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Riley picks 5 to serve on UWA board

Two Demopolis residents, two Montgomery businessmen and a north Alabama healthcare executive will change the direction of the University of West Alabama if Gov. Bob Riley gets his way.

Wednesday afternoon, Riley issued a press release announcing his five nominations for the UWA Board of Trustees, who must still be confirmed by the Alabama Senate.

Dr. Ken Tucker and John Northcutt, both from Demopolis, join Montgomery businessmen Thomas Ballow Jr. and Foy Tatum, and Margaret Lovett of Tuscumbia.

If confirmed, the five nominees would replace Terry Bunn, Dwight Duke, Paul Hamrick, Robert Keahey and Nat Watkins, all of whose 12-year terms expired on Dec. 27, 2003.

“Each of these individuals brings a fresh perspective and independence that will provide the University of West Alabama a new direction,” said Riley, who serves as chairman of the board through his position as governor. “I am confident that each has the ability and vision to lead this institution.”

Northcutt, who graduated from UWA, said he has strong ties to the institution and was honored when Riley told him of the nomination.

“I look at this as an opportunity to help make the university a leader in this region,” said Northcutt, who serves as chairman and CEO of Robertson Banking Co. “What’s good for the university is good for the entire region.”

Tucker, who taught at the university from 1983-1982, also believes he would add a fresh dimension to a board that has been battered with turmoil for the past six months.

“I’m not going in there with any preconceived notions about the trustees,” Tucker said. “I want to be someone who can work with the administration on broad issues.”

In fact, broad is a word Tucker repeated continuously in his discussion of the nomination.

“I know there’s been a lot of discord on the board, but I think the five new appointments can work to pull both sides together,” he said. “After [the new appointments], I don’t think either side can stand, and we need to be a board that focuses on the broad policy issues of the university. We don’t need be micromanaging that university.”

On Dec. 8, 2003, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools informed UWA that continued strife among members of the board and apparent micromanagement of the university by that board had resulted in one year of academic probation for the Livingston university.

Preston “Mann” Minus, who heads a majority faction of the board, felt the SACS decision came without merit. Dr. Tom Umphrey, the actual chairman of the board and head of the minority faction, was less harsh on the probation, even offering to follow whatever solution Riley had.

As Governor, Riley’s first step toward solving the divide between board members has come with his authority to nominate five new board members.

“The Governor wants the University of West Alabama to achieve its fullest potential, just as he wants for every state university,” said John Matson, deputy press secretary for Riley. “With these appointments, he believes this is a good step to ensuring the university has strong leadership.”

Lovett, who serves as executive director of the Southern Rural Health Care Consortium in Russellville, believes she is someone who can help provide that leadership.

“I’m very flattered and pleased that the Governor would choose me,” said Lovett, who has no direct ties to UWA. “I would hope I could bring a different perspective to the board. I’m big on strategic planning that help achieve missions and visions.”

Tatum, a managing member of Halstead Contractors, and Ballow, president and CEO of Max Federal Credit Union in Montgomery, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Tatum attended Auburn University and left in 1974 where he worked for Trinity Industries, one of the nation’s largest steel fabrication suppliers.

In 1997, Tatum was named president of Halstead Contractors — a Montgomery company that, among other things, has led the construction of 37 CVS/Pharmacy stores around the nation.

What’s Next?

Riley’s nomination of Tucker, Northcutt, Tatum, Ballow and Lovett does not ensure their appointment to the UWA Board of Trustees. In fact, one political science professor believes the nominees are in for a tough fight.

In Alabama, a governor has the authority to appoint members to a university’s board of trustees once the terms of existing members end. In the case of UWA, the terms of five board members ended last month. Once the governor makes his nominations, each nominee’s name is presented to the Alabama Senate — and in the case of Riley, a Republican, the Alabama Senate is not such friendly territory.

“If you want to know whether the confirmation process is a partisan process, the answer is absolutely yes,” said Dr. D’Linell Finley, a political science professor at Auburn University-Montgomery. “In fact, the entire process is highly charged, politically.”

It’s difficult to judge the political leanings of four of the five nominees for UWA’s board. Tucker and Northcutt are not active in state political organizations, though Tucker does serve on the Marengo County Commission. Tatum and Ballow could not be reached for comment. In campaign contributions for Riley’s gubernatorial election, Tatum, Ballow, Tucker and Northcutt were not listed.

Lovett, on the other hand, is recognized in the state as a Republican activist. She is a member of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women and is president of the Republican Women of the Shoals.

Matson does not believe Riley will actively campaign for his nominees.

“Sometimes party politics can come into play in the appointment process,” Matson said. “The Governor has appointed able people, and I don’t believe this is something that he’ll actively campaign for on the floor,” Matson said.

State Sen. Charles Steele, D-Tuscaloosa, represents Sumter County. Though he could not be reached for comment Wednesday night, Steele and Riley do not line up together on many political issues. In large part, Steele will drive Senate leaders to either block or confirm Riley’s nominees.

Choosing Sides?

Among the five board members whose terms have expired, three — Duke, Keahey and Watkins — aligned themselves with Minus and two — Bunn and Hamrick — with Umphrey.

Lovett said she’ll have no part in the division of the board, if she is confirmed.

“I wouldn’t even be able to respond [if asked to pick sides],” she said. “If you’re on a board, you’re supposed to be working as a group. There’s nothing that can’t be accomplished, and we have to think about what we stand to lose [if the board remains divided.]”

Tucker echoed the position of Lovett.

“I think the larger interest of the university has been lost in the in-fighting,” Tucker said. “With these fresh appointments, I think we have the opportunity to refocus on the mission of the university.”