Last week, Bentley played a key role in the appointment of a man who is arguably Auburn’s most controversial booster to the university’s board of trustees. Bentley is part of a five-member selection committee that approves board nominations and then forwards them to the state Senate. With two votes for Lowder and two against him, the governor cast the deciding vote that moves Lowder’s name forward.
Reinstalling Bobby Lowder as an Auburn trustee is about as far away from breaking with the usual politics as a governor can be.
Lowder, who was CEO of Colonial Bank until its collapse in 2009, may have less sway today in the financial world, but his clout with Auburn carries on.
Lowder first joined the Auburn board in 1983. Since then, he amassed quite a track record, not all of it very attractive. A 2006 independent report commissioned by Auburn singled out Lowder by name. It noted his meddling in Auburn’s affairs. Lowder “did overstep his appropriate trustee role on multiple occasions in the past and that he permitted and even encouraged the notion that he was the power behind the scenes at Auburn,” the report said.
As one source related to The New York Times for a profile earlier this year, “Bobby Lowder really acts like the Auburn Tigers are his professional football franchise.”
That might be the best explanation yet of the booster’s heavy-handed dealing with the university, its presidents, football coaches and other campus institutions.
With this track record and Bentley’s vow to change business as usual in Montgomery, it’s a mystery why the governor moved Lowder’s reappointment forward. The Bentley administration says a $25,000 campaign donation from Lowder’s wife has nothing to do with it. According to Bentley press secretary Jennifer Ardis, “Auburn is growing and the governor wanted to keep the team that has helped it grow so much over the last few years.”
Growth is one thing, unwanted attention because of the outrageous actions of a zealous booster is quite another. It now falls to the state Senate to halt another 12-year term for Lowder. The reasons are obvious. Lowder has amassed almost three decades on the board, much of that time littered with embarrassing episodes that injure Auburn’s reputation. It’s time for someone else to have a turn.
With the publication of Auburn’s 2006 damning probe, it was suspected that Lowder might step down in the middle of his 12-year term. If he didn’t, the report advised, “he (and others) must foreswear old ways of doing things and set out on a new course” to restore Auburn’s reputation.
That’s good advice.