State lawmakers question whether Birmingham Water Works Board member is serving legally

State lawmakers question whether Birmingham Water Works Board Member Dr. Munchus is serving legally

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Is one of the Birmingham Water Works Board members now serving illegally? It’s a question some state lawmakers have, and one WBRC FOX6 News On Your Side investigator Jonathan Hardison has spent the past few days trying to answer.

Dr. George Munchus has served on the BWWB, helping to set the water rates you pay, since the end of 2012, and that’s where the questions about whether he can legally still serve begin.

After years of complaints about how much money board members were making and a lack of oversight and accountability, the state legislature passed a new law in 2015 to limit how much money board members can make, force them to follow state ethics laws, and limit their time on the board to two terms.

But the Birmingham City Council just reappointed Dr. Munchus in December to serve until 2024, which would take him through three terms and 12 years.

Dr. Munchus was on the board when this new law passed, but the law addresses that potential, saying “a board member who has been appointed to 1 full term prior to this act becoming applicable may be appointed to 1 additional term.”

That law took effect in May of 2015, and the city council reappointed Dr. Munchus to his 2nd term in January of 2017, a term that ended last December.

So that’s two full terms. How can he serve a 3rd under this law? We asked the city council and got this statement:

“One of the City Council’s most important functions is to appoint to boards and agencies throughout the city in which we serve. Several weeks ago, the legislative body voted to appoint two new members to the Birmingham Water Works Board, and to reappoint two current members. This was done so in accordance with the legislative authority of the Council.

The Birmingham Water Works Board is vital to insuring that our residents continue to have access to clean water and that the cost of utilities remains affordable. The Council holds these appointing powers in the highest regard and every decision receives due diligence by all our members.”

So we reached out to the Birmingham Water Works Board who told us they have no comment since they don’t appoint their own members.

We asked Dr. Munchus for his comment on the situation and he said, “You need to contact the City Council Administrator. I have only served one full term.”

We found another part of this state law the utility appears to be breaking.

After questions about how much of your rate dollars the board was spending on travel, state law says the BWWB is also supposed to list itemized records of Board members’ travel expenses on its website. Here’s what we found at first:

This is the BWWB webpage for Dr. Munchus' travel records---the black text indicates no hyperlink that includes the actual record.
This is the BWWB webpage for Dr. Munchus' travel records---the black text indicates no hyperlink that includes the actual record. (Source: BWWB)

All of Munchus’ records were dead links with no records accessible, the same for three other board members.

UPDATE: After we posted our story it appears the BWWB fixed the issue with dead links on some travel records.

Here’s what the webpage with active links would include:

This is the travel record for BWWB member Alexander---the blue text indicates active links with actual records attached.
This is the travel record for BWWB member Alexander---the blue text indicates active links with actual records attached. (Source: BWWB)

We asked the Alabama Attorney General’s Office if they have issued an opinion on Dr. Munchus’ term limits, and they say they have not yet.

We do know multiple state lawmakers are now asking attorneys for the Legislative Research Service to issue an opinion on whether he can legally continue serving on the Water Works Board.

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