Alabama Education Association moves to fire leader

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – The Alabama Education Association board on Saturday took steps to dismiss executive secretary Henry Mabry after an audit raised concerns about the financial management of the powerful teachers’ lobby.

“This was a difficult decision by the board but one that was necessary to close a difficult chapter in AEA’s recent past and turn to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead,” AEA President Anita Gibson said. The board voted to begin the process of firing Mabry who will have a pre-termination hearing.

The audit revealed problems about a lack of financial controls, appropriate checks and balances and management decisions, Gibson said.

The leadership shake up comes to the organization reeling from last year’s death of longtime leader Paul Hubbert and a string of policy and ballot box defeats at the hands of the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature.

“The AEA Board has moved to vacate my position as executive secretary. I have enjoyed serving our state’s educators and education retirees, and advocating for the values they so cherish,” Mabry said Saturday.

Mabry, who served as finance director for former Gov. Don Siegelman, was tapped in 2011 to replace Hubbert who was retiring for health reasons. Hubbert had led the organization since 1969, building it into a political powerhouse with few equals at the Alabama Statehouse.

Mabry had a series of early victories out of the gate at AEA, including beating back GOP-backed charter school legislation. However, in 2014 AEA spent millions to bankroll a slate of Republican candidates with limited results, and failed to topple their two chief targets, the Republican leaders of the House and Senate.

The board requested the audit after Hubbert raised the alarm about AEA’s finances in a September letter to board members. Hubbert said the organization was not living within its means, and particularly criticized the organization’s dwindling reserve funds and investment in high-risk stocks. AEA’s 2012 tax forms show that the organization had $18.5 million in income, but nearly $22 million in expenses.

Mabry’s at times brusque lobbying style was also a contrast to Hubbert, who in his later years maintained a courtly demeanor at the Statehouse while wielding his considerable clout.

The AEA board did not name an interim replacement. Gibson said the board also requested help from the National Education Association, its parent group.

AEA represents approximately 95,000 Alabama public school teachers, employees and retirees.

The leadership change comes ahead of the March 3 leadership change in which AEA will again be fighting another GOP-backed charter school bill.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said, “The leadership at AEA may change, but our commitment to public education has not.”

Sen. Greg Albritton, an Excel Republican, said the GOP should resist any urge to celebrate Mabry’s downfall. But he said AEA’s board should take a lesson. “Politics is about personalities, not just policy,” said Albritton, who lost his House seat in 2006 to an AEA-backed candidate before making a political comeback in 2014.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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