By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, State Representative Paul DeMarco (R) from Homewood went to the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives to introduce a substitute calendar for the last day of the legislative session. Rep. DeMarco did this because the powerful House Rules Committee had left off legislation he was carrying in the House for Senator Jabo Wagoner that would have reformed the powerful Birmingham Water Works Board.
Rep. DeMarco called the Birmingham Waterworks Board (BWWB) a “blight on our community” and asked that legislators adopt his calendar that would have included this legislation (which had already passed the Senate) on the calendar of the bills to be addressed by the House on the final day of the 2014 legislative session (bills not passed by both Houses during the session have to be reintroduced and go through the whole process in the next legislative session……likely beginning in February 2015).
DeMarco said that the bill would put the BWWB under the ethics commission, expand the board to include ratepayers currently not being represented, require public hearings for rate increases and would cap the amount of compensation that board members can receive. DeMarco’s legislation was opposed by the BWWB, the City of Birmingham (which appoints BWWB board members), and the Black Legislative Caucus.
House Rules Chairman Mac McCutcheon (R) from Capshaw said that he was here to defend the calendar that was passed by the Rules Committee. McCutcheon asked that DeMarco’s motion for a new calendar be tabled.
The motion passed with considerable Republican support, effectively killing efforts to reform the BWWB and increase representation on the Board for this year.
Former Jefferson County Republican Party Chairman Chris Brown said on Facebook, “I am disgusted by the Republicans who helped to kill Birmingham Water Works Reform. These Republican legislators sided with Democrats, Liberal Special Interest Groups, and Big Montgomery Lobbyists and against the People.”
Brown said, “Rep. Richard Baughn voted against the People. He will be part of the Jefferson County delegation next year. Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin didn’t vote at all. Was this issue not important enough for her to even vote on? Rep. Mac McCutcheon, Chairman of the Rules Committee and Speaker Hubbard voted YES to a calendar that would not bring up the reform bill for a vote. The Mobile House Delegation was a particular disappointment with Rep. Victor Gaston, Rep. Margie Wilcox, and Rep. David Sessions all siding with Democrats and Liberal Special Interests and voting to go along with the status quo. Special thank you to my clients from outside of Jefferson County who stood with us today in trying to do the right thing – Rep. Mike Holmes, Rep. April Weaver, and Rep. Bill Roberts. Big Thank you to Sen. Jabo Waggoner and Rep. Paul DeMarco for their leadership on this important issue and for their willingness to stand up for what is right.”
Rep. DeMarco said in a statement later, “Today on the last day of the legislative session, my last day as a state representative, special interests and the establishment did it again. Without so much as a recorded vote, a House committee made up of Republicans and Democrats blocked my bill to make the Birmingham Water Works Board more accountable to you the rate payer. This is what we’re fighting against: special interests, big money politics and the status quo.”
Rep. DeMarco said, “Even some fellow Republicans chose to side with big money special interest and the not conservative good government we believe in. This fight is not over. I want to end the grip of special interest and the status quo. I am fighting for you right now. And I will fight for you in Washington.”
Alabama State Senator J.T. “Jabo” Wagoner (R) from Vestavia told the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce in a meeting before the session also covered by the Alabama Political Reporter that the bill puts limits on the amount of compensation that waterworks board members could receive, require that the Water Works Board provide the public notice of rate increases, and would change the makeup of the board.
Currently the Birmingham City council appoints all the members of the board even though the water works has grown into a regional water system that serves customers in Shelby County, St. Clair County, Walker County, Blount County, as well as Jefferson County. Wagoner said that the bill would change the makeup of the Board to make it more representative.
Senator Wagoner said that the Birmingham Water Works Board gets water from Shelby County for free and then the Birmingham Water Works turns around and charges Shelby County residents for that water. Similarly the Water Works gets Blount County for free and then turns around and sells the water back to Blount County residents.
DeMarco is running for Congress in a crowded District Six field that includes: Tom Vigneulle, Gary Palmer, Will Brooke, Robert Shattuck, Sen. Scott Beason and Dr. Chad Mathis. The Sixth District Congressional District seat is currently held by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R) from Vestavia. After serving in the seat for 21 years, Rep. Bachus announced that he would not seek re-election when his current term expires.
The citizens of Birmingham established the current Water Board in 1951, although the Birmingham Water Works system dates back to 1873, only two years after the founding of Birmingham.
In 1951, Birmingham purchased the water system from a private operator and established an independent Water Board. The Birmingham Water Works Board has seen major expansions every decade from 1950 to the present. The system now boasts four water sources and approximately 3,903 miles of transmission lines. More than 500 employees operate this expansive system.
In the 1960s, the Birmingham Water Works expanded to people in outlying communities, many of whom had polluted wells. Grant assistance from the Office of Health and Urban Development allowed the BWW to provide service to these areas in North Jefferson County. Expansion continued beyond the limits of Jefferson County.
Senator Jabo Wagoner is the Majority leader in the Alabama Senate and is the Chair of the powerful Senate Rules Committee.