Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) chairwoman Tereshia Huffman defended the utility’s current leadership in a statement released this week in response to efforts by state representatives to reform the current board structure. .
“As chair of the board, I can confidently say that our current board composition represents the diverse service area in which we serve,” Huffman wrote in the statement.
“We have prioritized making sure our board reflects our community and that our decisions are made with your best interests in mind. In addition, we pride ourselves on transparency with our customers and stakeholders and are committed to maintaining our financial strength.”
Huffman was responding to a bill (House Bill 177) introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives that would make the BWWB a regional board of seven members (there are currently nine), giving the mayor of Birmingham the authority to make four appointments and the governor appointing the remaining three.
Under the current board bylaws, four BWWB members are appointed by the Birmingham City Council, two by the Birmingham Mayor, and one by the Jefferson County Mayors Association, the Shelby County Commission, and the Shelby County Commission. Blount.
As AL.com’s Roy Johnson previously reported, current board members could be immediately replaced by new appointees if the bill becomes law.
Huffman’s statement signaled the stability of the BWWB’s current leadership.
“Through the efforts of our leadership team, we have continued to maintain a strong financial footing. Birmingham Water Works recently received an Aa2 rating from Moody’s and an AA rating from Standard & Poor’s, designating BWWB with a stable outlook on its operations and finances,” he said in the statement.
“We remain committed to providing safe, reliable, and affordable water services to our customers, and we will continue to work with the Jefferson County branch, state legislature, and all community stakeholders to ensure our board structure best serves the needs of our five-county service area.”
HB 177 is co-sponsored by two Birmingham-area state representatives, Rep. Jim Carns and Rep. David Faulkner, both Republicans.
This bill would add several provisions about who may or may not be appointed to the board. BWWB appointees would have to have “good experience in business matters involving the complexity of operating a water or sewer system,” the bill says. Designees would also have to undergo 10 hours of training each year “on the duties and best practices of directors of organizations involved in the operation of water or sewer systems, the obligations of directors under the Ethics Law, and the requirements of information under this division. ”
The bill also specifies that at least one of the mayor’s and governor’s appointees “must have an engineering background” and another “must have a finance background.”
Elected officials could serve on the board, but the bill prohibits the appointment of anyone who “had a business relationship with the regional board in the two-year period prior to appointment, or who was an employee of a company that has had a business relationship. with the regional board in the two-year period prior to appointment.”
Birmingham’s mayor or governor would have the ability to remove their appointees at any time “for good cause” if they “first hold a hearing that gives the principal an opportunity to address the cause or causes of removal.”
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who publicly criticized the board amid widespread billing issues last year, expressed optimism about HB 177 in Johnson’s article.
“We look forward to learning more about the legislation,” Woodfin previously said.
“As I have always said, my only interest is to protect taxpayers through the transparency and responsibility of a professional operation. I am speaking with the council leaders and together we will continue to monitor this matter.”
BWWB clients have also called for leadership changes after dealing with missing and overstated invoices for more than a year.
“This responsibility must rest with a governing body that is transparent and accountable to its clients,” Lewis Kennedy, a member of the I Believe in Birmingham group, wrote last month.
However, Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson said state interference is not the solution to what she called “leadership problems” at BWWB.
“We cannot allow them (state legislators) to do this,” Tyson said. “There is too much deceit and too many mistakes have been made.”
Tyson said Alabama lawmakers had been trying to “take control of the water works” since 1999 and questioned why this bill is only targeting the BWWB and not any of the 10 other water systems in the county. of Jefferson.
“They’re not trying to take over your systems, why are they trying to take over ours?” Tyson said.
They all have problems. They have much worse problems than Birmingham. There may be leadership problems (at BWWB) but there are no financial problems.”
According to the text of the bill, it only applies to “municipal water works boards that, as of January 1, 2015, serve customers or have assets in four or more counties other than the county where they are located.” the authorizing municipality.
BWWB is currently the only water system in Jefferson County that meets those standards.
Carns and Faulkner did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.