Editorial: Montgomery shares blame in bankruptcy

Nov 21, 2011 No Comments ›› Admin

Written by Scott Buttram

Trussville Tribune

November 21, 2011

The current Jefferson County Commission apprised of Joe Knight, Jimmie Stephens, David Carrington, Sandra Little Brown and George Bowman ran for office with their eyes wide open.

There was a singular looming issue they were all willing to face and attempt to solve.

The Jefferson County sewer crisis.

With the new group barely settled in, the courts stripped the county of the occupational tax and roughly one-third of the county revenue stream. Bad got worse in a hurry.

Credit this group for two things: They did not waste money on fighting a lost cause in the occupational tax and they worked diligently to avoid bankruptcy while recognizing that it may be necessary.

The commission, in fact, came very close to not only reaching a fair agreement with creditors, but working out a deal with the Jefferson County Legislative Delegation to solve the loss of the occupational tax and refinance the sewer debt. Then Montgomery happened. Sen. Scott Beason killed the deal with his single vote.

The commission has been stifled by the state all along the way. The local legislators haven’t come close to agreeing on any possible solution, but the governor’s office has also been far from reliable in terms of leadership. Gov. Robert Bentley, who favored bankruptcy as a candidate but now opposes the move after being elected, waffled more than John Kerry on calling a special session to help reach a settlement.

Bentley promised to call the legislature into session in the beginning. Then he said he wouldn’t call a session unless the local delegates reached an agreement, which is like saying he wouldn’t call a session unless Harvey Updyke is the grand marshal of the Auburn homecoming parade. Then he said he would before saying again that he wouldn’t. Then the county filed for bankruptcy. Then Bentley said he would have called a special session.

Dizzy? Good. You’re normal.

Early on in the negotiation process, county commissioners — the elected officials chosen by voters to solve the problem — were left out of the negotiating loop when creditors sent settlement proposals directly to Bentley’s Finance Director Dave Perry instead of the commission. Days went by without the entire commission receiving a copy of the offer. Commissioners were finally granted access to the creditor counterproposal just hours before an answer was due. Thanks to state officials, the commission found itself at a decided disadvantage in negotiations.

Any settlement from the county would require legislative approval, so commissioners had no choice but to play ball with Montgomery. In many ways that was proper because Bentley had said often that a bankrupt Jefferson County would impact the entire state. At least, the governor made that statement until the county filed for Chapter 9 protection, at which time the governor immediately released a statement explaining how the county’s bankruptcy had no impact on the rest of the state.

Still confused? Never fear. Montgomery will handle everything.

Ironically, there is still an outside chance that the bankruptcy could be called off. Sen. Slade Blackwell has said that legislators are still seeking ways to help. The problem is there aren’t enough Blackwells and still way too much Montgomery.