Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Shelby County Commission and Ethics--One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

(Originally published October 1, 2010)
Once again the Birmingham News proves our point about its bias in heralding the Shelby County Commission as a bastion of ethics in a recent article about their projected $82 million fiscal 2011 budget. We've written quite a few articles about Shelby County and any regular reader of this site should be well acquainted with the pervasive corruption and lack of ethics that seems to thrive in Columbiana.

From their socialistic, property devaluing and controlling Comprehensive Plan to the recent news of Shelby County not wanting federal scrutiny of their election process, one doesn't have to work too hard to see there are big problems in one of Alabama's largest, whitest, mainly republican and most powerful counties in Alabama.
("A Path to the Future" Shelby County Comprehensive Plan)

We'll certainly refer back to the 2009 EPA federal audit of Shelby County's Stormwater Management Program [SWMP] and its damning lack of inspections, improper permitting, lax or non-existent oversight of commercial and residential developments, removal of heavy industrial site inspections (167 currently in the county per the EPA document 2008 numbers), *scant amount of "inspectors" and the woefully inadequate funding to the SWMP  to carry out even the most basic of duties they should be doing.
*(Note--when we had someone call about the audit EPA Region 4 was not happy the document was "out there." They said it was "leaked" and "not supposed to have been released.")

County Manager Alex Dudchock (aka Comrade Dudchock) spins the less than glowing audit as simply the EPA asking them "to improve in some areas" which is far from anything resembling the actual findings in the 34 page audit;
Shelby County was also recently audited by the EPA for their storm water management program.
"Well when they came in they had a variety of things that they found as areas that they want us to improve. Yes it's going to cost us more money, not dramatically," said Dudchock.
"Now I don't know if the EPA is going to force us into something that forces us into something on down the road that we have to do that, but right now we're planning on paying for it out of our own pockets from existing revenue rather than jumping into another assessment. But there's more to be said on that," said Dudchock.
"We have not had our permit issued yet we answered to EPA. We had a very good meeting with them. They said they like what we are doing and what we plan on doing."
"We're going from 5 sampling sites to 20 so you can imagine our internal costs. They went up 37% from last year to this year."
Listen closely to the claims of "budget management and cuts" by the fashionably blonde Ms. Allison and Dudchock who appears as the well-fed man in the tan blazer, white shirt and no tie.

Let's take a look at how "efficient" the county has been with its SWMP and what they have spending on this  courtesy of Mr. Stephen Bradley's mouth moving before his brain engages propaganda when he referred to Shelby County as a "model of cost efficiency" regarding their SWMP;
(As Rachel Maddow said in the report on Haley Barbour, "We can fact check these things.")
Consider this: Shelby County performs all necessary functions to comply with clean water laws for all of unincorporated Shelby County, as well as Alabaster, Pelham, Helena, Moody and Indian Springs, *with a staff of two parttime employees and an average annual budget of $45,000. 
Source: Bham News Editorial, page 2-B Vol 119 August 20, 2006 "Storm-water Group Misuses Law " by Stephen Bradley, president of Bradley & Associates and representative of BARD

This sourced article was during the time that BARD was muscling Jefferson County, Alabama to pull out of its SWMP because they were "doing too much and it was not cost effective." We know how that turned out because the EPA just recently slammed JeffCo for their SWMP and they're in the deep end of the BARD swamp and facing a possible million dollar expenditure because of it.

Yep, we can fact check these things and we do.
$82 million in revenues expected and all Shelby County can spend on their SWMP is $45,000.00? These might be important facts to know, but nothing from the Birmingham News will ever tell you that.
In a Shelby County document the county claims:
"Shelby County shall promote proper management of environmental resources to accommodate growth while preserving and enhancing the economic, ecological and scenic, and recreational values associated with the natural environment" 
Just because you say it that does not make it so and with a county that has such a large number of industrial sites along with five active quarries (soon to be seven with Vincent and the *still being pushed Montevallo proposed quarry that Sen. Bachus and the republican machine were against the first time around) in addition to the large number of ADEM files (yes, we have them) on repeated violations of the Clean Air Act [CAA] and the Clean Water Act [CWA] the county engages in double speak every chance they get. And they sure do a great job of making it sound lovely until you notice the cracks in the wall of propaganda in sentences such as "It is noted that ADEM assumes a low-profile, non-aggressive posture when enforcing state and federal regulations."
* (Note--A Vincent resident informs us that Ms. Goddard stated that "it's not over yet" when she was asked about the Montevallo quarry in a public place.)

From the document:  A strategy to ensure environmental quality and a higher quality of life in Shelby County was developed along with the above goal. 
The components of this strategy are common to most or all of the issue area discussions that follow. This strategy consists of: 1) ensuring quality development practices are followed; 2) be proactive and effective in enforcement efforts; 3) provide infrastructure that adequately protects the environment; and 4) support community organizations seeking to improve environmental quality.
§ 10.2.1 General Concerns
(1) Pro-environment public attitude. The Environment and Conservation Committee found a definite strength in that the residents of Shelby County generally have a pro-environment attitude. A General Opinion Survey supports this finding. When asked specifically about the Cahaba River or Lake Purdy, respondents strongly agreed that it was very important to protect these areas. However, when asked if drainage and erosion were problems, most respondents had no opinion or did not think it was a problem. This response was surprising since drainage and erosion directly impact the Cahaba River and Lake Purdy. From the large number of "no opinion" responses, it seems likely that most respondents were not sure whether a problem exists but have some concern that a problem could evolve. Most respondents also felt that development should be guided away from steep slopes, wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas.
*(Note--The people don't know what is not reported on. The Vincent quarry is to be built in an area with three wetlands and within one mile of the threatened Coosa River and will discharge to that river. Did we mention the area is primarily minority?)

(2) Environmentally sensitive developers. Generally, developers of the larger developments in Shelby County are considered environmentally sensitive when developing property. It is perceived that this sensitivity is due to market pressures as well as genuine concern for the environment.
*(Note--See the R sidebar section "EPA Formal Actions Shelby County, Alabama" "Perceived" by whom exactly?) 

(3) Lack of enforcement authority. The Environment and Conservation Committee acknowledges that the enforcement of such regulations is the responsibility of other agencies although but feels that the county could exert influence in these areas with better communication and education.
*(Note--EPA told the county they could not rely on ADEM alone and the county had no justification for removing it's heavy industry inspections, but they already knew ADEM was lax and enforcement was not happening. If we make them follow the EXISTING LAWS they may get "upset" and move--there goes the money.) 

(4) Lack of state enforcement. The lack of personnel and money to enforce existing laws by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) is a weakness in the system. It is noted that ADEM assumes a low-profile, non-aggressive posture when enforcing state and federal regulations.

(5) Lack of local enforcement. The lack of authority and resources to enforce regulations was also perceived to be a problem on a local government level. Those agencies charged with enforcing environmental regulations in the county possess no clear understanding of their role in relation to other agencies or have no legislative mandate to do so. The resulting confusion often results in NO ACTION BEING TAKEN.
*(Note--But the county can add the "Home Rule" Amendment to Alabama's Constitution and make sure the county isn't liable for anything that may result from an "environmentally (read: economic) proactive" decision.) 

§ 10.2.3 Prime Farmland Concerns
(1) Economic Loss. The potential economic loss from the conversion of prime farmland to non-agricultural use could represent the decline of a sector in the local economy. Losing a productive farm can be likened to losing an industry. And, with the loss of prime farmland, farming interests will be more likely to move to other prime sites outside the county rather than move to other marginal sites within the county. Since the value of agricultural products sold in Shelby County accounts for one-tenth of one percent ($3 million) of the total volume of business in the county, the loss of farm income would be minor. 
*(Note--Read: Get off that limestone laden farmland that's been in your family for generations hayseed and go ahead and move to another county because you don't fit "the ideal" of this one anyway. Besides we weren't making enough money off of you.)

(2) Preservation of Rural Lifestyle. The importance of maintaining existing farms and protecting land that is most suitable for farming affects some characteristics of the rural lifestyle. The rural lifestyle and the perception it lends to the quality of life in Shelby County was found to be an important factor in the general attractiveness of the county.
*(Note--If you're Wilsonville (home of Alabama Power's EC Gaston plant) then this applies to you with the recent Mayberry-style plan (A Place to Call Home) Goddard & Co. (Shelby County Planning Commission) dreamed up for this mostly white area. Vincent, forget it, you're just a bunch of poor, uneducated people anyway.)

Sections 1 and 2 are contradictory on their face and would have to be "selectively enforced" which the Comprehensive Plan allows the county to do. If the county really wanted farms and the "preservation of a rural lifestyle" they would attract green business not unsightly cement factories, limestone quarries, lime production facilities and other visual and physical pollutants and polluters.

None of which promote the "attractiveness" of any county which most rational people would agree with.

And who is on this Environment and Conservation Committee? Who's ever heard of them and does it still exist? Are its members of similar backgrounds as the appointment of Joe Howle (manager of environmental services for Vulcan Materials) to the Alabama Water Resources Commission by Governor Riley? Were there no other qualified individuals than an "industry insider" who may be able to influence policy available?

What process did the county employ to form this committee? They've done a very poor job being good stewards of the county at the very least and at worst it's nothing more than a perfunctory figurehead committee with no real functions and goals.

This speaks for itself and requires no further explanation from us, except maybe this item and maybe this one too. And let's not forget the telling words from Doug Smedley about the Calera lawsuit:
The Alabama Attorney General's Office, along with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, filed a water pollution lawsuit against the city of Calera June 10, 2008.
The lawsuit states that the city's wastewater treatment plant violated its permit by discharging polluted water into Camp Branch, which is a tributary of the Coosa River.
Calera Sewer Operations Director Doug Smedley said that in July 2007, treatment plant workers discovered oil flowing into the plant.
"The oil, estimated at approximately 10,000 gallons, was waste from the Alabama Power Company." Smedley said. 
*(Note--that's the same entity of our previous posts that is very problematic)
“Hopefully, we will improve the system for three or four years, and then when we have to renew with ADEM after that, they will say we can stop where we are,” Smedley added. “I’ve seen that happen numerous times before.”
That was not the first time the Calera plant had come under fire for polluting--they have been creating problems for years. Mr. Smedley's words were in response to a six year time period "imposed" by ADEM. The county certainly does sound environmentally sensitive and "proactive" doesn't it?

We might also add the hiring of the Chair of the Shelby County Commission Lindsey Allison (a family law attorney) as additional counsel for White Rock Quarries Vincent Hills project. Did you know that quarries require family law attorneys? Neither did we. They may, however, require someone in a powerful position to assist them in ramrodding the unwanted and ill-advised invasive project into the small and unsophisticated Town of Vincent.

The project will result in a huge financial gain to the county more so than the community of Vincent who will bear all the liability thanks to Shelby County's Home Rule Amendment to the Alabama Constitution which reads in part:
"The legislature has a right to waive or limit the county's liability by law"

Ms. Allison predictably defends this unsavory, unethical and questionable "hiring" and apparently does not enjoy being questioned about it:
In a related matter, a group opposing the quarry said it plans to ask County Commission Chairwoman Lindsey Allison to recuse herself from participating in any matter involving the quarry that comes before the commission.  
Allison has been hired by White Rock Quarries to represent the company in a lawsuit filed by a Vincent resident who's challenging procedures the town's planning commission used in recommending that White Rock's rezoning request be approved by the council.  
''At this time, there is no current issue before the Shelby County Commission that requires me to vote or make any discretionary decision,'' Allison said. ''Why are we asking the question?''  
Should that time come, Allison said she would take appropriate steps.
''I have a history of making sure I'm not in conflict on any issue that comes before the commission,'' Allison said. ''I'll conduct myself accordingly.'' 
Source: Bham News, Community News page 1-SC Vol 123 June 2, 2010 "Quarry Trucks Irks Some Residents" by Malcolm Daniel staff writer

Mr. Daniel did good with this story and asked the hard questions, but we can't say that for all of his coverage regarding the Vincent Hills quarry. Far too many times he seemed uninterested and/or unable to delve deep into the surrounding issues and ask the tough questions on the project and who was involved in it. Citizens tell us that he spent more time in the Vincent offices of White Rock Quarries and Town Hall than he did with the citizens who opposed the project by a margin of 3-1 according to the figures provided to us.

More than a few citizens recounted to us that he was asked to probe the claims of "job fairs" by White Rock spokesperson Kathy Copeland along with the large number of out of town residents she was instrumental in enlisting to come to Vincent to inflate support for the quarry. Which presented a skewed picture of support largely due to non-residents being promised a job and dinner if they "would show up in Vincent and wear a t-shirt and hat" that displayed "Yes, for Vincent Hills."
*(Note--We have more than a few individuals accounts that it was Ms. Copeland who directed this and these interlopers were contacted by robo calls.)

When Mr. Daniel was told this information his repeated response was "They want a job, don't they have a right to come looking for a job?" Yes, Mr. Daniel they do, but this is not a job fair, the project is still being considered and has not even been approved yet. This is a City Council meeting (or one of the few public meetings) where citizens of Vincent get to address their elected officials (no discourse is allowed and they will not respond in any way) who will not meet with any citizen outside these forums (who opposes the quarry and requests a one-on-one meeting with their elected officials) and voice their support or opposition in strictly timed five-minute allotments.

Logical and factual explanation that absolutely deserved more probative reporting, but Mr. Daniel seemed to laugh it off dismissively and repeated his same nonsensical statement again. His stories were one-sided in feel and somewhat of a just the selective minimum facts presentation

And now we have this glowing article of Shelby County's high ground ethics by Mr. Daniel and the Birmingham News to cause our digestive systems upset. It just proves our point that the News has a clear agenda and we would be willing to wager that a certain PR man may have influenced this article. So, the county proves it can be a real money machine--what does that have to do with ethics?

If we can fact check information, connect the dots and present the other side of the story with previously published information and some diligent research then why can't the Birmingham News do the same?

What's more important to the public at large--a deadline and a steady paycheck by a small number of certain news writers or an accurate story to a much large number of citizens whose lives may be affected by important issues and who absolutely deserve to know the "rest of the story"?

We know the answer to that one.

Shelby County, Alabama, the Birmingham News and ethics--two of these things are definitely not like the other.
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  1. You hit that one so hard out of the park they might not ever find it.
    Damn this county and all this controlling crap they bang us over the head with! Somebody needs to investigate this pit and I just bet if it was done correctly a few Columbiana hot shots might get their heels cooled with Langford, White and the rest of the crooks from Jefferson County who made the mistake of listening to BARD and all that braying those mules do.
    Daniel, do you think you could get any further up these white folks behinds?

  2. Lucy (Shelby County) you got some 'splainin' to do..
    Ricky (the citizens and maybe the legal system.)

  3. I seem to remember an article from the Shelby County Reporter (another biased rag) about the county not allowing a sno-cone vendor to operate in Helena for really stupid reasons. It's a sad state of affairs when kids can't have access to sno-cones but quarries and big chemical polluters can poison their school's ambient air on a regular basis.
    That's a story in and of itself.

  4. Fact checking isn't part of the plan Max. Why confuse the fiction with facts?
    Good work on this as usual.

  5. I was at the meeting from that article Daniel wrote about the quarry trucks. Allison was driving the train for sure and they kept the comments in opposition short. Some idiot with the county or maybe ALDOT had the nerve to say he didn't see much difference in an increase from 25 trucks a day to 75 trucks (which probably really means 150).
    75 trucks equals 150 trips minimum to the quarry and back out, 150 equals 300 trips.
    That's a hell of lot more than the original 25 that was used as a part of getting this travesty approved.
    The county is in this up to their necks and anyone who thinks differently or thinks this has been a fair process is kidding themselves.
    I think White Rock hired Allison for influence and since an outright bribe would have had obvious consequences, they "hired" her instead.
    I called her law firm with a recorder running and specifically asked which lawyer could help me with a zoning issue. The answer wasn't her.
    I asked again if they were sure the lawyer they said handled those issues was the only one, they replied
    More than one call was placed over two weeks and it was always the same answer. I have heard I wasn't the only one with that idea, so there are likely others who may have also done that.
    So, if Allison does not like the question then there must be a good reason for it.
    This whole thing reeks of seediness and back room deals. Par for the course in Columbiana.

  6. LA--

    We've received reports of those phone calls being made. Please send us an email.

    Our understanding is that the county must approve two truck routes to be converted from what they are now--2 lane rural roads with a low amount of traffic, to major truck routes.

    We are greatly troubled by the amount of trucks increasing from 25 to 75 ourselves and heard from others who attended the meeting that the county seemed "fine" with the increase.

    Of course they are, they are quite eager to get their hands on the revenues despite the loud protests of residents of Vincent and Harpersville that live on those roads. Their lives will be impacted tremendously from this change.

    We also understand that school buses will be traversing those same roads that the heavy trucks will be traveling.

    All it takes is one careless driver in a hurry and something tragic may happen. What will the county say then?

    Thanks for your input. We really would like to hear from you.


  7. As the layers of the onion are peeled away the rotten core reveals itself. Where is all this money coming from and what exactly is it being spent on? 82 million is a LOT OF MONEY.
    I agree, ethics and money are usually on the opposite ends of the spectrum, especially in Shelby County__I don't understand the purpose of the article in the News.
    Maybe somebody can explain it to us. Oh, wait, someone has.


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