By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Monday, July 27, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler and State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay) filed a bi-partisan civil suit seeking to halt the Bentley administration from spending BP funds without legislative approval on Bentley’s controversial plan to build a $120 million luxury hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park.
The suit names as defendants: Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R), Conservation Commissioner Gunter Guy, Attorney General Luther Strange (R), acting Finance Director Bill Newton, and R. Cooper Shattuck, Executive Director of the Gulf State Park Project.
The plaintiffs allege in their suit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, that the Bentley administration started spending money on March 17, to build the controversial four-star hotel and conference center where the Gulf State Park Lodge used to be. They allege spending the funds is “unconstitutional and unlawful because none are derived from any source of funds allowed by Alabama law…”
Gov. Bentley has already spent $1.8 million of BP funds on the Alabama Governor’s exclusive beach house. The plaintiffs are not suing on that project because it is now completed. Zeigler has been a vocal opponent of spending BP disaster dollars on the controversial beach house project.
The Bentley administration is using BP grant funds for the current work at the Gulf hotel and conference center site. The suit contends that Code of Alabama section 9-4E-1 which states that only “project revenues, National Resource Damage Assessment funds or Restore Act Funds may be expended” for this project.
The suit also contends that, “This unlawful and illegal expenditure is also wasteful and hasty, and includes incurring unnecessary overtime payments for construction work as recently as Sunday, July 17, 2016, all in order to ‘outrun’ consideration by this Honorable Court by racing to illegally complete (the project).”
The suit asked for an expedited hearing, a declaratory judgment, and a restraining order against spending of funds without authority.
Zeigler said that he looked forward to depositions in the case. “I will finally get to put Gov. Bentley under oath and question him, this time as a defendant in this civil suit.”
Zeigler had earlier ordered Bentley to appear in the state auditor’s office and answer questions under oath about a long list of topics. That order cited a never-used section of the law. Bentley declined to appear.
The law firm of former Lieutenant Governor Bill Baxley (D) is representing the plaintiffs.
A lawsuit by former Conservation Commissioner Charles Grimsley was dismissed because the court ruled that he did not have legal standing to bring the suit. A Gulf Coast environmental groups had also brought suit against the project arguing that this was an improper use of BP settlement dollars which were intended to restore the Gulf Coast after the oil spill, not build expensive hotels.
The $120 million project is only 3 foot above sea level on a site where the previous lodge was totally destroyed by a hurricane. Some critics have called the project, “Bentley’s Beachfront Boondoggle.”