Opelika-Auburn News Keeps Digging Into Two-Year College Finances

As someone who first saw his name on a newspaper article more than 50 years ago I still appreciate when an industrious reporter, backed wholeheartedly by their employer, keeps digging and digging.,  It’s something that doesn’t happen that much these days because everyone is into instant gratification, not in-depth news.

(I can think of no better example than the fascination Donald Trump apparently has with Twitter.)

Reporter Meagan Hurley of the Opelika-Auburn News has been digging relentlessly for several months after news surfaced that the community college system planned to merge schools headquartered in Alexander City, Opelika and Phenix City.  This was unwelcome news for many folks, especially supporters of Southern Union College.

So Meagan started asking questions, looking at financial info and making requests for documentation through the Freedom of Information Act.  This is the latest in her series.

Titled Two-year college system chief of staff paid more than $500k since 2014, here is some of what she reported.

“The man who now serves as the Alabama Community College System board of trustees’ chief of staff has been paid more than half a million dollars for his services since 2014, records show.

Jimmy Baker, a former lobbyist for the state’s two-year college system who was named its chief of staff this year, was compensated approximately $384,000 by Calhoun and Enterprise community colleges in 2014 and 2015, according to contracts he held with the schools for professional and governmental consulting services.

Baker has been paid $121,875 by the system office since Jan. 27 as the board’s chief of staff.

His consulting contracts compensation and his current salary combined total $505,875.”

She goes into detail about various contracts this system has for governmental affairs services.

Obviously there are some folks who do not appreciate this kind of journalistic diligence.  But the public is well-served when we have it.



One Response to Opelika-Auburn News Keeps Digging Into Two-Year College Finances

  1. I hear what you’re saying but this paper hasn’t been known for “afflicting the comfortable” and otherwise questioning local power structures. They still seem generous to Mike Hubbard for instance – perhaps because Opelika’s Mayor and an Auburn councilman-banker were among those vouching for the Graftmaster at his sentencing.

    Heck, they won’t even pass on what other papers turn up. It’s crickets on a reporter at the Birmingham News recently revealing State Senator Tom Whatley was among the politicians treated to a few days up at a swanky Ashville spa and resort courtesy of the Alabama Lenders Association. His frequent travels off and spending from his campaign accounts would be some rather easy investigative reporting in fact.

    The Advertiser did a good piece a year or so ago on shenanigans around Auburn football tickets available for some folks despite the normal procedures and my recollection is that the Opelika-Auburn News also ignored or just did some vague “we hope …” response. The paper (and the AU Plainsman as well) also wouldn’t touch how Dr. Gogue apparently intervened about Mike Hubbard’s employment status with IMG’s sports information management.

    All I’m offering is that in this instance we clearly have a situation where local power isn’t happy. Thus, this paper is willing to do the work. On this matter, it’s safe and actual pleases power for a reporter to root around and raise questions for the paper’s readers. Otherwise, I’d submit the paper would ignore, explain away, etc.

    To be fair, I’m of the opinion that most media outlets avoid angering certain powerful interests and otherwise prop up or at least legitimate existing power. Chomsky and Herman’s “propaganda theory” holds up I believe and we also know it’s been a brutal few years of media consolidation and other changes in the news business.

    Advertising revenue from AU, local municipalities, real estate, retail … will be impacted if certain rocks start being turned over. That revenue pays for reporters but I’d submit that this paper would rarely, if ever, loosen them on those interests keeping the doors open. Management will generally play it safe.

    Again, I hear what you’re offering and can celebrate this demonstration of good investigative reporting. It’s just hard for this local located in Auburn to see it done in this instance and avoided on other matters.