Wondering just what was behind the JeffCo Commission’s (or at least the majority’s) unseemly rush to approve a lobbying contract with relative unknown Book*Hill Partners? The Birmingham News reported yesterday that Michael Choy, a partner at Haskell Slaughter, says the whole thing was cooked up by Bill Slaughter (the attorney who advised the county on many of its lousy financial dealings) and Commission President Bettye Fine Collins, with a little help from Commissioner William Bell.
“It was Bill Slaughter’s idea,” Michael Choy said in an interview Wednesday night. “He told Bettye that she should meet with them. But because she’s white and Republican, she asked William (Bell) to set up a meeting with them.”
…In December, Bell and Collins met at Bell’s office in the courthouse with Al Rutherford and Eric Vaughn of Book Hill; lawyers Choy and Bob Kirpalani of Haskell Slaughter; Patrick Darby of Bradley, Arant law firm; and Jeff Sewell, the county attorney.
Rutherford said in an interview that during the meeting Collins asked Book Hill to put a plan in writing for the county to review — a plan that involved ways the county could secure a federal guarantee to help resolve its $3.2 billion sewer-debt crisis.
“I didn’t know why I was called to the meeting,” Choy said. “I told William when he got in office: ‘I’m your friend and I’m your lawyer. I don’t want to have anything to do with the county. I don’t want to have any input. And I’m not going to influence you. I’m not involved. Don’t call me unless you need a lawyer.’ This was Slaughter and Bettye Fine Collins.”
Collins, of course, claims to know nothing about any connections between Haskell Slaughter and Book*Hill (notice she mentions the firm but not Bill Slaughter, the individual), and Bell says he met Al Rutherford, a Book*Hill partner, purely by “accident” last summer at the Summit Club.
John Archibald continues to connect the dots here: the county commissioners are looking for a federal bailout — of the bankers who stand to lose if the county declares bankruptcy. Said bankers think they’ve found a clever dodge around President Obama’s crackdown on lobbyists, in particular the ban on lobbyists for private businesses requesting bailout funds. See, if a municipality does it, it doesn’t count. And the banks get their money, and we all live happily ever after. As John says, “Maybe they [Book*Hill] have juice in Washington, and maybe they don’t. I just hope they are working in the interest of Jefferson County, and not just the banks that broke us.”
There are still lots of questions surrounding this mess. For instance, why is a partner at Bill Slaughter’s own firm hanging him out to dry in the press? That kind of distancing sound suspicious to me. Can the citizens of the county force a do-over of the lobby vote, with real discussion of the pros and cons? Bell has now jumped on the bandwagon with Jim Carns to support a resolution that would forbid any local firms or individuals from being paid through the lobbying contract – a good thing when most of the likely recipients have been shown to be corrupt or inept. And, most pressing, will I continue to be forced to agree with Jim Carns? Inquiring minds want to know.
Listen to Tanya Ott’s interview with Jim Carns here.
h/t Sansou in comments below