Has anything changed at Birmingham Water Works?

Has the BWWB changed since corruption trial?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - After the conviction of former Birmingham Water Works Board Chair (and still-active board member at the time of her conviction) Sherry Lewis, the FBI and Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office pointed out evidence that Lewis got three jobs for her son through BWWB subcontractors and took gifts from those subcontractors as she voted on how the utility spent millions of dollars.

We wanted to know what, if any, changes the BWWB has made to their internal spending controls or auditing procedures since Lewis’ arrest or conviction, so we asked General Manager Michael Johnson.

Birmingham Water Works General Manager Michael Johnson.
Birmingham Water Works General Manager Michael Johnson.

“So I can’t speak to the Ms. Lewis situation but we have internal controls in place designed to reduce the risk of this occurring,” Johnson told us.

Asked if those controls have changed since Lewis’ arrest or conviction, Johnson replied “Anytime you have a situation where an incident may occur, you always want to make sure you’re doing things the way you’re doing it. And we’ve done that and we feel comfortable where we are with our internal controls.”

“In other words as a ratepayer how do I know this is not gonna happen again unless you have changed or strengthened those controls given that apparently something was missing in those control systems before now?” asked WBRC FOX6 Anchor/Investigative Reporter Jonathan Hardison.

“I don’t want to get into the details of what her particular situation is, but as I mentioned we have internal controls in place and we’re very comfortable that what we’re paying with our bills is what’s documented and is for the goods and services we receive,” Johnson replied.

“And I respect that sir,” Hardison replied, “but again the federal government has decided 100′s of thousands of dollars were misspent by a board member who was sitting in that room until a couple of weeks ago. So my question again, what has changed to assure ratepayers that won’t happen again? If something’s changed, please tell us what that is.”

“Again, that’s not something I’m in a position to answer at this point,” Johnson replied.

“But you’re the GM,” said Hardison.

“Yeah but, I wasn’t at the trial, I don’t know all the situations related to that,” Johnson said. “And like I said we’ve looked at our internal controls and we’re in a good spot when it comes to our internal controls and making sure we’re spending money the way it needs to be spent.”

“Let me try yes or no, has anything changed in terms of the controls since she was arrested or convicted, yes or no?” asked Hardison.

“Yes or no? I can say that we’re making sure that what’s changed is we realize we have to really heighten our awareness and make sure we’re watching our controls,” Johnson replied. “Our awareness is heightened.”

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