|Hal and Jessica Taylor|
The Alabama board that will decide on a liquor license for the VictoryLand casino includes an officer with strong professional and personal ties to former Governor Bob Riley. The officer's wife has even stronger connections to Riley.
Riley spent much of his last two years in office trying to shut down non-Indian gaming facilities such as VictoryLand, and the current debate over a liquor license was launched by a long-time Riley ally, Attorney General Luther Strange. That could lead a reasonable observer to ask: Does VictoryLand have any hope of receiving a fair hearing before a board that includes at least one official with strong ties to Riley?
Hal Taylor, a captain in the enforcement division of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC), used to work as a security officer in the governor's office under Riley. Published reports indicate that Taylor now is assistant director of enforcement for ABC and also serves as the board's chief spokesperson.
Jessica Taylor, Hal's wife, might be even closer than her husband to the Riley family. Published reports show that Jessica Taylor worked for Riley in the governor's office and now serves as treasurer of his Alabama 2014 PAC. Jessica Taylor's LinkedIn page lists her current position as associate at Bob Riley and Associates LLC in Montgomery.
An ABC panel conducted a hearing on January 23, based on Strange's protest letter regarding a liquor license that VictoryLand has held, in one form or another, for almost 30 years. Panel members said they expected to make a decision within 15 days.
Should VictoryLand supporters, and the public in general, feel assured that the facility will get a fair hearing? It's hard to see how, given Hal Taylor's position at the ABC board, his wife's position with Bob Riley's corporation, and their mutual personal ties to the former governor.
How close are those ties? Consider public records about state-airplane usage by Riley, his family, and staff members. Here is one record from 2009:
Date: October 16, 2009
Destination: Sumter, South Carolina
Purpose of Flight: energy project meeting
Passengers on Board: Governor Bob Riley, Bowen Ballard, Executive Security Officer Hal Taylor
Return Flight: October 16, 2009
Here is another record from 2009:
Date: November 21, 2009
Destination: Warm Springs, GA
Purpose of Flight: attend Southern Governors Association annual meeting
Passengers on Board: Governor Bob Riley, Chief of Staff Dave Stewart, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Blades, Executive Security Officer Hal Taylor.
Did the governor and his executive security officer become close? Did Bob Riley help Hal Taylor get a job at the ABC board? Our research indicates the answer to both questions is yes.
Does Hal Taylor have influence over the ABC board and its decisions? It's hard to say, but Taylor seems to have become the public face of the board. In mid January, he announced that the board had revoked the liquor license of a Montgomery supper club. From a press report on that case:
The Hearing Commission found that the nightclub was operated “in a manner that creates a substantial risk of public harm to the public health, welfare, safety and morals,” Capt. Hal Taylor, assistant enforcement director for the ABC Board, said in a statement.
Harm to "public welfare" and "morals"? Those words sound like they came right out of Luther Strange's protest letter.
Is it hard to imagine Hal Taylor making a similar announcement about VictoryLand? To our ears, it certainly is not.
(To be continued)