​School Board Trial marks the end of an embarrassing saga for UA

​School Board Trial marks the end of an embarrassing saga for UA

Josh Shumate

Josh Shumate | Opinions

At 9 a.m., in Judge Robert’s courtroom, the long awaited trial to decide a 2013 Tuscaloosa City School Board election will take place. This marks the beginning of the end to a three year long saga that has served to embarrass the University and challenge our faith in the electoral system.

For those of who you who are unaware of this case and its significance, I will try to catch you up. In 2013, former UA SGA President, Cason Kirby, ran against an incumbent, Kelly Horwitz, for the District 4 seat on the Tuscaloosa City School Board. District 4 includes the University and the area immediately surrounding it. The election was known to be close all along, but on election day, events took place that forced many in Tuscaloosa to question the results. Limousines were seen taking UA sorority members to the polls, and leaked emails all but prove that some Greek students received free drinks at local bars for voting in the election. The emails also showed the desire of sorority officers to help Kirby and Garrison carry the “Greek vote.”

In addition to the appearance of a bribery scheme, the Supreme Court of Alabama ruled that 159 voters –– almost entirely UA students –– were not eligible to cast votes in the election but did anyway. Kirby was announced the winner of District 4 seat on the school board. He won by 87 votes. UA alumni, Lee Garrison, also won the chairmanship of the board. However, three years later Kelly Horwitz is still fighting the results. Today’s trial will determine how many of the 159 voters voted for Kirby. The trial could overturn the election. While the school board term is almost up and neither Kirby or Garrison are seeking re-election, this case is still important. It is about vindication. It is about ensuring the integrity of democracy.

Given their history at the University (Kirby was a Machine-backed SGA President, Garrison was IFC President), many have speculated that the Machine was responsible for electing Cason Kirby and Lee Garrison to their positions in city government. I have no doubt that this is the case. The tactics employed in these 2013 local elections look eerily similar to those the Machine has been using in campus elections for decades. The fact that members of our Greek system graduate only to become the center of allegations of electoral fraud should not be a surprise to anyone. We are teaching that this behavior is acceptable.

It doesn’t have to be this way and it shouldn’t be this way. Greek students bring a lot of positive things to our University community, but nefarious conduct will always, and should always, be met with disdain. It is up to Greek students to put an end to the childish conduct that tarnishes their image. That does not mean necessarily mean putting an end to block voting or partisanship, but it certainly means that the Machine can’t continue to operate in its current form.

I hope that this trial and the media attention that has surrounded it will be enough to prevent the Machine from trying to influence local elections again. I hope it causes the Greek community to begin to take the steps necessary to repair their image and become the responsible citizens that we expect them to be. 

I hope it encourages University administrators, who for decades have turned their backs to problems involving the Machine, to finally act. The national news coverage has embarrassed the University. The obvious corruption has challenged our faith in the electoral process. 

As students we are lucky enough to call Tuscaloosa home for the few years we attend the University, but that comes with some responsibility. We have the obligation to leave this community better off than it was when we arrived, and this saga is certainly an example of us falling short. The education of thousands of children in Tuscaloosa were affected by decisions made in a fraternity basement, and that is wholly irresponsible. 

Josh Shumate is a graduate student studying public administration. His column runs biweekly.