|Gov. Robert Bentley and Rebekah|
Articles in The New York Times and Gawker focus on Bentley's plan to use funds from BP oil-spill grants to refurbish the state's beachfront mansion, which has been in a state of disrepair since being struck by Hurricane Danny in 1997. The articles particularly focus on allegations that Bentley is dipping into state coffers to fix the mansion because he lost his own beach properties in a divorce from First Lady Dianne Bentley, which ended a 50-year marriage among reports that the governor and Mason had become unusually close.
The Times article, titled "Alabama Governor’s Use of Oil Spill Funds for Mansion Draws Criticism" and written by Alan Blinder, was published on July 11. Gawker followed up yesterday with a piece by Jordan Sargent titled "Alabama Governor Will Take His Post-Divorce Blues to a State-Funded Beach House."
Blinder, of The Times, sets the stage with his report from Montgomery:
In a capital where almost anything can turn contentious, there has mostly been a consensus on a matter of housekeeping for close to two decades: A rehabilitation of a ramshackle governor’s mansion on the gulf coast would be political folly.
So when Gov. Robert Bentley’s office acknowledged last month that Mr. Bentley, a second-term Republican, was renovating the home with up to $1.8 million that BP gave the state after the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it was something of a jolt, particularly because the property in Baldwin County is intended only as a retreat for governors.
Mr. Bentley, who cannot seek a third consecutive term, is making no apologies for the decision, which provoked debate about BP’s payouts after the spill; questions about what a state short of cash is doing supporting an executive escape; and testy posts on social media by the governor and the state auditor, a fellow Republican.
“If this were a house in the woods in North Alabama, nobody would think anything about it,” Mr. Bentley said in an interview last week. “It just sounds more elaborate when it’s on the beach. But it’s a state-owned property, and it is our responsibility to repair state-owned properties.”
The Republican auditor would be Jim Zeigler, who has made it a habit to raise thorny questions about Bentley's actions. Writes Blinder:
State officials, citing security concerns, have been reluctant to disclose details of the renovation. Many of the plans were contained in a handsome portfolio that architects presented to Mr. Bentley, who said he wanted the project completed in time for a Memorial Day event for veterans.
But the governor forcefully denied Mr. Zeigler’s assertion on Facebook that he sought upgrades to the property only after a divorce in which he lost two beach houses.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time. All right?” Mr. Bentley said with a trace of anger as he gestured toward the plans, which were dated Aug. 27. Mr. Bentley’s wife, Dianne, filed for divorce on Aug. 28; the couple had been separated since January, according to a court document. (The governor’s office disputed the separation date, which was included in Dianne Bentley’s divorce complaint, and said Monday that the couple lived together until late August.)
Mr. Bentley made a similar case on Twitter in December, when he said Mr. Zeigler was “lying” and complained about news outlets publishing the auditor’s allegations. Mr. Zeigler, for his part, stood by — and often repeated — his charge.
Gawker, with its motto "Today's Gossip is Tomorrow's News," takes an "in yo face" approach to the story. While The Times discreetly sidestepped any mention of an extramarital affair, Gawker's approach is much less delicate. After all, this is the Web site that reported before on the Bentley/Mason scandal with the headline: "Alabama Governor Robert Bentley Won't Say Whether He Fucked a Staffer."
|Alabama beach mansion|
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley had a poor 2015, having divorced from his wife of 50 years in the midst of a widespread rumor that he’d had an affair with a key aide. Bentley has something to look forward to this year, though: a newly rebuilt beach house. But about that. . . .
The distastefulness of a state governor souping up a beach house via funds nominally dedicated to repairing a vital environmental region after a historically damaging disaster is obvious to everyone involved. . . .
But it is on the beach, and that specific detail has piqued the interest of one official close to the money: state auditor Jim Ziegler. Ziegler’s theory is that Bentley isn’t fixing the mansion because of a responsibility to the state or so that, as Bentley states, it can be used for events that will foster economic growth in Alabama. Instead, in a statement written before Christmas, Ziegler offered that Bentley’s interest in the mansion stems from the fact that the governor lost possession of two beach homes in the divorce from his wife.
Ouch! And the scorching words don't end there. Sargent sums up Bentley's mess thusly:
Bentley now has to refute not only that he’s immorally diverting money, but that he’s doing it for a deeply personal reason. The governor attempted to provide evidence contrary to Ziegler’s theory to the Times, saying that his office has been working on refurbishing the beach retreat for “a long time.” To that end he showed reporter Alan Blinder plans dated August 27. That date is especially curious because, as Blinder notes, Bentley’s wife filed for divorce one day later.
In a separate statement to AL.com, a Bentley spokesperson said that the governor recently purchased his own property on the same peninsula that houses the rundown governor’s mansion. Maybe that is so, but it doesn’t obscure an unchangeable fact as Bentley moves on from the twin loss of his previous beach homes: one plus one equals two.