By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Monday, September 19, 2016, the Alabama Political Reporter (APR) sent a letter to Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) requesting an opinion about a Leeds City Council candidacy that appears to be a conflict of interest and a possible ethics law violation.
The 2010 ethics law transformed Alabama government from a system of where anything was allowed under law unless a quid pro quo arrangement could be provable in a court of law by prosecutors to a standard where relationships that are obviously a conflict of interest are not allowable under Alabama law. Having an inappropriate relationship itself is a violation of State ethics law. Because of the laws passed in the 2010 Special Session and signed into law by Governor Riley, Alabama ethics laws are now among the strongest in the nation.
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) who championed the 2010 ethics law ran afoul of its requirements and was convicted on June 10 of twelve ethics law violations because he sought and received contracts that were clear ethics law violations. That said, many public officials continue to try to skirt or ignore their responsibilities under the new ethics law, perhaps none more brazenly so than candidate for Leeds City Council, Linda Miller. Miller is also a partner and executive at Guardian Systems, Inc, a private environmental laboratory founded by her husband Gerald Miller in 1973.
According to their website, “Gerald Miller founded Guardian Systems, Inc over 35 years ago and is still a guiding force in continuing the GSI legacy of excellence. His wife, Linda Miller, is involved in all aspects of the Company. Linda is responsible for our constant push for excellence from within. She specializes in Management, Planning, Marketing, Quality Assurance and Quality Control.”
APR has obtained a copy of an existing storm water monitoring contract that Guardian Systems, Inc., has with the City of Leeds to do storm water monitoring. Additionally sources close to the Leeds Waterworks have told APR that the Leeds Waterworks Board has an existing contractual relationship with the Millers and Guardian Systems, Inc to perform testing and monitoring of their water treatment facilities.
The Leeds Water Works Board’s members are appointed by the Leeds City Council and these same members also vote on renewing Guardian System’s contracts. Guardian also has contracts with private entities who are operating within the City of Leeds and who have financial dealings with the city. Guardian also has numerous contracts with other municipalities who are in competition with the City of Leeds. As a Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) certified safe drinking water & bacteriological laboratory (ADEM #40050) Guardian Systems, Inc needs to be able to at least appear to have no conflict of interest between its analysis of the City of Leeds’s drinking water and stormwater monitoring. That is not possible if Miller is also representing the City of Leeds on its city council.
It is not possible for Miller to ethically extricate herself from Guardian Systems, Inc where she heads daily operations. If she resigned that position, then she and/or her husband, Gerald Miller would still have an ownership stake in Guardian Systems, Inc and a conflict interest. Similarly a conflict of interest would remain if she and Gerald both turned over the company to their children.
The police chief or the fire chief of a town can not serve on the council because it is an obvious conflict of interest as that council hires, fires, and pays the chief. APR believes that Miller can not possibly serve on the Leeds City Council given the numerous conflicts of interest she and Leeds based Guardian Systems, Inc have with that service.
APR is respectfully requesting that the Attorney General issue guidance on whether or not an officer in a State and Federally regulated contractor (Miller) can still serve as head of a municipality doing business with that same contractor?
Miller is currently in a runoff for the District Five City Council seat with Staci Tawbush on October 4.
Miller, who is one of the wealthiest people in Leeds, appears to have numerous conflicts of interest that should have precluded her from seeking office with a client city. While she heads up Guardian Systems Inc. her husband Gerald Miller manages Leeds based Rockwool Inc. which manufactures insulation. APR has forwarded this complaint to Miller, Leeds Mayor David Miller, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and the Environmental Protection Agency seeking guidance. Guardian Systems, Inc. is an EPA and ADEM permitted laboratory…….one of only twenty five in the State.