Hawkins claims Patterson violated students' privacy
by Chris Norwood
Aug 20, 2011 | 4996 views |  1 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TALLADEGA — Talladega College President Billy Hawkins is alleging that City Council President Horace Patterson’s re-election campaign violated the privacy of students by obtaining their home addresses and sending campaign literature to their homes over the summer.

Although voter rolls are public information, college students who vote in Talladega must register with their Talladega addresses. The literature was sent not to the students’ local addresses, but to their home addresses.

Hawkins said an internal investigation revealed that Patterson got the addresses through the college registrar’s office.

Patterson denied that he gained the addresses in an illicit manner. His campaign simply used the addresses published in the student directory, he said.

“This came to my attention a week and a half, maybe two weeks ago,” Hawkins said Wednesday afternoon. “I wondered how the addresses got out, and after I got a letter from (Erminel Love) Trescott, we opened up an investigation.”

Trescott is the campaign manager for Jacqueline Paddio, who is both vice president for student affairs at Talladega College and one of two challengers Patterson will face in the municipal election Tuesday.

Hawkins said his investigation traced the labels on the campaign material to a specific printer in the registrar’s office at the college. “Two individuals from that office have been sent home while the investigation continues,” Hawkins said.

“No one should be sending out students’ home addresses,” Hawkins said. “We have a responsibility to investigate this. I don’t want politicians using this institution. We are an educational institution, not a political one. I don’t appreciate getting dragged into politics.”

Patterson characterized Hawkins’ statement as “wrong, inaccurate and irresponsible. I was not provided anything through the registrar’s office. The student addresses came from the student directory published by the school. I am shocked at the inaccuracy and lack of knowledge in that statement.”

Patterson said that under the Buckley Amendment to the Family Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, student information including permanent address is a matter of public record unless the student opts out. The amendment is cited in Talladega College’s student handbook, which Patterson said was compiled by Paddio.

Hawkins confirmed that Paddio remained on the school’s payroll during her campaign.

Patterson, himself a Talladega College alumnus, said Friday that Paddio’s maintaining her status at the college while running for city office constitutes a conflict of interest, as she has authority over the students whose votes she is seeking. He claimed that Paddio passed out her own campaign literature on campus, while college administrators had restricted Patterson’s access to students.

He said he had sent the brochures to the students’ homes because he was not allowed to distribute campaign literature on campus. “As educators, we pride ourselves on teaching students to think analytically and critically,” Patterson said. “All I wanted to do was to present my views.”

Hawkins said he had prohibited all candidates, including Paddio, from distributing campaign literature and from erecting campaign signs on campus.

One of the brochures that Hawkins particularly objected to stated that Patterson opposed closing West Battle Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Both streets are in the heart of the college campus, but Hawkins said he is unaware of any discussion of closing them.

“I’ve spent time trying to move forward, and I didn’t even know this was out there,” Hawkins said. “If someone was trying to close these streets, I should be the first to know. I’ve been in this business for 35 years, and I know you have to choose your battles carefully. … Closing those streets would send the wrong message to the community. I’m trying to get Foster Hall renovated; I need to get heavy equipment up there. Closing those streets would endanger everyone.”

Patterson was unspecific as to who had proposed closing the streets and when, saying only, “they know who they are, and so do the members of the community.”

“We never had such a discussion,” Hawkins responded Friday.

City Manager Brian Muenger said he was aware of some discussion of vacating small portions of those streets in the distant future as the college expands, but a specific proposal has never been put forward.

Muenger added that as he recalled, Patterson, Hawkins and Paddio all were involved in the conversation, which occurred about a year ago on the college campus. “We talked about striping some roads, putting down speed bumps … and how the city could be a partner in the college’s growth,” Muenger said.

“They asked if the city would ever consider vacating a portion of West Battle Street so they could have a closed campus, (but that) was not the centerpiece of our discussion,” Muenger said.

He said he would be delighted if the college grew to the point that it became necessary to consider closing the campus to through traffic, because such growth would be a boon to the city.

However, that is not imminent, he said, and closing any portion of West Battle Street is not on the table.

“There’s a legal process that has to take place to close any street. We’ve not researched if that’s even possible,” he said.

“Right now, West Battle Street is still a state highway, so we couldn’t abandon it if we wanted to,” Muenger said. “That might change after the bypass is finished, but not right now.”