OUR OPINION: Fire fighters, citizens deserve an explanation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 6, 2007

We simply do not get it. We do not get why Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, decided it was a good idea to divert approximately 75 percent of funding for the Alabama Fire College to a nonexistent program at Shelton State Community College.

We have to side with critics who believe this is revenge by Sanders and other legislators for recent corruption charges at the fire college. Too, we must agree with those people who claim this will essentially steer money from the fire college into programs at two-year colleges, something that is a politically motivated desire stretching back to the time of former two-year college Chancellor Roy Johnson, who is now embroiled in several corruption investigations.

Sanders&8217; move is pure petty politics. It does nothing to ensure better training for our fire fighters, better protection for our citizens or better use of our money. In fact, it could call all of three of these into question.

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While some two-year colleges provide fire training, only the fire college can certify fire fighters to work in Alabama. Furthermore, no legitimate complaints about the quality of training by the fire college have arisen. The controversy is strictly tied to possibly corrupt administrative practices.

As for financial oversight, Sanders&8217; language inserted at the last minute to the budget bill means that $5.9 million is now in the control of just one person, two-year college Chancellor Bradley Byrne.

Byrne said last week that he will create on paper the phantom program to which Sanders referred. But instead of funding the program, he will divvy up the money between existing training programs at two-year colleges.

Sanders has avoided questions about why he funneled money to a make-believe fire college. As a leader, he should step up and explain himself.

Furthermore, Gov. Bob Riley should have used his line-item veto to strike the provision and return the money to the fire college.

If political leaders like Sanders, Riley and Byrne want a change in how the fire college is managed and funded, then they need to do it through transparent legislation, not a back door approach that stinks of revenge and corruption.