By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Friday, May 27, on day four of the State of Alabama versus Mike Hubbard, prosecutors attempted to continue to lay the argument that State Representative Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) was a profiteer who attempted to use his office to pursue wealth for himself.
The first witness of the day was Brett Buerck, a partner in Majority Strategies which also does business as Next Wave Communications. Buerck said that he runs the day to day business of Majority Strategies as well as some of the writing and some of the sales.
Prosecutor Matt Hart produced an email from Mike Hubbard, dating back to when he was the Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. In the email Hubbard, said that some of the printing would be done by a printing company that he owned, Craftmaster Printing.
Hart presented an email from Buerck to his partner, Randy Kammerdeiner. In it Buerck wrote, “If we do this race we will have to figure out how to use Craftmaster.”
Buerck told Hart that he did not like the Craftmaster price point and that he has expectations of the printer’s ability to get material done in a timely manner. Buerck said that the Alabama Republican Party and Mike Hubbard was Kammerdeiner’s client, not his.
On whether they had to use Craftmaster Buerck said, “I believed that was our only option.”
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz explained that the Southeast Alabama Gas District Board (SEAGD) is composed of fourteen cities in southeast Alabama. The cities jointly manage the public utility. The board consists of the 14 member Mayors, who are each paid $1000 for every SEAGD board meeting they attend.
SEAGB hired the then Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard as a consultant for economic development and paid him $12,000 a month for his consulting services.
Enterprise Mayor Kenneth Boswell explained that before the Board hired Mike Hubbard as a consultant that SEAGD Board attorney James Sledge (of Tuscaloosa’s Rosen Harwood law firm) sent a letter to the Alabama Ethics Commission asking if the Speaker of the House could work as a consultant for the SEAGD Board. The Ethics Commission, then headed by Jim Sumner, approved the idea of Speaker Hubbard accepting the position since other members of the legislature had similar consulting contracts, the ethics commission however did stipulate that Hubbard could not use his office or the mantle of his office to help himself of his clients.
Mayor Schmitz explained that the biggest issue to the greater Dothan area in this period was the bankruptcy of PEMCO Aviation (formerly Hayes Aircraft), which did maintenance and overhauls of large jet aircraft. PEMCO, at one time, employed 1200 people. The lease that PEMCO paid for its 400,000 square foot hanger and 93 acres of land was the largest source of income by far for the Dothan Airport Authority. Finding a replacement tenant was hugely important for the airport and the entire Southeast Alabama area.
Dothan Chamber of Commerce President Matt Parker began cold calling firms in the aviation business who might be able to use the two large jumbo jet hangars. Commercial Jet emerged as the prime candidate for the space and eventually did move from Miami to Dothan.
There were issues to overcome in the deal though. The PEMCO facility was obsolete and aging. Commercial Jet wanted the airport to modernize and upgrade the facility (which is owned by the Dothan airport). Dothan did not have the $12 million; but SEAGD did have consultant Mike Hubbard (who was also Speaker of the House).
SEAGD consultant Mike Hubbard reported to the SEAGD Board in monthly reports that were presented as evidence by prosecutors, on numerous meetings he held with Governor Robert Bentley (R), State Representative Paul Lee (R-Dothan), Rep Donnie Chesteen, Commercial Jet officials, Matt Parker, Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, even former Gov. Bob Riley (R), and Alabama’s richest citizen (according to Forbes), Jimmy Rane, etc. to the SEAGD Board. Hubbard, Parker, SEAGD, the local legislative delegation, and the Dothan Airport Authority convinced Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and Secretary Canfield agreed for the state to front two thirds of the money.’ Bentley and Canfield insisted on there being a clawback provision in the deal if Commercial Jet failed to live up to the deal. Commercial Jet objected to the clawback so Dothan agreed to be on the hook to the state for that money.
Speaker Hubbard also helped SEAGD and the Dothan Airport change state law so that no sales tax would be charged on airplane parts used in commercial refurbishment of aircraft, another sticking point in the Commercial Jet deal (House Bill 39 in the 2012 Legislative Session).
Rep. Lee testified that he did not know that Speaker Hubbard was working for SEAGD and getting paid for all of this.
Some of these meetings were even held in the Speaker’s offices, which was expressly forbidden in the Ethic Commission letter.
Dothan Chamber of Commerce Secretary Matt Parker said that he knew SEAGD had a contract with Speaker Hubbard but did not know the details.
Defense attorney Bill Baxley said that former Speaker of the House Seth Hammett also had economic development contracts when he was speaker and wanted to ask Parker about that; but the prosecution objected
Deputy Attorney General Michael Duffy said that was 20 years ago and the ethics laws have changed since then. Judge Walker agreed with the prosecutors.
Baxley told Mayor Schmitz that everyone associated with the Commercial Jet deal should be thanked for the good work that they did for Alabama, including Mike Hubbard.
Mayor Boswell testified that he met with Speaker Hubbard to try to get more ATRIP dollars and GARVEE bond money for Enterprise. Boswell said that he had meeting with Hubbard as the Speaker of the House and he had meetings with Hubbard as the SEAGD consultant.
Boswell said that when Enterprise Electronics threatened to move out of Enterprise, he developed a plan for Enterprise State Community College to buy Enterprise Electronics’s existing facility and add tech training there so Enterprise Electronics (which makes weather radars) could move to a new facility. He contacted Hubbard as the SEAGD consultant to work on implementing this plan.
Then Enterprise State Community College President Nancy Chandler said that she was happy to meet with Speaker Hubbard about the project both in Enterprise and at an event in Montgomery. At both events she saw him as Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, not as the SEAGD economic development consultant. Chandler said that Hubbard never revealed that he was working for SEAGD.
Mayor Boswell said that a search committee recommended to the Board that they hire Mike Hubbard as their economic development consultant. The committee did not recommend anyone else.
Boswell said that SEAGD hired Mike Hubbard because he was the Speaker of the House and because of his networking skills. Later SEAGD decided to cut Hubbard’s pay to $7500 month. Boswell testified that he agreed with that decision.
The trial resumes on Tuesday, May 31.