Birmingham News commentary on ADEM evaluation

The Birmingham News adds its commentary regarding the evaluation of ADEM Director Trey Glenn by both the Environmental Management Commission and the public.

Evaluating Trey Glenn – Birmingham News 1/15/08

THE ISSUE: Any serious evaluation of Alabama’s top environmental regulator must note a disappointing failure to guard the public’s trust.

An environmental group has invited citizens to take part in an online survey evaluating Alabama’s environmental chief.

To his credit, Onis “Trey” Glenn, the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said through a spokesman he welcomes the prospect of getting tangible feedback from regular Alabamians.

“We are public servants who work for the people of Alabama, so I think it’s only fair …” Scott Hughes said.

The problem is, few of us are familiar with daily life at ADEM. We don’t know if Glenn manages time well, or keeps his desk clean, or has a knack for putting the right people in the right jobs.

The best most of us get are occasional snapshots that reflect on Glenn’s leadership. The snapshots of Glenn have not been particularly flattering.

For starters, Glenn remains under an ethics cloud about how he obtained the top job at ADEM. In a former state job, and while seeking the ADEM post, Glenn approved contracts for the engineering firm Malcolm Pirnie – whose officials include Scott Phillips, a member of the board that hires ADEM’s director. Phillips didn’t vote on Glenn’s hiring, but he participated in the process. The state Ethics Commission concluded Glenn may have broken ethics laws in his efforts to get hired at ADEM. The case is still being investigated.

In the midst of that investigation, Glenn was treated to a family baseball outing by Alabama Power, which is regulated by ADEM and is one of the state’s bigger pollution-creating industries. The outing apparently violated no law, but it looked awful. People know Alabama Power doesn’t give away baseball tickets or invite officials into its corporate box because it wants to be treated harshly by regulators.

Then, there’s the plane.

Glenn bought a $2.4 million plane – a big Cessna Caravan outfitted for eight passengers – which he says is useful for more than just ferrying him occasionally to the beach or Tunica, Miss. He says it has been used to find construction sites and other operations that don’t have proper permits or aren’t following the rules. But his department initially stonewalled the press about documenting the plane’s use, and he has yet to justify why a plane (and particularly, this style of plane) is needed.

What information he has provided suggests the costs of operating the plane average $10,000 per trip. Glenn defends the plane’s use even as ADEM wrestles with an anticipated $3 million budget shortfall.

Herein lies the problem. Most of us don’t know a lot about how Glenn runs ADEM. But what we do know doesn’t inspire confidence.

Any serious evaluation of Glenn must conclude he either doesn’t understand, or he doesn’t care, that part of his job is to zealously guard the trust citizens have placed in him.

© 2008 The Birmingham News
© 2008 All Rights Reserved.

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