Water Board members in conflict with report

Published 1:18 pm Monday, July 14, 2008

A state public examiners report says most members of the Selma Waterworks and Sewer Board owe money for overpaid fees, but the members of that board say the report is wrong.

The report appeared Saturday on the Web site of the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, www.examiners.alabama.gov.

The report concluded, based on state law and documentation provided by the Selma City Clerk’s Office and the Water Board, that members should receive $350 monthly. However, based on the documentation, the examiner’s office found:

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From Oct. 1, 2004 through May 31, 2008, Johnnie M. Leashore, the chairman, received a total of $59,609.17. Of the amount, only $15,400 was allowable, resulting in a total overpayment of $44,209.17.

From Nov. 1, 2004 until Jan. 31, 2008, vice chairman Lee E. Goodwin received a total of $31,200. Of this amount, only $13,650 was allowable, resulting in a total overpayment of $17,550.

From Oct. 1, 2004 through May 31, 2008, secretary/treasurer Bennie Ruth Crenshaw received a total of $70,633.12. Of this amount only $15,400 was allowable, resulting in a total overpayment of $55,253.12.

Board member Aubrey Vick appears to have been compensated correctly.

From Oct. 1, 2004 through June 30, 2007, board member Samuel L. Randolph received a total of $26,400. Of this amount, only $11,550 was allowable, resulting in a total overpayment of $14,850.

From Oct. 1, 2004 through May 31, 2008, Mayor James Perkins Jr. served as superintendent of the board and received a total of $92, 833.40. No documentation was provided by the city clerk or water board that sets the salary of the superintendent.

Last week, the Water Board’s attorney, Collins Pettaway Jr. of Selma, wrote the report’s author, Teresa A. Davis, with some corrections to and concerns about the report.

On the issue of non-communication cited in the findings, Pettaway writes, “What happened was that we spoke on the telephone and met in my office about this situation. I told you that I would gather some information and send to you. However, I discovered from you that you already had sufficient information, and I decided not to respond as I also determined that the inquiry was not genuine but a politically motivated ‘witch hunt’ type of proceeding by the Attorney General’s Office using your office as a vehicle for action that office should have taken when the Ethics Commission referred the matter to that office during the tenure of prior board members, all of who are white. The present individuals involved in this political situation are all black.”

Water Board Creation

The report states that state law established the water board to oversee the infrastructure and provide water and sewer for the city.

The law also provides for three members of the Selma City Council to sit on the Water Board. Currently two council members serve as chairman and secretary/treasurer. The mayor serves as superintendent. Another council member slot is in dispute.

When Randolph’s term ended last year, the council appointed council member Geraldine Allen to fill the vacancy. A lawsuit ensued. The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that neither Randolph nor Allen may sit on the board until the issue is resolved.

State law allows the city council to set fees of the chair and members of the public utility board in this particular case. The report states on Jan. 9, 1989, the council set the salaries of board members at $350 per month. An attorney general’s opinion on April 7, 1988 confirmed the council’s legal authority to set salaries.

The examiners report said on Dec. 12, 2005, council minutes indicated an unspecified amount of time the board members salaries were set at $800 per month with additional pay for secretary/ treasurer and chairman.

The report said the secretary/treasurer would make $1,625 per month extra and the chairman $1,325 per month plus insurance coverage paid by the board in part and by the chairman in part.

In 2006, the council appointed Vick as director and set his salary at $800 per month, according to the report.

In January 2007, the council discussed changing the chairman’s salary from $25,000 a year to $900 per month after receiving another attorney general’s opinion on March 27, 2006. Council members didn’t change the salary then, but came back in May and changed the salary. In July, the council took up the issue again to decide when the chairman’s pay change would become effective. The council didn’t pass a resolution that would indicate the salary had been changed, according to the report.

Report reactions

Goodwin said he had sought an ethics ruling in 2002 to “try to clean up the mess.” The Ethics Commission turned the matter over to the attorney general’s office, said Goodwin, and the attorney general said everything was fine.

“I assumed it was OK for me to take that position when it was offered,” he said.

However, Goodwin pointed out, the report erred when it said in one portion of the narrative he came on the Water Board in August. He began his tenure in November. The report corrects itself in its conclusions.

Goodwin said he’s taken aback by the report.

“There are errors in it, and it’s incomplete. That’s where I am,” he said in a telephone interview Saturday afternoon.

Similarly, Perkins said he believes the report is a draft.

“It’s not correct at all,” the mayor said.

Perkins and Pettaway point out the superintendent’s salary is not set by the city council, and they do not know why he is listed in the inquiry. Pettaway said political motivation caused Perkins’ listing.

When asked if the move were political, Perkins answered, “It smells like it.”

What’s next

Perkins, Goodwin and Pettaway said they are unsure of what will happen next with the report.

“I guess it’s going to be up to the Attorney General’s Office,” Goodwin said.

The examiners’ office conducted the probe at the request of the state Attorney General’s Office, according to a cover letter. The dates covered included were Jan. 1, 2007 until Dec. 31, 2007.