Opponents drown bill with dollars

Blount County’s stake in the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) operations arises from three circumstances:

The bill to reform the BWWB died in the House Rules Committee on the last day of this legislative session as proponents tried – and failed – to get it scheduled on the House calendar for a vote on the floor, where many thought it had the votes to pass.

What happened? Blount County’s District 34 Rep. David Standridge, who introduced a companion bill and supported the final bill through a series of challenges during its progress through the Legislature, described the sequence of events that led to its demise.

“One of the committee members (a proponent- Ed.) picked it to be scheduled on the calendar on the last day of the session. One of the Birmingham representatives (who opposed it- Ed.) moved to take it off. The committee chairman called for a vote (on the motion) and then made the decision, based on a voice vote, to take it off the calendar.” Killed on a close voice vote; no roll call

Was it hard to tell, based on a voice vote?

“It was real close,”Standridge said, “and a roll call vote could have been requested, but no one did so.”

Who led the opposition?

Standridge said Rep. Oliver Robinson, a Birmingham Democrat, made the motion to take the bill off the calendar.

Is there any chance some of the reforms will be implemented voluntarily by the BWWB?

Standridge said he was hopeful, but not necessarily optimistic. “Some of our BWWB contacts said they’d like to talk to us after the session is over. So, at least we got their attention. They’re at least willing to come to the table to talk now. They weren’t before.”

Will the bill be introduced again next year?

“I think there’s a very good chance if reforms are not voluntarily made,” Standridge said. “I worked hard on this bill – I was one of the main ones – and there were several others in the House who are very interested in it. And of course Jabo Waggoner in the Senate – it was his bill.” A factor in the mix: $360,000 worth of lobbying

Standridge said people need to understand the magnitude of the effort made by BWWB and the Birmingham City Council to defeat the bill. He said a total of at least $360,000 was spent by the two entities combined – representing both ratepayers’ money from BWWB and taxpayers’ money from the City Council to hire lobbyists to defeat the bill.

“The really disappointing thing is that this debate didn’t unfold just along party lines,” he said. He added that while Birmingham Democrats in the Legislature led opposition to the bill, it took the help of other Republicans to carry the day against their Republican colleagues who sponsored it.

Rep. Paul DeMarco of Homewood, who shepherded the bill on its difficult course through the House, commented with some asperity: “Even some fellow Republicans chose to side with big money special interests and not with the conservative good government we believe in. The people of Blount County should be disappointed that some Republicans put special interests above their interests as citizens of the county.”

Below are four of the major provisions of the bill that would have substantially reformed the BWWB:

•Expand representation on the board by three members: two from Jefferson County outside of Birmingham and one seat to be rotated among Blount, Shelby, St. Clair, and Walker counties; presently the board consists of four members from Birmingham. ( This was the most controversial and hard-fought provision of the bill-ED. )

•Board member pay would be capped at $500 per month.

•Members would be limited to two four-year terms.

•Public hearings would be required before water rates could be increased.