By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, September 15, Judge Greg Griffin dismissed a lawsuit by State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) and State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay), who are seeking to block a controversial Bentley Administration plan to build a extravagant Hotel and Conference Center at Gulf State Park. The pair are now appealing that ruling.
Judge Griffin did not rule on the merits of the case, but rather that Zeigler and Morrow lack the appropriate legal standing to sue Gov. Robert Bentley (R) for allegedly exceeding the authority of his office under the 1901 Alabama Constitution.
Zeigler said the plaintiffs and lawyers decided to appeal because, “It is dangerous to leave the issue as it now stands. Gov. Bentley is spending BP money without authority, and yet no one is allowed their day in court to challenge the spending…If a State Representative cannot legally challenge the Bentley spending, and the State Auditor cannot challenge it, and a taxpayer cannot challenge it, then who can challenge it? This leaves Gov. Bentley with an open checkbook to spend money with no accountability.”
Zeigler and Morrow were suing Bentley, alleging that he is spending money from the BP settlement without legal authority. Judge Greg Griffin held that the two officials do not have the necessary legal standing to maintain the suit and granted motions to dismiss Bentley and other defendants. Zeigler and Morrow are arguing in the appeal that the trial court erred in dismissing their case. Zeigler argues that as auditor he has the right and duty to audit and report on the expenditure of public moneys, including the money being used to build the enormously expensive conference center by the beach.
Following the ruling in his favor, Governor Bentley said in a statement, “Today’s decision reiterates that the Gulf State Park project is proceeding within legal means. This is the second lawsuit against the project to be dismissed. Today’s dismissal was with prejudice meaning the judge found the claims to be without merit and that the plaintiffs cannot bring another lawsuit. The redevelopment of the Gulf State Park will benefit Alabama as well as all State parks throughout the State.”
At issue is whether or not the Governor has the authority to appropriate BP oil settlement funds for use to build the conference center, luxury lodge, and rebuild the Governor’s mansion by the beach without the money being budgeted by the Alabama legislature.
Zeigler said, “Gov. Bentley is acting as a one-man legislature. He is appropriating BP money with no authority. He is using BP money for his pet projects.”
The earlier, much more modest Gulf State Lodge was destroyed by a hurricane.