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Stunning letter from former AEA chief threatens to plunge teachers’ union into chaos

Former AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert (Photo: YouTube)
Former AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert (Photo: YouTube)

Imagine if Paul “Bear” Bryant wrote a letter saying the University of Alabama’s football program is doomed. That’s basically what just happened to the Alabama Education Association (AEA).

Fiscal irresponsibility. Dwindling membership. Loss of respect. Unhealthy work environment.

Those are just four of the accusations being hurled at the AEA and its leadership in a letter to the organization’s board on Tuesday. But while those phrases are nothing new — many of them having been frequently used by Republicans in the Legislature — this time it’s different. This time it’s coming from one of their own — former AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert, the man who in his forty-plus-year career built the AEA into the most powerful force in Alabama politics.

In a letter dated Sept. 10, 2014, Hubbert took four-and-a-half pages to lay out in great detail a stunning critique of the current status of the organization he built.

“With great reluctance, but with absolute conviction of its necessity, I write this letter to you to inform you of the immediate danger, in fact crisis, in which our association finds itself,” Hubbert wrote to the AEA Board. “AEA has been a strong organization for many years because of its large membership and its strong financial position. Both of these appear to be under threat now.”

Hubbert said that the current problems facing the AEA come from both inside and outside the organization. The external challenges, he believes, are posed by the Republican supermajority in the legislature and the strain on the AEA’s finances brought on by a new law prohibiting them and other politically active organizations from using taxpayer resources to collect membership dues.

Internally, Hubbert pointed the finger directly at his successor, Dr. Henry Mabry, who took over the post when Hubbert retired in 2012.

AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry
AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry

“The style, personality and performance of the Executive Secretary have created intolerable friction between AEA and members of both parties in the Legislature with resultant loss of respect, standing and influence,” Hubbert bluntly wrote of Mabry. “Legislators and others complain that telephone calls are not returned during the session. The Executive Secretary’s style has been described as a ‘bull in a china shop who carries the shop with him wherever he goes.’ The Executive Secretary has been advised to ‘stay out of the Legislature.’ Specific comments and questions from members of the Legislature include, ‘How long is AEA going to keep Mabry?’ to ‘Mabry is killing AEA in the Legislature.'”

In addition to Mabry’s actions that have damaged the AEA’s standing with state leaders, Hubbert said his management of the staff has left morale at an all time low.

“Currently, the work environment within AEA is not healthy,” he continued. “Internal communication is absent or non-productive, an atmosphere of intimidation exists. Specifically, the Executive Secretary is isolated, by choice and design, non-communicative, secretive, and relies, in large part, on external consultants rather than the internal professional staff. Access to the Executive Secretary is limited primarily to e-mail or telephone exchanges, most often through his assistants. There are no staff meetings. The Executive Secretary’s office is dark, cluttered, uninviting and essentially not usable except for the desk of the Executive Secretary… The atmosphere of secretiveness, bullying and admonishments has resulted in an atmosphere of intimidation and mistrust.”

But as stinging as Hubbert’s indictment of Mabry’s leadership is, the most damning portion of the letter — the part that will likely have AEA members calling for his job — deals with Mabry’s handling of the AEA’s finances.

Membership dues have dropped precipitously over the last couple of years, from $15 million in 2011, to $13.7 million in 2013. Over that same time period, AEA’s $13 million reserve fund has plummeted to $6 million.

On top of that, Hubbert describes Mabry as a something like a riverboat gambler, throwing away teachers’ dues in high-risk stock market trades.

“Of specific and serious concern is the expenditure of remaining reserve funds to invest in high risk stock market ventures,” Hubbert wrote. “The demand to participate in highly aggressive stock trades forced Merrill Lynch to refuse to service the remaining AEA investments and the investments were moved to Stern Agee to engage in highly volatile trades. A full audit of these strategies and actions is warranted. High risk trading in the market is no way to use member dues money.”

Although he was a political enemy of most conservatives, Hubbert is revered by many Alabama teachers and support personnel for what they consider to be decades of service to their cause. Mabry has been able to brush off criticism from Republicans by demonizing them as the enemy of public education. He’ll have a lot harder time pulling that off with Hubbert, and it may ultimately cost him his job.

To read the full letter, click here.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims