|Illustration credit:J.D.Crowe Press-Register|
Alabama Ethics Commission director James Sumner just announced that the new ethics laws recently passing the Alabama legislature cannot be used retroactively against Senator Trip Pittman. Pittman is facing an ethics complaint after his company received the lion's share of the $1.2 million allotted to Baldwin County by BP.
Fairhope resident Paul Ripp filed an initial complaint against Pittman on Sept. 27.
The complaint stems from a contract awarded last June by the Fairhope City Council to Pittman’s company, Pittman Tractor, for oil spill response work after Pittman had been chosen by former Gov. Bob Riley to help oversee the division of BP funding awarded to Baldwin County, according to published reports.
Ripp sent a separate 130-page document with additional allegations Jan. 16, but Sumner said that filing would be considered a supplement to the initial complaint and not treated as a new complaint filed after the new provisions were enacted.
Sumner claims that only cases filed after the new laws were enacted would be subject to the "toughest ethics reforms in the nation." Let's listen to a bit from Mr. Sumner about ethics: (-1.23 mark in the clip)
"..we will take this state a quantum step further than that to a platinum level of ethics reform." Too bad he didn't add, "But our buddy Trip Pittman will be exempt from scrutiny."
And this from a NY Times article December 2010:
“I think it’s just been institutional resistance,” said James L. Sumner, the director of the Alabama Ethics Commission. “You could never actually single out a person or a group that was opposed to ethics reform. It was essentially death by a thousand cuts.”
And it could be death from one great big hatchet wielded by Sumner himself in the Pittman case. If you have the head of the EC delivering a fatal blow to a serious complaint based on a technicality that may suit him, but doesn't pass the smell test with the public, what do you think will happen to any others that come before this figurehead entity?
Perhaps this tractor of a technicality explains the flippant attitude of Senator Pittman, Baldwin County Manger Bob James and the latest bloviator to enter the fray, Fairhope Mayor Tim 'the rant' Kant. All three men have shown nothing but indifferent arrogance towards their detractors, which are steadily growing in number, and have recently resorted to verbally attacking anyone who questions their previous dubious activities.
Pittman is in full force gloat with this announcement:
“I look forward to working with the ethics commission so they can investigate and dismiss this baseless complaint, and we can all turn our attention to solving the serious problems and challenges that face Alabama,” Pittman said Monday.
The Alabama legislature knew what they were doing when they passed these new laws, the complaint against Pittman was already filed, and it's a downright shame that no one thought to ask for a retroactive provision or at least raised the question: what about the Pittman complaint? But then again, did anyone really think this would happen and the complaint would be tossed on a time technicality of a mere two months?
Looking at it in hindsight, we should have. But this new republican controlled legislature doesn't get off the hook that easy, and if they were serious about real reform (which they ALL campaigned on) this case is an excellent chance for them to step out of yesterday's mud pit of corruption and show Alabamians that they are willing to clean up their act.
So far it seems all they are capable of is business as usual, selective scrutiny (reserved for the bad ol' democrats) and empty promises. And if they have their way, Pittman will walk away from justice unscathed and almost $700,000.00 richer courtesy of the pillars of righteousness in charge of the new legislature and Ethics Commission.
The next time someone proclaims that "New Day in Alabama Politics" phrase to you in the same breath as ethics and accountability make sure you ask them: WHEN?
*January 23, 2011 Op-Ed from James L. Sumner Huntsville Times
*Legal Schnauzer offers an excellent article on another angle of Alabama profiteering and Alabama AG Strange's connections to Transocean in the wake of the BP Oil Spill.