By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Monday, December 19, 2016, Jefferson County Circuit Judges Robert Vance Jr. ruled that legislation sponsored by State Senator Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia) , SB89 to expand the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) was passed legally and can now be implemented.
Former State Representative Paul DeMarco (R-Homewood) said, “Great news for Birmingham Water Works Board ratepayers. Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. rejected the board’s attempt to kill legislation to reform the board. I, along with Senator Jabo Waggoner drafted this legislation back in 2013 to pass much needed reforms to the water board. The board spent thousands of dollars on lobbyist to kill the effort to reform the board. Finally, after years of hard work Senator Waggoner along with Representatives Jim Carns and David Standridge got the bill passed through the Alabama Legislature. The fight for reform of the board is not over, but ratepayers prevailed today.”
SB89 reforms the Birmingham Waterworks Board (BWWB) so that counties where the BWWB has water customers or assets will be provided representation on the BWWB. Additionally, SB89 would lo limit the terms of all board members including members appointed prior to this act becoming applicable to the board; limit the compensation and expenses of the board members; to specify that the board members would be covered by the State Ethics Law and could not be elected officials. SB89 would also provide for notice and a public hearing prior to the board adopting any rate increase; and specifies that the highly politicized board would be subject to the Alabama Open Meetings Act. Before the legislation only the Birmingham Mayor and City Council could appoint members to the board.
The current leadership of the BWWB strongly oppose expanding the composition of the Board. Recent appointee to the Board community activist William Muhammed recently commented on the move.
Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington (R) replied to those comments in a statement: “I want to publicly chastise Mr. William Muhammed of the Birmingham Water Works Board for saying that he “didn’t give a damn” about the ratepayers. It’s obvious that a majority of the Birmingham Water Works Board feels the same way.”
Commissioner Carrington said, “To the contrary, I, and my fellow commissioners, do care about the ratepayers, on both the water and sewer systems. That’s why we worked so hard to reduce the sewer debt by approximately $1.5 billion dollars, saving the ratepayers billions of dollars in future principal and interest payments.”
In October the BWWB voted to stop collecting sewer bills (money that goes to the Jefferson County Commission to pay off $billions in outstanding debts.
Carrington said, “So, speaking for myself – and I feel confident that I’m speaking for a majority, if not all of my fellow county commissioners as well – I am putting Mr. Muhammed and the entire Birmingham Water Works Board on notice that I will personally fight your termination of billing services and the proposed doubling of our sewer billing fees without justification or cause in the court of public opinion, the courts of the judiciary, and the state legislature.” “Your “hostage” strategy is nothing more than “highway robbery” of the water and sewer ratepayers. It will needlessly result in higher water and sewer bills. As such, I call on you to immediately recognize the error of your ways and to expeditiously reverse your decision and “stand down”
(Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group contributed to this report)