Representative Taylor Harper began to pay some attention to it (and probably Representative Mike Box) when they realized that the Delegation was going to have to do something. From a political perspective, this was the least damaging thing they could put forth, and it had the added benefit of sticking it to the schools again by adding a "super school board" and criminal penalties for anyone (i.e., the School Board) violating the bizarre expenditure provisions contained in the bill. The bill called for a public referendum on nine separate items. The public could approve none, one, several, or all of them. Sort of like the menu in a Chinese resturant. This format would "enable the public to decide how its money was to be spent" and releave the Legislators of any responsibility for a tax increase.

Apparently, Bedsole was encouraged to draft the bill. The first version was nothing short of incredible! When people saw it, they were convinced that it was a joke, or at least a diversion. I knew better. We were counting on a Black- White coalition coming up with something that was workable. When our only Black Senator, Michael Figures, signed onto the bill, I knew we were in trouble in spite of repeated assurances from members of the Black community. Internal Legislative politics usually involve some strange trade-offs, especially in the waning days of a session.

We decided to crank up the parent groups and make them aware of the situation. Word of this got back to the Delegation quickly. Board member "Sugar" Warren had suggested a post card campaign and it was passed along to the parents who put it in motion literally overnight. I was told that over 20,000 post cards were received at the Capital during the next few weeks. And they got the attention of the delegation members.

Nick Holmes, the venerable Dean of the Mobile architectural community and a group of volunteer engineers, architects and contractors had undertaken a cursory review of school facilities in January, 1992 after the "facilities study" debacle and I knew that, when his findings were released, they would highlight the obvious insanity of the bill. They just had to be released before the Legislature actually passed the thing.

Over the weekend of April 12, Holmes met with Bedsole and alerted her to what his report was going to say. Sources told me that this was an act of charity toward an old friend. Bedsole called me on April 13 and asked if I could come to Montgomery on the 14th to discuss the bill with the Senate Delegation. I agreed to go, thinking that Holmes had gotten their attention and that there might be some way to convince them to gracefully back away from this thing before it was too late. Gene Tysowsky, community relations officer of the school system, went with me and spent some time with Representative Mary Zoghby while I met with Bedsole.

When I arrived, I discovered that Senator Windom had returned to Mobile the night before, that Senator Lipscomb had gone home, and that Senator Figures was tied up with his accountant trying to get his taxes ready. Bedsole called Windom and put him on the speaker phone.

From the beginning, it was apparent that we were not there to "discuss" anything of substance. They proceeded to tell me that it was this bill or nothing, and that I had better get behind it. I explained to them that I could not and would not do that because the bill, as written, did not address the problems of the school system and would make matters worse rather than improve them. We would just have to agree to disagree on this one and take it to the people. Both were upset with this last proposition, although Windom remained calm on the phone. We hung up after about an hour.

Bedsole and I continued to talk for another hour or so. I remember the conversation well. She began this second stage by dressing me down about the way I had shaken her hand when I entered her office. She said that my handshake was "limp and I should know that offends women." She then proceeded to show me how to shake hands. I remember thinking at the time: I don't want to break anyone's hand, but the reason for the offensive shake when I came in the door was that I was carrying several files in that hand when she shook it.

After we got past these lessons in Legislative manners, I reaffirmed my position on the bill and tried to, again, explain why I did not think it would work. She, in turn, reaffirmed the position of Windom and herself. At this point, I said that "when things reach this point, it is time to go to the streets and have the war." (A poor choice of words.) She exploded and began to scream. She said that she "knew all about me, and that I had come to Mobile to start a war!"

I was taken aback, to say the least. I let her go on until she had calmed down. I think that she was a little embarrassed, and quickly became more conciliatory. We concluded the conversation on a pleasant note some 15-20 minutes later. I concluded that they really were afraid of the public.

On the drive back to Mobile, Tysowsky and I reviewed the happenings of the day. He had gotten the impression from Zoghby that the bill was on a fast track, but was vulnerable. We decided to go to the Board for some guidance.

I called School Board President Jeanne Andrews upon returning to Mobile and we arranged a breakfast meeting on the 16th at the Pancake House on Airport Blvd. I shared my impressions of Bedsole's reactions and told her that I thought we could, with the assistance of the parent groups, get the 15.5 mill bill out of the Senate, but that I needed guidance from the Board. She said that she would call the other members and get back to me. She did later that day and had set up a meeting at N.Q. Adams' weekend home across the Mobile Bay at Point Clear on Saturday. She suggested that I bring Tysowsky, since he was the "campaign guru."

Andrews and Tysowsky met me at my house on Saturday and we drove over together. Everyone was there. Adams picked up some sandwiches at a local deli and the meeting got underway about 1 PM. I explained what had happened that week, and shared my opinions about the options before us. Much serious discussion followed, liberally sprinkled with character assassinations of various members of the Delegation.

Warren was the most vocal and advocated "lynching the bastards" as soon as possible. It was one of the few times she and Mitchell ever agreed on anything. Fournier was a little more reserved, but wanted to turn the parents loose anyway. Adams did not want to offend any member of the Delegation and was worried about being confrontational with them. Adams is a close personal friend of Nick Holmes but he does not care a whole lot for Bedsole. Looking back on it, I think that some of his reservation about open confrontation was in deference to his friend Holmes, and some because he represented the establishment. He knew that Holmes had talked with Bedsole and he was "sure that everything was being worked out." I told him that nothing substantive was going to be worked out, according to Windom and Bedsole. Andrews was quiet throughout the meeting. I did not take this to mean anything at the time because she was very supportive of the parent activities, and I suspected that Warren and Fournier were speaking for her. She was playing facilitator and mediator.

In the end, everyone agreed to "turn the parents loose" on the Delegation. Tysowsky was to arrange it during the next week, and the big push was to occur the week after. Andrews, Tysowsky and I discussed the details on the way home. Tysowsky was leaving the next day for Orlando and would be gone all week, but would handle it by long distance.

All went according to plan until Thursday or Friday. Schools were out for Spring Break, but I was in the office working. Andrews and Fournier had been at some meeting at the Chamber of Commerce and came across the street afterward. I think they may have made a trip to Montgomery that week, also. They came in the office and informed me that we were going to have to go with the "Cafeteria Bill." I was incredulous. When asked what had happened since Saturday and before we even made an effort, they "had talked with the Delegation and this was it. It was the only thing that was going to pass in Montgomery." We had surrendered without even giving the parents an opportunity to speak.

Tysowsky returned and I broke the news to him Sunday night. Now, we had a really serious problem of a different nature. The parent leaders were coming on Monday for a strategy session with me at 1 pm. We had to tell them something and that something could not be that Andrews and Fournier had folded. I do not remember what version we actually gave them, but I know that they were shaken and confused when they left. The "movement" died and we eventually got the "Cafeteria" Bill.

My opposition to the thing was pretty well known by then in some circles. Some of the parent leaders knew what I knew about the particulars, and agreed with me. So did the staff. On May 12, Bedsole paid me a visit at the office. She was not outwardly gloating, and I remember thinking that she had been sent over by someone to "ask for my cooperation." I know that it must have been a bitter pill for her to swallow. She was very polite, talked around the subject a great deal and dwelled on what a difficult session it had been. I remember that she made several comments about the State Department of Education budget. She was mistaken about the numbers she batted around and I tried to clear them up, but to no avail. I told her that I could not support the bill but, if the Board took a position on the bill, I would not oppose it. She thanked me and left. I think that was the last time she ever spoke to me.

On Friday of that week, Mayor Mike Dow came to see me. He wanted to talk about the bill, too, and some other items like what I needed to do with the system to fix it right away. Evidently, the Chamber had already decided to go to Louisville, Ky. on their annual junket because Dow was using Louisville as the model of what needed to be done in Mobile. All of this was coming from a man who had no idea what had already "been done" and who was in no mood to listen. He sent me a follow up letter the next week in which he detailed what I needed to do and suggested employees that he thought needed to be fired or put out to pasture.

We were in the throes of another "bank crisis" at the time, and we were trying to balance the '92-'93 budget in the face of a Legislative appropriation at the '91-'92 prorated level. At that point, it looked as though we were going to have to cut $7 million out of the budget. The "Cafeteria" Bill was not foremost on my mind. There were other, more immediate, problems.

We were having budget meetings with the community to try to explain the dilemma to them. There were going to be some severe cuts now that the die had been cast by the Legislature. Cutting $7.0 million out of the Mobile School System budget is something akin to asking the starving Somalians to eat less. There is nothing left to cut.

School budgets are 85 percent personnel and 15 percent "fixed costs," e.g., utilities, gas, oil, insurance, supplies, etc. Perhaps this is why many businessmen have such difficulty understanding school financial crises when they occur. In many businesses, personnel accounts for no more than 20-25 percent of the costs. In any event, the only means of affecting substantial reductions in a school system is to cut personnel. This is true for virtually every school district in the country, and especially for those operating at a "bare bones" level like Mobile.

The Cabinet (the Assistant Superintendents) had considered the eventuality for several weeks. Many long and painful meetings had been held trying to determine what reductions in service would minimize the damage, which we all knew was going to be substantial regardless of the alternatives selected.

Each division in the system (Facilities and Maintenance, Finance, Personnel, Student Services, Instruction, and the other support areas) was examined by the entire Cabinet. Everyone agreed that some areas simply could not be cut further. Personnel, Finance, and Maintenence were already woefully understaffed as a result of previous cuts, and Personnel was going to have to handle the notification and processing of those who would be affected under any scenario. The Finance Department was already so critically understaffed that major problems were cropping up daily. The entire Maintenance Department consisted of 112 people who could not begin to keep up with the existing work load. To make further reductions in any of these areas would have assured the total collapse of the school system. But even if the divisions could have been completely eliminated, the cost reduction would have been only about $3.0 million.

Reducing school budgets in Alabama is further complicated by the state funding formula and Legislative requirements. The vast majority of state dollars flowing into school systems come as teachers salaries and are "tied" to specific positions. That is, school districts are allocated certain positions that the State agrees to pay. If the positions are not filled, for whatever reason, the State keeps the funds allocated for the position. When the State declares proration, and people are already under contract, it simply reduces the number of positions it had agreed to fund and the district has to pay for those positions from "local" funds, i.e., borrow the money.

When proration was declared in October, 1991, the City and County contributions combined with the land sale had made up the difference. These were one-time, non-recurring revenues, but the State shortfall they replaced did recur in 1992. Since the substitute revenues were not going to recur, some cost reductions had to be made and the only places to make reductions of that magnitude were in the "locally funded" positions, i.e., those above and beyond the minimal State funded program.

All of these considerations, taken together, meant that the only areas that could be reduced to achieve the necessary cuts were Instruction and Student Services - the core of the school system. There were some 250 or so "locally funded" teacher positions above the State minimal program which totalled about $5.5 million. Special Education services could not be reduced without jeopardizing another $15.0 million in federal funds. This left the regular Instructional program as the only available alternative for reduction.

But eliminating 200 teacher positions is not a simple matter. For the most part, such reductions-in-force must be made on the basis of seniority. Non- tenured personnel must be laid off before tenured personnel, and even before tenured personnel can be transferred to other schools within the system.

There were some 700 non-tenured teachers employed by the district during the 1991-92 term. Decisions had to be made about which 200 would be eliminated for the 1992-93 term. Is it less damaging to eliminate entire program areas, e.g., music, art, physical education, or to increase the already high pupil-teacher ratios countywide for all classes? All of the alternatives were horrible to contemplate because all of us knew the long-term damage that would result from any combination.

We decided to list all of the possibilities and present them to the Board in two groups: those that we reluctantly recommended, and the remaining alternatives. The Board and the community would have to decide among the various prescriptions for disaster.

Until the Board made its decisions, all 700 non-tenured teachers had to be "laid off," with the understanding that approximately 500 would be recalled when the decisions were finalized. This unfortunate disruption of those teachers' lives was necessary in order to provide the Board the flexibility to reassign tenured personnel after it decided which programs to reduce or eliminate.

The budget reduction alternatives under consideration involved administrative personnel also. If the Board decided to eliminate an entire program area such as music, there would no longer be a need for anyone to coordinate the many activities associated with that program. The same held true for every instructional area.

One alternative being considered was reducing the guidance program to the State funded minimal level. Had this alternative been selected, only high school guidance counselors would have remained, for the most part. At that point, everyone was forced to question the necessity of a full-time guidance supervisor. Mrs. Paul Sousa is the guidance supervisor, and neither she nor her husband took kindly to the possibility of her position being eliminated.

Paul Sousa made his displeasure known to me in June. Both were upset that she had been included in the alternatives, but he had been party to the decisions and knew that there really were no other options. Decisons like those have to be made on the basis of programatic concerns rather than on whose relatives might be affected. One can only wonder how that little drama might have fueled the events of October 5th?

As the community and school system employees began to understand the consequences of the budget reduction alternatives that the Board was forced to consider, they began to stir and bring pressure to bear on the people who had caused the situation (the Legislators) and the only people who could do anything to help at that point in time (the City and County).

It was about this time that Bill Hanebuth of the Mobile County Education Association (MCEA) asked the Board to meet with Paul Hubbert, director of the Alabama Education Association, at the expense of the MCEA, to seek a solution to the budget crisis before all of the teachers got their notices. The offer was extended in a public meeting at Murphy High School, the media picked up on it, and it was virtually impossible for the Board to ignore it. We went up to see Hubbert on the 19th of May. This led to the infamous suit by the Mobile Press- Register.

Hubbert floated out the idea of inflating the revenue projections, not laying off anyone, and allowing things to run their course in the fall, i.e., let the school system slip into bankruptcy. He was convinced that nothing was going to be done about educational funding in Alabama until something drastic happened, and Mobile was a great place for that to occur. Fortunately, the four members of the Board thought he was as crazy as I did. Had his plan been put into motion and the inevitable occurred, the Board and Superintendent would have been the guilty parties, and the ones who had violated the law that requires them to submit a balanced budget. None of this ever came out because the suit was settled just before going to trial. I was not surprised.

Hubbert was under the opinion that the "Cafeteria" Bill held some hope for relief. As he came to understand it better during the meeting, he vacated that opinion. Looking back, I suspect that Hanebuth may have planted the notion that the "Cafeteria" Bill held some hope with Howard Bronson, publisher of the Mobile Press/Register, Hubbert and who knows who else.

Hanebuth considers himself an expert on school system finances. My observation is that he knows next to nothing about them. He has a tendency to make preposterously misleading and inflammatory pronouncements about the availability of funds, which put everyone on the defensive with employees and the public for days at a time. Much of this is done for effect and is consistent with his Michigan union training, but some of it he actually believes. Even when his own people disagree with his calculations, he frequently goes public with them and tries to push the Board toward his position. He may be successful in the near future, with catastrophic results for the system and the community. Should this occur, he will walk away without any legal responsibility for the disaster.

Other meetings occurred during the remaining days of May and into June in feverish attempts to resolve the budget crisis. The banks, the City, the County, and the Legislature were all playing games with the school system and the lives of hundreds of people were about to be thrown into disarray as a result. I was, admittedly, disgusted and depressed with the situation and the people who had brought it on. On June 5th, Bronson published an editorial entitled "School Officials Should Welcome Offers of Help" which read as follows:

"Mobile taxpayers are probably beginning to wonder why public school officials here continue complaining --legitimately, we hasten to add -- over a lack of funds but seem less than enthused every time someone offers a helping hand.

We recall that earlier this year school board members and administrators were warning that schools would close before the end of the school year unless there was an immediate infusion of additional funds. Banks which normally loaned money to the system said they would lend no more until they had some assurance of new sources of revenue to repay the loans.

Little Peoples Bank came to the rescue with an offer of a $3 million loan to head off what was portrayed as a disaster. Although the offer was finally accepted, Superintendent Doug Magann and Board members seemed almost reluctant to be rescued.

A similar attitude seemed to prevail at Wednesday's school board meeting when the system was presented with an offer of a new $17.5 million loan from several major banking institutions. The educators started claiming that they wouldn't be able to use loan proceeds to balance the budget because of some state law.

We are not learned in such matters of the law, but once again we have the appearance of reluctance on the part of our school officials to accept a helping hand.

And those helping hands have been extended from many directions over the past few weeks and months.

The Mobile County legislative delegation, for example, demonstrated rare political courage in passing a wide range of legislation designed to relieve the fiscal distress of our public schools. Indeed, a five-cent tax on cigarettes in the county and two bills diverting funds from local governments to the schools provide the assurance to bankers that there will be no problem in repayment of loans.

An accountability package to be voted on in November would provide long-term financial stability to the system which has traditionally suffered from local support.

State Reps. J.E. Turner and Mary Zoghby were at the forefront in getting these revenue measures approved; Sens. Ann Bedsole and Steve Windom are now out beating the bushes for public support of the accountability package that would add some $45 million a year to the local schools' operating budget.

And Mayor Mike Dow has played a prominent role in the background negotiations that resulted in this week's offer of a new line of credit to the schools.

The legislators, Dow, bankers and others were no doubt disappointed when the proposal Wednesday was greeted with something far less than enthusiasm at Barton Academy.

Although faced with slashing up to $6.3 million in programs and personnel pay for a $222 million budget for the next school year, Magann simply said, "The school board can't use loan proceeds as revenue."

Whatever happened to creative bookkeeping?

Surely some method could be found to use that loan money -- now guaranteed for repayment -- to avoid some of the drastic budget moves that have been threatened for the last several months.

We urge our school officials to try finding ways to take advantage of offers of assistance rather than giving the appearance of trying to avoid help for some obscure political reason."

People in the system would have cried had it not been so funny. Given the history of the school system, if any school employee had mentioned the term "creative bookkeeping," they would have been before a Grand Jury by nightfall.

On the same morning, Mobile United had its regular meeting and Bedsole and Windom were to speak on the "Cafeteria Bill." I decided to attend to see how they would answer what I knew would be obvious questions from relatively informed people. What a shock! The meeting was a pep rally and the "discussion" session had been carefully orchestrated to eliminate the possibility of any serious questions coming out of the group.

I came in late and found a seat at a table occupied by Bronson and Preston Bolt, a young local attorney, and others. Bedsole and Windom gave vacuous short speeches about how they had come to propose the bill and what wonderful things it would do for the schools. After they finished, those at the tables were to discuss the bill. Bolt was the appointed leader at our table. He immediately turned to me and tried to pass off the leadership role. I declined, suggesting that he explain some of the legal concerns with the bill that I knew he had. He mentioned several, but did not press them.

Bronson began to promote the bill like a cheerleader and, to my amazement, announced that it would solve "all of the school system's problems." I challenged him on this, and pointed out that the bill did not even address the operating budget problems (which were the ones that had been receiving all of the media attention of late). This is when Bronson articulated the same theory that Hubbert had expressed a couple of weeks earlier: if the bill were passed, it would free up money in the general fund that could be used to address the budget problems. I told the group that this simply was not so in our situation and that he (Bronson) did not understand school law and how school budgets worked. He started to argue with me and I asked him if he was referring to "creative bookkeeping." He pouted for the rest of the meeting.

At the close of the meeting, Gigi Armbrect asked for a show of hands of "all who are going to support the bill." Apparently, I was the only one in the room who did not follow the script.

After the meeting, Kathy Dean, a reporter for the Press/Register, approached me and said that she had noticed that I had not raised my hand. She had been the school reporter when I came to Mobile, and I had a great deal of respect for her objectivity and fairness. She is a very intelligent and thorough reporter, and she had some familiarity with the issues involved. In fact, she agreed with my analysis of the bill. Her questions of me were not sensational in nature, but required only factual responses.

The afternoon papers hit the street with the headline: Magann: Bill Won't Solve Problems. Later that afternoon, Dean contacted me for a response to Windom's call for my head. The Saturday papers were filled with Windom and Bedsole comments about Magann. The TV stations picked it up, and we had a weekend media feeding frenzy.

The Board members, or most of them, were caught off guard by these developments because they happened so fast, and many of them were out of reach when they started. I really had no concern about it at the time because the Board members knew how I felt, were aware of the problems with the bill, and shared my opinions for the most part. In fact, the Board was incensed that the Senators and the newspaper would try to tell them what to do.

On Sunday, Bronson ran another editorial entitled: Magann Should Be Forced Out As School Boss. It read, in part, as follows:

"It's time to start shopping for a person to run the Mobile County school system who is equal to the task...Magann's outburst to the press after a Mobile United meeting Friday morning proves that the best job description we can muster for Magann is a one-man public relations demolition derby against a much needed education accountability act.

Magann, who keeps trying to bite the hands trying to feed the education system he is supposed to be running, petulantly declared that nothing other than his own proposed solutions will solve the school system's financial problems...

If the five elected members of the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners do not meet as soon as possible to demand Magann's resignation, they will be equally derelict in their responsibility to the citizens of Mobile County...."

This editorial got the attention of a lot of people who read it. Bronson was now clearly staked out with the establishment and singing from the prepared script. Further he had made it clear that he intended to play very loose with the truth, even to the point of ignoring it, if it served his purpose. I had made no "outburst" but had only answered questions put to me by one of his reporters as honestly as I could. I had not mentioned "my solutions," but had answered questions about the alternative put forth by the Board. Further, he was now going to come after the Board if they failed to do what he prescribed.

Many new faces appeared at the Board meeting the following Wednesday. There was speculation, in the Press-Register, that the Board would dismiss me or, at the very least, censure me. Neither occurred and the Board, after some discussion, adopted a weak resolution of support for the bill. The motion contained a request that the Delegation come to a Board meeting to explain the many questions Board members (and the public) had about the bill. Of course, they never came.

Following that meeting, Bronson ran one or more editorials chastising the Board for not having dealt decisively with me but the furor died down for about a month. Actually, it went underground. Everyone was now scrambling to figure out what to do with the "Cafeteria/Accountability" bill.

Later in June, a meeting was held at AmSouth Bank which involved school personnel, City Councilmen (Peavy, Chapman, Johnson), Sam Jones (County Commission President), Mayor Dow, Hap Myers (President of the Chamber of Commerce), and representatives of the banking syndicate. Actually, I think two meetings were held because the press showed up at one of them, and many of these people do not like to do business in public. Andrews, Fournier, Ratcliffe and I were the school representatives. These meetings were triggered by Dow's public statements and his off-the-wall proposals that the city and county take certain financial actions to bail the school system out of the impending budget crisis. These proposals caught the City Council, the County Commission, and the banks off guard. Hap Myers had called all of the parties together to try to undo the mess.

At one of these meetings, the bill came up. Dow or Myers brought it up, I think. I explained to the group that the bill had nothing to do with the impending budget crisis and would not address it. Sam Jones agreed, as did most of the others. Peavy wanted to know why the bill was even being considered if it would not fix the financial problem? At this point (and many times afterwards) I noticed how quiet everyone became when this question was raised. He never received an answer.

On July 14, Dow called me and asked that Andrews and I attend a meeting that afternoon at 5 pm at the Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of the meeting was "to clear up confusion about the bill and help everyone understand it." Very few people did understand it because few had even taken the time to read it.

At the appointed time, Andrews, Bob Campbell and I went to the meeting. My recollection of those in attendance is as follows: John Hope (chair), Richard Dorman, Preston Bolt, Mike Dow, Hap Myers, Sam Jones, Andrews, Campbell, Howard Bronson, a female Chamber staff member, me, and Bedsole joined the meeting 20 or 30 minutes after the start. Dow kicked it off and the first hour was like another pep rally. Andrews, Campbell, and I listened and exchanged glances.

During the second hour, someone asked me if I wanted to add anything. I said that I thought Dow had asked us to attend to share our concerns about the bill, but that I had obviously been mistaken. At that point, I was encouraged to speak up. I went through a partial list of concerns, pausing at times to see if the lawyers present shared them. They did. Campbell jumped in a couple of times and expressed some concerns that the bill would likely have a negative impact on settlement of the Birdie Mae Davis desegregation case.

During the discussion of our concerns, and the agreement of others with them, Bronson made the most incredible statement I have ever heard from a representative of the press. After listening to everything, he said: "Well, we can't tell the people that because this thing won't have a chance." And he didn't!

The meeting broke up about 7 pm and I went home. I remember thinking about Bronson's statement and the horror that it represented. I discussed it with my wife that evening, and with several staff the following day. Campbell and I discussed it, too. In my opinion, then and now, a clear and present danger had emerged in the community.

(Next Article in the Series)

-- September 29, 1993

The Harbinger is a biweekly newspaper published through the effort of The Harbinger, which consists of area faculty, staff and students, and members of the Mobile community. The Harbinger is a non-profit education foundation. The views expressed here are the responsibility of The Harbinger. Contributions to The Harbinger are tax exempt to the full extent of the law and create no liability for the contributor.