Sources: Most of Birmingham Water Works Dept. ‘retires’ in 1 day because of improper purchasing, alleged kickbacks

Birmingham mayor responds
Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 3:23 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 25, 2022 at 5:54 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - On Aug. 24, The Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) accepted the sudden retirements of the majority of the utility’s purchasing department, including the department’s manager, in the wake of what sources tell WBRC is the discovery of improper purchasing practices and alleged kickbacks within the department.

The water works board voted on Aug. 24 to accept the retirements of, and begin making lifetime pension payments to, three employees of the purchasing department, including the manager, who all are suddenly resigning.

These are the folks in charge of buying supplies, equipment, some service contracts for the utility, and also making sure the BWWB is efficiently spending customer dollars.

Sources say the utility discovered improper purchasing activities and possible kickbacks, and that’s why at least these three employees and possibly more are suddenly gone.

The water works spokesperson told us they can’t comment on personnel matters, and the General Manager Michael Johnson declined our request for an interview.

We did a get chance to ask the board’s chairman if he’s concerned about what’s going on inside the utility.

“I have no comment on that,” said the Water Works Board chairman. “We’re not - I don’t know anything about that - so we’re not allowed to comment on any kind of personnel matters.”

“If you have a department that’s basically been cleaned out in the last week, whether you can acknowledge it or not, would that speak to concerns with how the utility is being run?” asked On Your Side Investigator Jonathan Hardison.

“We’re getting more information, we don’t really know what’s going on with that,” Rice replied. “When we get more information, I think we’ll be able to talk about that. We don’t know - we’re just a board. Operations manages the day-to-day. We’re here once a week.”

“But if you see a department where everyone is basically gone in a week, that would concern you given governance, correct?” Hardison asked.

“Sure, so we’ll figure out what’s going on there and get some answers later,” Rice responded.

How much money did these improper purchasing activities cost the utility, and ultimately is it you, the customer, who pays those water rates? Sources say the utility isn’t certain, and this investigation isn’t over.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin posted a response on his Facebook page calling the situation “absolutely unacceptable.:

Birmingham Water Works is one of the most common complaints that come into City Hall.

Whether it’s one of our seniors suddenly getting hit with an overpriced bill, or residents being caught off guard by statements arriving late, or the lack of customer service addressing residents’ questions, customers are rightfully frustrated. Not to mention the constant flow of negative press about service and operations.

This is absolutely unacceptable.

While the city has no direct oversight of operations, we do appoint some members of the Water Works board. Therefore, I expect immediate accountability and answers from this board.

I will not allow our most vulnerable residents to be victimized by mismanagement by this board. I will continue to push for answers until our residents receive the accountability and customer service they deserve.

Birmingham Water Works is one of the most common complaints that come into City Hall. Whether it’s one of our seniors...

Posted by Randall Woodfin on Thursday, August 25, 2022


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