By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Firebrand Senator Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) added an amendment to the Gulf State Park Project appropriations bill that sets a deadline for funding. It reads, “If the State of Alabama does not receive or has not been awarded any National Resource Damage Assessment funds or Restore Act funds for the purposes of this chapter by December 31, 2015, this chapter is repealed on January 1, 2016.”
The deadline passed without the BP settlement money being available, which voided the act.
“What they are doing is breaking the law based on the amendment that was attached to the Convention Center bill, said Sen. Sanford in an interview with the Alabama Political Reporter. This belief is shared by Charles Grimsley, who is suing Bentley.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler recently join the suit to intervene in what he calls Bentley’s “Pet Project.”
Despite the lawsuit and funding, Bentley is pushing forward with building a 350 room hotel and convention center at the park.
Also weighing in on the controversial luxury hotel and convention center is former Attorney General, Bill Baxley.
“What they are trying to do…the last three Governors, this one and the last two…is wrong policy wise and utterly and totally constitutionally wrong,” said Baxley in a phone interview. “Now, this Governor is the first one that has tried to appropriate the money. The others were wrong policy wise. This Governor is not only continuing that, but he is violating the constitution,” Baxley says. While other Governors Don Siegelman and Bob Riley tried to push the project, “they never dared to use unappropriated State funds to do so.”
A recent press release from the Governor’s Office stated, “Bentley, who tasked the University of Alabama System and the Alabama Department of Conservation to work together on the $135 million project, said that the work won’t be funded through taxes, but financed with funds that BP provided to restore the economy along the Gulf Coast after the 2010 oil spill.”
Baxley said Bentley’s legal position, that the BP funds are not public money, is ludicrous, and “most certainly is taxpayer money.” This is shown in the lawsuit filed by Grimsley.
Sanford is not only troubled by Bentley’s actions, but also the role the University of Alabama System has played. “Somehow, the University of Alabama is continuing to spend money on the project without legislative authorization,” said Sanford. “I believe a judge will later find that they should not have been doing that, but because the amount of money in the project as it moves forward, they will allow the project to continue because of the perceived loss of the investment.”
Sanford went on to say, “Even though people are knowingly, willingly breaking the law, that is what will happen.”
Cooper Shadduck, after leaving the Governor’s office, was hired as General Counsel of The University of Alabama System where he oversees the Gulf State Park Project. He also headed Bentley’s “dark money” group, the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, which was used to pay Bentley’s former senior advisor and alleged love interest, Rebekah Ann Caldwell Mason.
“It’s a tired old adage from when you were a kid,” Sanford said, “where it is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission.”
As Baxley pointed out, permission to use State funds without proper congressional appropriation is unconstitutional, and is, therefore, illegal.