Birmingham Water Works reform bill passes 70-29

A bill to impose controls and expand representation on the Birmingham Water Works Board that has been almost a decade in the making passed the Alabama House of Representatives last Tuesday evening, despite a last ditch filibuster by Jefferson County Rep. John Rogers. The bill, SB89, had previously passed the Senate.

The main provisions of the bill:

• The board will be expanded from five to nine members. The Birmingham City Council currently appoints all five members. Beginning in 1917, the Birmingham City Council will appoint six members, the Jefferson County Mayor’s association will appoint a member, and the Blount County Commission and Shelby County Commission will each appoint a member.

• Board terms will be reduced from six to four years, with members limited to two terms.

• Board member compensation will be capped at $1,000 per month. In the past, there has been no cap. Legislators rejected the Water Works Board’s request for a $1,500 per month cap.

• The Water Works Board will be required to hold a public meeting 30 days before implementing a rate increase, in contrast to past practice in which rate increases were implemented without public input.

• All board members’ travel and reimbursement must be voted on in public, also in contrast to past practice.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jabo Waggoner, RVestavia Hills. Waggoner sponsored a similar bill last year that opponents defeated with a last-minute manuever in a House committeee during the final hours of the 2014 session.

District 34 Rep. David Standridge of Hayden was one of the House floor captains who help marshal the bill through the chamber this year. The lopsided 70-29 vote in the House made it sound like a breeze, but it wasn’t easy, according to Standridge.

“This has been a tough three-year fight, and I hope people understand it is a big victory for Blount County,” Standridge told The Blount Countian. “My being chairman of the House Rural Caucus really helped,” he said,“because a lot of those people stuck with me even though it didn’t directly affect their districts. I really appreciate that, and I was concentrating on holding on to Blount County’s board member in the legislation. It seemed like we were outnumbered by lobbyists on the the House floor. There were four or five lobbying firms working against us.

“It also helped that Blount County commissioners and the chairman of the commission came down and were present in the public hearings,” he said.“The rest of the Blount County delegation also stuck with us all the way. Everybody helped.”