We need to build ties, not divide area

Posted 7/12/18

You may have heard about the adverse reaction in Hamilton to Bevill State Community College's prior actions in the form of a press event on June 19. This came after the college announced it would not …

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We need to build ties, not divide area

Posted

You may have heard about the adverse reaction in Hamilton to Bevill State Community College's prior actions in the form of a press event on June 19. This came after the college announced it would not be making earlier announced program cuts but would re-evaluate its situation. 

That was not enough for Hamilton leaders, and state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, formed a Hamilton Campus Legislative Advisory Task Force, calling on any number of leaders in Hamilton. Of course, the thing that struck me is that Morrow does not represent Marion County, as he is in Franklin County. (He said Bevill affects his area, despite the fact Northwest-Shoals Community College has a campus in Phil Campbell.)

Morrow also is running as a Democrat against the Republican nominee for the District 6 seat in Alabama Senate, which includes part of Marion County. Morrow is also known to happily kick up dust when he can, as he got involved with Auditor Jim Ziegler in the events concerning Gov. Robert Bentley's affair, asking why executive assistant Wanda Kelly's desk was moved and thing's like that. 

According to the Journal Record's coverage in its June 27 edition, on June 19 the task force held a vote of "no confidence" in Bevill State President Kim Ennis. Then it held a meeting with Ennis and an official with the Alabama Community College System (ACCS), which was followed by a press conference featuring Morrow. 

"We now know that the decision-makers in Jasper will make decisions that are not in our best interest," Morrow said. "We also know that they will misrepresent the truth to get what they want — our workforce programs." He complained about the lack of communication with the community. 

He went on to say he believes Ennis has an interest in moving technical and workforce programs to Jasper to enhance Jasper's economic growth. 

"A college president living in the Jasper area decided that she wanted Hamilton's technical programs in Jasper," Morrow said. "She would rather have the five technical programs in Walker County training its work force than in Marion County." 

However, it was noted that after the meeting with Ennis, he and the task force are "cautiously optimistic" that they will be able to work with Ennis, and that the task force would work directly with the ACCS. Somehow, I wonder how well they feel they can work with the task force after that press conference.  It was like handing over an olive branch with a nuclear bomb. 

On another track, as I read the story again today at this writing, it hit me that the article, after Morrow's remarks on Ennis wanting to bring programs to Jasper, points out that at a meeting with county mayors on April 26, Ennis arrived with Jasper Mayor David O'Mary, and that O'Mary had been successful at job recruitment. It pointed out Yorozu and its $110 million plant here. You can draw the line to Morrow's remarks and see the implication. 

Frankly, you can blame me on that, and I wish I had kept my mouth shut. A few months ago I encouraged O'Mary, who is from Winfield, to meet with the Marion County mayors as a way to form regional alliances. They enjoyed it so much in Jasper they decided to meet again in Guin, and had Ennis as a guest. I don't believe for a minute O'Mary had any designs to take over Bevill State by showing up with Ennis, but that is the implication I am taking. I don't think it was fair to him and Jasper, to give the impression we want to bring all the programs to Walker County. I think he just wanted to reach out to have ties along U.S. Interstate 22. 

Mind you, I have not been giving Bevill State a pass in recent months; you have seen my criticism here. Ennis has since said she could have done some things better, and I think there was reason for Hamilton officials to be concerned. I think it was even good to put together a task force to address Ennis and the ACCS, as the programs in Hamilton, as well as the campus there, need to be saved. Many of the programs across the college need to be saved. I was quite relieved to see the programs in Hamilton were saved for now, and I know a good number of people  in Jasper who felt the same way. 

But I am not sure getting Morrow involved while he is a candidate for the Senate — and while he is outside the district — is a good idea, as it smacks of political opportunity. (Voting no confidence and then meeting with officials does not seem fair to my thinking, either.) I think others giving the impression that, separate of the Jasper Campus, the community of Jasper is also greedy to get the programs is badly misunderstood and hopefully just ill-informed and not thought out well.  It is unfortunate as I know many people over there on the task force, and they are good people who are concerned and would otherwise not hurt us. They have a right to be angry at what has happened, but the anger may be getting the best of some of them. Getting Morrow to help will express that anger, but he is no bridge-builder; he tears them down instead, and that is just what he is doing in this case. 

We need to work together, not try to drive a wedge in the area. I'm afraid we may be headed that way, and that in itself would result in the exact things some of us have been concerned about on either side of the border. I would urge that we all get away from the microphones and cameras and start talking in earnest about finding some solutions, despite past actions and hurt feelings.