Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

News

Senators Question Ethics Opinions

 

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Recent opinions issued under the guidance of new Ethics Director Tom Albritton are increasingly facing criticism from the press and members of the State legislature.

Ethics opinions written for Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), have all raised questions regarding the legitimacy and independence of the Commission tasked with upholding the State’s ethics codes.

Speaking about the Todd opinion, long-serving State Senator from Lineville Gerald Dial noted, “I helped write the first ethics law…I think the ethics commission just made a mistake, and a terrible ruling.”

(See Todd Opinion)

paticia_toddDial along with now deceased Sen. Michael Figures penned the first ethics laws on legislative lobbying.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Dial makes it clear that he does not have issues with Todd, but, “it never was the intent to allow any lawmaker to work for a group and lobby the legislature at the same time while being paid by that group.”

Dial recalls a time before the ethics laws, when ALFA had an attorney, serving in the legislature. “This was the kind of thing we were trying to stop,” he said. 

The Todd opinion has caused controversy because the ethics opinion allows her to introduce laws written by her employer, advocate for laws that would benefit her employer’s cause and raise funds for the organization.

Todd, in the last six months, took a position as Director for HRC Alabama, which is a national LGBT advocacy group. In recent weeks, the Office of Attorney General Luther Strange and all the State’s District Attorneys signed a letter asking the Commission to withdraw the Todd opinion.

While Albritton has outwardly seemed open to the letter from the AG and DAs, he has privately expressed anger that his opinion would be questioned. According to officials with close ties to his office, Albritton has even suggested there was a conspiracy to undermine his authority.

Dial has said that if the commission continues to issue opinions blatantly opposite of the law, then the legislature will act appropriately.

Another opinion written since Albritton has taken office, involves retiring State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson. In the near future, Williamson will leave State service to take over the Presidency of the Alabama Hospital Association (ALaHA).  Williamson has served as an interim chief of the State’s Medicaid Office while serving on the Medicaid Task Force. His position with ALaHA while still working for the state is seen by some as a conflict of interest.   Williamson recently advocated for expanding Medicaid under ACA which would directly benefit his employer. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

“I was astounded at what they wrote. Dr. Williamson is a great guy, he has done a phenomenal job. I don’t want to sound like I am criticizing him, I’m not. He has done a great job in the Health Department. But to allow him to set up RCOs and remain on the state payroll while he already knows he is going to take a position with the Hospital Association and it is going to benefit and do business with the RCOs…if that is not a conflict of interest there is no such thing as one,” said Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery).

(See Williamson Opinion)

Brewbaker says a trend is developing where the Ethics Commission is allowing public officials to become lobbyists contrary to clearly defined law.

“The Ethics Commission has got to change their focus. I have talked people that understand the ethics law and none of them think that the ethics law permits what the Ethics Commission is permitting,” Brewbaker said.

He, like fellow Senator Dial, anticipate the legislature taking action, should the Commission continue to issue opinions weakening the State’s Ethics laws. 

As for the Marsh opinion: It has not been questioned because of the opinion itself, but because it was issued after the fact.

In June, Marsh’s company, Marsh Properties LLC, acquired the Victoria Inn and Restaurant from the city of Anniston for $10.00 in exchange for guaranteeing $1.5 million for renovation and improvement of the facility.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

(See Marsh Opinion)

After the transaction, Marsh asked the Ethics Commission to weigh in with an opinion. The Commission’s opinion sided with Marsh. However, the practice of writing opinions after the fact is seen as setting a dangerous precedent.

Recent opinions issued by the Commission are raising red-flags with law-enforcement and lawmakers who are concerned that the Commission is bending to the will of some public officials and giving them a pass to break the law.

 

Written By

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

DIG DEEPER

Featured Opinion

In an advisory opinion, the commission determined it is not required to disclose exculpatory information to those subject to its investigations.

Courts

The lawsuit also claims that board members for the trust improperly used funds to send their kids to college.

Elections

SD12 is currently represented by former Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who is not running for re-election. 

Elections

Congressman Mike Rogers has endorsed Keith Kelly in state Senate District 12.