The envelope, please?

Thursday, a federal jury convicted former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White on nine counts of bribery and one conspiracy charge stemming from the county’s $4 billion+ sewer rehabilitation program.

Former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White found guity – Birmingham News 1/11/08

Sohan Singh, owner of U.S. Infrastructure, admitted to giving White monthly envelopes of $2,000 for his “consulting” services and “just to keep him pretty much happy” according to sworn testimony in the case.

While White was accepting bribes, he was telling an Environmental Services citizens advisory committee, made up of volunteer citizens, business leaders, and government officials, that he wanted to work with the group to develop sewer policy for the county that was open, above-board, and transparent.

After months of hashing out the “Sewer Extension and Expansion Policy,” White had political cover for sewer expansions he and his sewer contractor cronies wanted. The committee’s work was a success as it marked one of the few times the Growth Alliance program – led by the Birmingham Chamber, Regional Planning Commission, and Region 2020 – resulted in consensus public policy. Yet, while the volunteers toiled, Gary White was making thousands of dollars on the side. Today, it is unclear whether or not the policy is being followed by the new County Commission.

Across Linn Park this week, the Birmingham City Council and Mayor Larry Langford responded to the envelopes they received during mayoral and city council campaigns when they voted to leave the Stormwater Management Authority. Langford and a majority of City Councilors have received tens of thousands of dollars laundered through PACs from Malcolm Pirnie and members of the Business Alliance for Responsible Development.

Firm that gave $8,000 to Langford wants role in managing stormwater runoff – Birmingham News 1/10/08

It’s been no secret that Malcolm Pirnie, headed in Birmingham by Environmental Management Commission Chair Scott Phillips, has wanted to privatize the work of stormwater management in Jefferson County cities. Their lobbying team has pitched cost savings to cities throughout the county as a way to steal away work from the only well-functioning regional authority in Birmingham.

Members of the Business Alliance for Responsible Development (BARD) have worked for the past two years to convince municipalities to exit SWMA. BARD hopes to shift the burden of stormwater runoff management to city staff, ADEM, and Malcolm Pirnie where the those entities they will not have the staffing, expertise, and/or political will to enforce stormwater laws. If BARD ultimately gets its wish, the developers and members of BARD will have to spend less time keeping their sites in compliance and they can spend more time making money off of environmental pollution.

While White’s envelopes were illegal and the City of Birmingham’s envelopes, through PACs, are considered legal, the results are the same – the votes and influence of Jefferson County politicians are for sale. A watchful eye should be not only on those taking the illegal and legal bribes, but also those who are offering up the unmarked envelopes full of cash.

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