By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
When you publish a news platform with a focus on political insider talk, one of the worst things that can happen is getting scooped on a big political intrigue story.
So I got pretty concerned yesterday when I read Bill Britt’s story in the AL Political Reporterthat the board of the Business Council of Alabama had voted to fire its CEO, Billy Canary.
That’s a huge story! As the primary advocacy organization for the business community, BCA is one of Alabama’s most influential political players. How could I miss that happening? That would be a big miss, particularly since I was in contact with Billy hours earlier trying to get a quote about his knowing Barbara Bush from working in the White House.
Turns out there was a good reason: it didn’t happen. I caught up with BCA’s Chairman of the Board Perry Hand at the Manufacturer of the Year awards event yesterday. He said whatever anonymous source told that to Britt “isn’t being truthful.”
Hand had a long career in state politics, serving as a state senator, Secretary of State and director of the Department of Transportation. For the last seven years he has been CEO of Volkert, an infrastructure engineering firm based in Mobile, and is now chairman of that company’s board. As BCA Chairman, Hand oversees a board that includes some of the state’s largest corporations who pool resources to lobby for pro-business policies.
“I can’t tell you what did happen because that would be violating the confidentiality of our executive session,” Hand said. “But, I can tell you what didn’t happen: we didn’t take a vote to fire Billy.
“Whoever is attempting to spread that isn’t being truthful and can’t be trusted.”
What is true is that Canary’s future was discussed during a BCA Executive Committee meeting and conference call last week. It has long been rumored that some of Alabama’s largest corporations – Alabama Power, Blue Cross & Blue Shield and Drummond Coal among them – want Canary out.
What’s their beef with Billy? At least some of it stems from a 2017 legislative initiative to mandate that state and private insurance cover the special needs of autistic children. Canary and BCA fought the bill on behalf of negatively-impacted businesses like Blue Cross, but lost badly. The bill passed with only one dissenting vote in the whole Legislature.
Another point of contention is Canary’s and BCA’s outspoken support of a right-to-work agenda. Key member businesses like Alabama Power and some manufacturers have employee unions, which makes it awkward when BCA speaks out against union-friendly policies.
Other grievances are BCA’s heavy investment in education issues like school choice and details of its legislative focus.
Canary has been CEO since 2004 and his contract currently runs through 2020. He declined to comment for this article.
Hand, the BCA Chairman, would not confirm specific details of internal deliberations, but did say that what were once just rumors and innuendo were finally discussed openly.
“We were able to get out of the rumor mill and have a discussion about the past and future of our organization. That’s a step in the right direction. We’re going to do what’s best for BCA, and I think that discussion was helpful.”
What wasn’t helpful, Hand said, was having elements of those discussions – particularly false ones – appear online in the AL Political Reporter.
“Our board is going to do what’s in the best interest of the business community, and our discussions internally have been productive. But the tone and inaccuracy of that article, that wasn’t helpful.”