Birmingham Water Works Board met with Mayor Woodfin privately Sunday

The meeting comes less than a week after the BWWB Board Chair Chris Rice resigned under what...
The meeting comes less than a week after the BWWB Board Chair Chris Rice resigned under what sources tell WBRC was direct pressure from Woodfin.(WBRC)
Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 10:41 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2022 at 3:28 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - WBRC has learned Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin met privately with all 8 of the current Birmingham Water Works Board as well as a powerful state senator and the utility’s General Manager Sunday night in a meeting that was not publicly advertised.

The meeting comes less than a week after the BWWB Board Chair Chris Rice resigned under what sources tell WBRC was direct pressure from Woodfin. In a public meeting Wednesday among board members of the Water Works, we learned Rice said he wrote that letter “under duress’ and he has decided to rescind his resignation.

State Sen. Roger Smitherman confirmed he attended Sunday’s meeting at the invitation of Mayor Woodfin, but said the group did not discuss BWWB business, but simply got to know each other better.

Since the meeting involved all of the BWWB board members and GM but wasn’t advertised, we asked the Secretary of State and Attorney General’s office if that would be a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Sec. of State John Merrill said the meeting may not have been well-timed given the scrutiny the BWWB is under from frustrated customer, but if BWWB business didn’t come up, it was likely not a violation of the law.

The Attorney General’s office said it couldn’t comment on the legality of the meeting.

We reached out to Mayor Woodfin’s office to ask why he arranged the dinner and what they discussed, but we haven’t yet heard back from Woodfin’s office.

All of this comes as the Water Works Board is still waiting for the results of an audit into billing problems WBRC first exposed in the spring where thousands of customers have gone months without getting a bill.

George Munchus, a member of the Water Works Board, said at the meeting Wednesday, “We’re asking the media to give us an opportunity to breathe, and report the good stuff that’s going on over here. Everything is not a crisis---we do what we do.”

When questioned about Rice’s status and ratepayers who haven’t gotten a bill for 6 months he referred WBRC to Rick Jackson, the spokesperson for the Birmingham Water Works. Jackson told us they’re on the positive side of catching up, but some there are some customers who have not received their bill.

“NO there are always, in some regard, there are always some customers with some impact when it comes to meter reading,” explained Jackson.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board voted to spend more than $2 million to repair a major leak near the U.S. Steel facility that sources tell WBRC has been gushing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day for years, but the utility didn’t make any progress on repairing it until WBRC reported on it this summer.

The board also voted to hire a second outside public relations firm to help them with deal with the fallout from this billing crisis.

That means the board and ratepayers are now paying two PR firms $50,000 a month on top of the full-time communications staff the board employs.

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