On May 2, State Auditor Jim Zeigler “will be in my office at 10 a.m. with a court reporter, and a Bible to swear in the Governor.”
Zeigler plans to grill Gov. Robert Bentley about accusations the governor misused public resources during an affair with a former adviser, the recently dismissed Rebekah Mason.
On Monday Zeigler upped the stakes yet again, saying state law allows — indeed requires — the entire State Auditor’s probe to be open to the press and the public.
Zeigler initially announced he would take Bentley’s testimony behind closed doors, presumably to spare the governor a modicum of disgrace. But after conducting some legal research, Zeigler said, the investigation is subject to open-government laws and must be done in full view of the public.
“It is the public’s business, and we will allow news media and citizens to attend,” said Zeigler.
Bentley, for his part, does not appear likely to show up. The governor has mostly ignored Zeigler’s request for an appearance in his office at the Capitol, though he did issue the following:
“The appropriate legal process is through the Alabama Ethics Commission where the Auditor has already filed a complaint, and we are fully cooperating in every way,” said Bentley. “I do not intend to respond further to Mr. Zeigler.”
The standoff is the latest in a series of jousting matches between the two fellow Republican members of the state’s executive branch.
Bentley is supporting a bill this Legislative Session that would grant the governor power to appoint the State Auditor, revoking the office’s status as an elected position. Zeigler, in turn, has proposed an “executive recall” mechanism that would allow for Bentley to be removed from office via a petition signed by 10 percent of registered voters.
In the meantime, Zeigler’s May 2 deadline hangs over the Zeigler-Bentley feud like the sword of Damocles.
Zeigler says Code of Alabama statute, 36-16-2, authorizes his office to require just the kind of inquest into Bentley he is seeking. It reads: “The Auditor has authority to require information on oath, to be administered by him, from any person touching any claim or account he is required to audit.”
While that seems to leave little room for interpretation, Bentley remains highly unlikely to fulfill Zeigler’s request to appear. Zeigler says he is looking into options regarding enforcement, and will pursue punitive measures should Bentley defy his order.
“We will take action after May 2 if the order is not complied with. Since I set the May 2 date and time for compliance, I cannot do anything until that time has passed,” said Zeigler.