As the year 2007 began the biggest story brewing was the unraveling and evolution of the gigantic junior college system corruption saga. It is still evolving and the mounting evidence portends that it is a tempest in a teapot ready to explode. The obvious pilfering and abuse are brazen. It is astonishing to comprehend the widespread cavalier scandalous behavior in this day and time. A day seldom passes when there is not another revelation of nepotism, waste, malfeasance and reckless spending of taxpayers’ money.

The father of the corruption, Roy Johnson, has long been fired but the trail of his unbelievable greed and corruption continues to unravel. It would make a good fairytale fictional novel. However, it is so perverse and corrupt that it would be hard to even imagine as fiction.

Johnson was paid an enormous salary but that was not enough. He had his wife, his son and his daughter on the payroll. His daughter-in-law and son-in-law had lucrative contracts with the system, although they had other jobs and careers. The only people in Johnson’s family who were not getting paid were his second cousin and his dog.

Johnson and his immediate family were receiving over $560,000 in salary. His best friend received consulting contracts of over $900,000 to lobby for the two-year schools. At the same time, that friend turned around and loaned Johnson $125,000. Johnson had the state billed for his home in Opelika, including the furniture in the home. The state also paid for furniture at his vacation homes in Orange Beach and Gatlinburg. An Auburn merchant recently pled guilty to paying kickbacks to Johnson totaling $83,000 which included $27,000 for window treatments and furniture at Johnson’s Opelika home, $4,700 for materials at Johnson’s vacation homes and $15,000 for furnishings at the homes of Johnson’s friends.

One fourth of the members of the legislature have been given “jobs” at a junior college, most after they became members of the legislature. The most egregious legislative example would have to be Carbon Hill Rep. Ken Guin who was not satisfied with one job but took two. Guin was being paid $48,000 by one and $49,000 by the other, even though neither of the junior colleges were in the town where he has a full time law practice.

The most hilarious comes from Mobile’s Bishop State which is headed by a legislator, Yvonne Kennedy. Among the many revelations uncovered in that haven was that they put a 77 year old grandmother who never attended classes on an athletic scholarship. Other similar examples are too numerous to include in detail in this column.

There appears to be a broad federal investigation into the junior college fiasco. Indictments have already been handed down with probably many others to follow. Our state Attorney General, Troy King, had to recuse himself because he was involved in the political chicanery. King had gone to Johnson and asked him to get some friend a job. It appears that even the inexperienced Troy King knew that the junior college system was the state’s political honey pot.

Since the first of the year the system has seen four new chancellors. First, Johnson was fired. Then respected retired President of Samford University, Tom Corts, took a turn but he was too naïve and nice to last long although he diligently tried to put a reign on the wild boar. Next the Board chose Johnson’s protégé Renee Culverhouse. That was like the fox guarding the hen house. It was discovered that she liked putting friends and legislators on the payroll of her Gadsden junior college bailiwick. She could not stand the scrutiny. Finally the recent selection of Bradley Byrne is a good choice.

Byrne is a man of substance and integrity. Byrne is a 52 year old Fairhope lawyer. He served a long time on the State School Board prior to being elected to the State Senate from Baldwin County. He resigned from the Senate to accept the position which will pay him $248,000 per year. He is a tough, tenacious conservative. He will run a tight ship and will work with federal prosecutors to get to the heart of the corruption and prosecute those who are guilty. Hopefully Byrne will give the system a fresh clean start after the mess is cleaned up.