MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ The boards and commissions that set policies for state government are not much more diverse than they were eight years ago, with white men dominating even though a quarter of Alabama's residents are black and more than half are women, according to a new report.
Early in former Gov. Bob Riley's term in 2003, women held about 23.6 percent of the seats on state boards and commissions, the report by the state Examiners of Public Accounts shows. They held 25.4 of the positions as Riley wrapped up his administration late last year.
In 2003, African-Americans filled 14.6 percent of the seats. The percentage went up slightly to 15.0 percent near the end of Riley's term.
White men held 62.7 percent of the 2,602 positions that existed as Riley was leaving office.
Those statistics are a long way from reflecting the state's population, which is 26 percent African-American and 51 percent female.
State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said the report shows the need to emphasize diversity more in state government appointments.
“The evidence is right there,'' said Smitherman, who got the examiners to start doing periodic reports on the makeup of state boards in 1997.
Back then, white males held 72 percent of the seats while African-Americans filled 8 percent.
The governor makes the largest number of appointments to state boards and commissions, but a variety of state officials, including the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, also make appointments.
Riley, who left office last month, did not respond to a request for comment. He said during his time in office that he was interested in more diversity, though few minorities applied for appointments. In the final years of his administration, he liked to point out that his own appointments were more diverse than some other state officials with appointment power.
Appointees can't start their jobs until they are approved by the state Senate's Confirmations Committee and then the entire Senate.
The new Republican leadership in the Alabama Senate has appointed an 11-member Confirmations Committee that includes one black woman and one white woman. The other nine members are white males _ much like the makeup of most state boards and commissions.
The committee's new chairman, Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, said the committee has had only one meeting and has not discussed diversity. “But that's something that needs to be discussed,'' he said.
He also noted that while there is more to be done, the percentage of African-Americans on state boards has nearly doubled since the examiners' first report 14 years ago.
Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who succeeded Riley last month, doesn't have a policy about appointments but is sensitive to diversity, spokeswoman Leah Garner said.
Smitherman, who pushed the diversity issue to the forefront 14 years ago, got booted from the Confirmations Committee when Republicans won control of the Senate in November. In the past, he and some minority members had refused to approve an appointment if it were a white man being named to a board that lacked an African-American or a woman.
Smitherman said he still plans to push the diversity issue and wants to encourage minorities and women to apply for appointments. He said he's confident that Bentley _ whom he served with for eight years in the Legislature _ will give those groups fair consideration.
“He seems to be a person who is sensitive to those things,'' Smitherman said.
Pirctured: State Sen. Rodger Smitherman