FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY: AHS classmates played key roles in Bentley’s ouster

Published 1:13 am Wednesday, April 12, 2017

No one could argue that the past week hasn’t been one of the most dramatic in Alabama’s history.

A week ago today, the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that then-Gov. Robert Bentley had violated state ethics and campaign laws.

On Friday, the Alabama Judiciary Committee, charged with handling impeachment proceedings against the governor, released a 130-page report and supporting documents about its investigation into allegations Bentley had misused state resources.

After the Judiciary Committee began its impeachment hearings on Monday, Bentley’s attorneys finalized negotiations with the attorney general’s office, which also was investigating him, in a deal that allowed the two-term governor to plead guilty to two misdemeanors if he resigned from office immediately.

What the history books might miss is that two of those three efforts were led by Andalusia natives who have known each other their entire lives.

“Practically since we brought them home from the hospital,” said Jane Albritton, whose youngest son, Tom, is the executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission.

“We’ve had a lot of fun with those boys,” said Jean Jones, mother of state Rep. Mike Jones, who chairs the Judiciary Committee in the Alabama House of Representatives.

And no one who knows the former classmates would expect them to do anything but the right thing, politics vel non, friends said.

Both members of the Andalusia High School Class of ’85, Mike Jones and Tom Albritton were not only classmates, but also members of the same Boy Scout Troop, where each attained the highest rank in Scouting, Eagle Scout.

Jones attended LBW Community College and Birmingham Southern, while Albritton completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama. In law school at UA, they were in the same class again.

There was never a doubt they would choose the law as a profession.

“They could always persuade you to think like they wanted you to think,” classmate Cara Beste Russell said. “They were both leaders and both very likeable. They were two of my closest friends and still are.”

In Boy Scouts, they learned leadership skills from frequent outings that required them to take responsibility. Scout leaders Jay Dubose and Jerome Mallory said they participated in monthly camping trips and other events in which the young men were required to plan, and organize fellow Scouts.

“They were two totally different personalities,” Dubose said. “But they were very goal-oriented. From an early age, they set goals and achieved them. They were people persons, and they also had a very strong will for God and country.

“There was no doubt they were going to serve in the capacity of community and state,” Dubose said.

Mallory said at an early age, you could see in both young men the characteristics that would make them top leaders.

“Less than 2 percent of the people who enter Boy Scouts attain the rank of Eagle,” he said. “Both of them earned that at a very early age. You can do that through your 18th birthday. They were like 14 or 15 years old whenever they got their Eagles.”

Attaining the rank of Eagle requires a Boy Scout to choose a project, raise any funds needed for the project, and organize others to help him complete it.

For his project, Jones built a hiking trail to Blue Springs in the Conecuh National Forest, Dubose recalled.

“Both of them left a very good legacy with scouting,” he said.

Mrs. Albritton recalled that her son’s project supported the Andalusia Public Library.

“He held a book fair to get contributions for the library,” she said. “He used the money to buy a series of books for the library on the Appalachian Trail. He had a lot of Scouts who helped him out.”

That they were not only leaders, but also thinkers, was apparent in the classroom, former AHS teacher Jerri Stroud recalled.

“I knew they were going to be successful because they were self-motivated, very intelligent and good thinkers,” she said. “They didn’t just give you facts, they backed them up with reason. And they didn’t mind sharing their opinions.”

Mrs. Stroud said once the young men chose career paths, they knew what they wanted to do, and were very focused.

“They were birddogs and Bulldogs, too,” she said.

When it was time to begin professional careers, each returned to Andalusia to practice law. Both of Albritton’s children are Andalusia High School graduates, while Jones has one graduate and one current student.

“When we all moved back here together, it was wonderful,” Russell said. “They have both always been people I could count on. As an adult, I could go to either one of them for legal advice. They might not tell me what I wanted to hear, but they would tell me what was what. I have always loved and appreciated them for that.”

Albritton left Andalusia when he was tapped to lead the Ethics Commission in 2015. Jones splits his time between Andalusia and Montgomery.

“Still, if I needed either one of them in the middle in the night, I know they would try to come help me,” Russell said.