Rebekah Mason, Gov. Robert Bentley’s former top adviser and illicit lover, pushed to close 31 offices of the Alabama Department of Motor Vehicles in mostly black counties.
After protests by civil rights activists, including Jesse Jackson, the politically motivated effort was later overturned, resulting in a federal investigation.
The relationship between Bentley and Mason and how it impacted the DMV closure plan was the focus of a new 131-page report, which the Birmingham News reports was released by investigators examining impeachment proceedings against the governor.
The report, from lead investigator Jack Sharman, found Mason “proposed closing multiple driver’s license offices throughout the State” and asking Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to “put together a plan.”
Sharman also noted that former ALEA head Spencer Collier – well-aware of Mason’s intent – was instructed to have a plan “rolled out in a way that had limited impact on Government Bentley’s political allies.”
Collier reported the closure plan to Luther Strange, Alabama’s then-Attorney General, expressing concern over possible Voting Rights Act violations.
The News reports that Collier eventually agreed to the closure plan, but through “objective measure based on processed transactions per year to determine which offices to close.”
Mason’s plan, if enacted, would of save the state $200,000 – a small amount in a General Fund showing typical annual shortfalls between $100 million and $200 million.
Bentley agreed to the plan, the report said, with a single exception: removing state Sen. Gerald Dial’s district from the list. Dial told the News he never spoke with Bentley about any closures and is not aware of which county was under consideration.
The plan set off an investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which discovered that the closures would hit rural counties hardest and disproportionately affect black neighborhoods, a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The NAACP, the nation’s leading civil rights organization, filed a lawsuit prompting the federal review.
At first, Bentley was critical of DOT involvement in the investigation, which he said was political in nature. But after striking an agreement between state and federal agencies, ALEA agreed it would extend service hours for DMV offices in Alabama’s so-called “Black Belt.”