The Daily Home editorial board uses word that starts with “N” and rhymes with “prism”

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt June 3, 2013

The Daily Home editorial board used the word “nepotism” in a June 2 editorial about the University of Alabama System’s recent hiring U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile.

Jo Bonner is the younger brother of University President Judy Bonner.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think The Daily Home is now the only mainstream publication in Alabama that has used its editorial board to raise these concerns.

To read the editorial, click here.

Before I continue, I must disclose that I once worked at The Anniston Star, in Anniston, Ala., which is the sister publication of The Daily Home, which covers nearby Talladega.  I can’t say enough good things about both papers. They’re both incredible.

The Daily Home calls the family relationship between Judy and Jo Bonner a “strange coincidence” and says it “raises questions” of nepotism.

The Daily Home’s editorial comes more than a week after the announcement of Jo Bonner’s impending resignation from the United States Congress, which occurred on a Thursday before Memorial Day weekend. The Daily Home doesn’t make the point as forcefully as I would’ve liked but, then again, it’s sort of sad the editorial board has the responsibility of calling out this foolishness.

At some point it became unfashionable for journalists to question something that raises a lot of questions. I guess that’s why news organizations have been slow to roll out any hard-hitting stories about the hiring of Jo Bonner. Even then, those stories haven’t mentioned the dreaded word that starts with “N” and rhymes with “prism.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love hearing about the cost of the special election and how Jo Bonner’s new job exempts him from rules prohibiting  congressmen from becoming lobbyists within one year of leaving office. I’m so desperate to see actual questions getting asked, that I’ll take any questions at this point, even if the questions are still far too timid to yield anything beyond more questions.

I suppose you could argue newspapers are being a little cautious because nepotism is illegal in Alabama, at least as far as state institutions are concerned. This offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by a year in prison and a $500 fine. I don’t think you’d find a prosecutor anywhere in the country who would waste time prosecuting a high ranking public official for a misdemeanor.

Funny story: During this year’s legislative session, Alabama’s nepotism law was amended. It’s a little unclear to me whether revisions are actually the law of the land. The bill status report says says the bill passed and was sent to Gov. Robert Bentley for a signature and another website says it has been enacted. I think a casual reader would assume that means the bill is now law, but I’m a journalist and I don’t assume anything.

I’ve tried to look for definitions or an FAQ that would make the bill’s status clearer to me, but haven’t had luck so far. This summary of the state legislative process was somewhat helpful.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s assume this is the law now (and I’m reaching out to folks to see whether that is indeed the case).

The following underlined language was added in the revision (my emphasis in bold):

(b) Any person within the fourth degree of affinity or consanguinity of the agency head or appointing authority, the appointing authority’s designee, deputy director, assistant director, or associate director shall be ineligible to serve in any capacity with the state under authority of such an appointment, and any appointment so attempted shall be void. The provisions of this section shall not prohibit the continued employment of any person who is employed as a public employee as of the effective date of the act adding this amendatory language, nor shall it be construed to hinder, alter, or in any way affect normal promotional advancements under the state Merit System for the employee.

I’ve reprinted the whole revised law at the bottom of this post. All words that have strike-through marks have been removed and replaced with the text that is underlined.

Judy Bonner won’t supervise her brother and Chancellor Robert Witt made the employment offer to Rep. Jo Bonner, according to various news reports.  Under the old law, that wouldn’t have mattered. But does this new law apply to the current situation at the University of Alabama System? Is Judy Bonner a “designee, deputy director, assistant director or associate director” as defined by this statute?

Well, it’s a moot point, if we assume the law is enacted, because the bill doesn’t become effective until three months after it becomes law.

Section 2. This act shall become effective on the first day of the third month following its passage and approval by the Governor, or its otherwise becoming law.

That “Otherwise becoming law” stuff means if the governor received but didn’t sign it. If the bill’s passage falls within a certain window on the legislative calendar and the governor doesn’t sign it, it becomes law. I’m assuming that’s what happened here, but will update you if I find evidence to the contrary.

That bill was introduced by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur (Decatur Alabama, not Georgia where I am publishing this blog).

I’d love to see an article by someone in the Alabama media about whether the changes in the nepotism law would’ve applied in this case.

But as long as Alabama’s media is afraid of saying the word that starts with “N” that rhymes with “prism” we are unlikely to see any significant reporting done on this topic.

That can change if people will keep pestering their local newspapers about it. To find out how, click here and scroll to the end of the article.

Here is Alabama’s (presumably) revised nepotism law (all strike through words are deletions from the old law and all underlined words are additions to the law):

By Senators Orr, Holtzclaw, Scofield, Ward, Williams, Blackwell, Whatley, Marsh and Bussman

ENROLLED, An Act,

To amend Section 41-1-5, Code of Alabama 1975, relating to nepotism within state government.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA:

Section 1. Section 41-1-5, Code of Alabama 1975, is amended to read as follows:

§41-1-5.

(a) No officer or employee of the state or of any state department, board, bureau, committee, commission, institution, corporation, authority or other agency of the state shall appoint, or enter a personal service contract with, any person related to him within the fourth degree of affinity or consanguinity to any job, position or office of profit with the state or with any of its agencies.

(b) Any person related to within the fourth degree of affinity or consanguinity of the agency head or appointing authority, within the prohibited degree the appointing authority’s designee, deputy director, assistant director, or associate director shall be ineligible to serve in any capacity with the state under authority of such an appointment, and any appointment so attempted shall be void. The provisions of this section shall not prohibit the continued employment of any person who is employed as a public employee as of the effective date of the act adding this amendatory language, nor shall it be construed to hinder, alter, or in any way affect normal promotional advancements under the state Merit System for the employee.

(c) Any person within the fourth degree of affinity or consanguinity of a public employee shall not be the immediate supervisor for or in the chain of command of, or participate in the hiring, evaluation, reassignment, promotion, or discipline of, the public employee within any state department, board, bureau, committee, commission, institution, corporation, authority, or other agency of the state.

However, this subsection shall not apply to an employee of a city or county board of education that is currently employed or to a future employee hired into a non-supervisory position posted in accordance with Section 16-22-15, where his or her relative will not be the employee’s immediate supervisor, and where the employee’s relative made no recommendation, cast no vote, and otherwise had no involvement concerning the employee’s hiring.

(d) Whoever violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $500.00 or by imprisonment not to exceed one year, or both. A willful violation of this section shall subject the public employee and the person or persons within the fourth degree of affinity or consanguinity of the public employee to disciplinary action, up to and including separation from state service. This section shall not apply, however, in the case of an appointment of a person to a position in the classified service of the state made from the register of persons eligible as certified by the State Director of Personnel.

The provisions of this section shall not apply to any individual or individuals employed as of September 16, 1963, in any branch, department or bureau of the state or the reappointment of any individuals employed on September 16, 1963.

Section 2. This act shall become effective on the first day of the third month following its passage and approval by the Governor, or its otherwise becoming law.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

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