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Monday, September 28, 2009

Johnson says Riley should recuse himself

A former appointee of Gov. Bob Riley who is running for governor is again criticizing the administration -- urging Riley to recuse himself as the lead negotiator for Jefferson County in its ongoing sewer debt debacle.
Bill Johnson, who Riley appointed as a department head and who worked for Riley's campaigns going back to 1996, said the governor should recuse himself because of the connection of two family members to law firms involved with Jefferson County.
The comments by Johnson are the latest about the Riley administration since he resigned in late June as head of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. He resigned after Riley told him he needed to step down if he was running for governor. His wife continues to work in the administration.
Johnson has questioned the administration's use of a company operating out of a house to perform work through a proposed $13 million computer contract. Administration officials said Paragon Source LLC has performed well for the state and they cannot find any issues with the contract.
When asked during a recent radio interview about a potential conflict of interest in Jefferson County, Johnson said his decisions would be clouded if his children were on the payroll.
Jefferson County has several billion dollars in sewer debts, which is at the core of an ongoing financial crisis there.
The county commission appointed Riley as the lead negotiator with the banks and credit companies on the sewer debt, and voted for Bradley Arant Rose and White LLP
to work with him — after voting weeks earlier to end its contract with the law firm.
Riley's son-in-law, Rob Campbell, works at Bradley Arant, but administration officials have said he is isolated from state work and does not benefit financially.
Bradley Arant has hundreds of attorneys in seven offices.
Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale hired Riley's son, Rob Riley, to represent his department after a judge ordered the county to stop collecting an occupational tax and the commission ordered departments to make cuts.
Johnson, a former Birmingham city councilman, said Riley has prided himself on ethics and said recusing himself would build trust in the citizens and remove any perception of a conflict of interest.
"Serving as lead negotiator for Jefferson County, through whom the law firms of both the governor's son and son-in-law are benefiting financially does not build trust," Johnson said in a statement. "I have had a number of people ask me if this creates a conflict of interest. The world has their eyes on the increasing stench of the Jefferson County sewer crisis."
Riley, who could not be reached for comment Monday night, has long fought accusations that any members of his family benefited financially from him serving as governor.
Last week, when asked for a response to the original criticism, Riley Press Secretary Todd Stacy wrote "Typically, candidates that aren't doing so well say just about anything to get attention."
Johnson is one of nine candidates who have announced they are running for governor in 2010, and is not in the top tier of Republicans in the polling that has been released publicly.
He has not accused anybody of wrongdoing in the situations.
Johnson was director at ADECA when hundreds of thousands of dollars from that department were paid to Bradley Arant in legal contracts.
Johnson was in Riley's cabinet for three years and was an appointee for seven years, also serving as assistant director at ADECA.
Riley and Johnson have been close for years.
Johnson served as campaign manager for Riley's first run for Congress in 1996 and was the choice to be his chief of staff, but the congressman-elect decided otherwise after criticism of Johnson.
Johnson was criticized for not paying his taxes for 14 years and, while running as a Libertarian for U.S. Senate in Missouri, adopting that party's stance on legalizing prostitution and drugs. He has said he does not believe in legalizing those, but was running on the party's platform.
Johnson coordinated grassroots efforts for Riley's gubernatorial run in 2006. When Democrats attacked Johnson's past, Riley came to his defense.
Johnson, in his statement, said he knows the high ethical standards of the Riley administration. He even quoted Riley from his election Web site: "In every action we take, ask yourself: is this right for the people and will it build trust?"
Johnson's wife, Kathy, continues to work in the Riley administration. She runs the Alabama Broadband Initiative, which the governor created in an effort to make broadband Internet service available statewide.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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