Senate Democrats slam Riley, Hubbard
They criticized the administration's use of no bid contracts and called on state Rep. Mike Hubbard, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, to disclose who receives his allotment of tickets, parking passes and suites at Auburn football games.
Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little and Sens. Lowell Barron and Hank Sanders said they would support legislation to improve the contract process in the state in the wake of Riley signing an amendment to bring a no-bid computer consulting contract up to almost $13 million.
"Governor Riley has gotten out of hand with no bid contracts," said Sanders, D-Selma.
They said $2.6 billion in no-bid contracts have been awarded during the seven years of the Riley administration, which they said was hypocritical since the governor criticized the previous administration for no-bid contracts when he was running in 2002.
Some of the agencies responsible for the $2.6 billion in contracts, including the Legislature, are not under the control of Riley and his cabinet.
Barron, D-Fyffe, introduced legislation on Tuesday that he said would create more transparency and save the state tens of millions of dollars through the bid process. He said, except for emergency situations, all contracts would have to go through a bid process.
"If a state agency or a government official believes there should be exceptions, let them come forward and make their case to the people of Alabama," Barron said.
Todd Stacy, press secretary for Riley, said the governor has brought more accountability to the contract process than ever before.
"If the Democrats want to pass a bill to ban all no-bid contracts. Fine. The governor will sign it," he said. "But we will be watching very closely to see if they actually do it. They have an unblemished record of breaking promises at every turn when it comes to ethics."
Riley criticized former Gov. Don Siegelman and his use of no-bid contracts when running for the office in 2002.
"When you give out a billion dollars in no-bid contracts, it is either the most corrupt government or the most mismanaged government in the last 25 years," Riley said during his successful campaign to unseat Siegelman.
Stacy said Riley, unlike the previous administration, has not handed out no-bid contracts to friends, which he said the Democrats continue to do.
Some Senate Democrats have hired lawyers, consultants and even people to work in their districts through no-bid contracts.
Barron said the thousands spent by the Democrats is small compared to the billions authorized by the administration, but that his legislation would stop all of it.
Alabama receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government for projects, especially for transportation, and federal law does not require bids on some of those projects.
Stacy said the administration does use a bid process for professional services. He said the legal office calls three firms for quotes when the administration is in need of legal representation.
The office does not send out packets with requests for proposals or information requesting bids from law firms from throughout the state.
Stacy said the process is competitive and the office does receive bids from law firms.
"We take three bids and take the lowest one that is actually qualified to do the work," he said.
Democrats have also proposed legislation that would increase the 45 days the contract review committee can hold up a contract to 90 days.
"Forty five days is not enough," Sanders said.
Sanders said that if the state is not going out for bids, many small businesses are excluded from doing business with the state.
Hubbard, a Republican who represents Auburn in the House of Representatives, receives the football tickets through his private business, the Auburn Network, which pays for the rights to broadcast games. In return for paying for those rights, he receives an allotment of about 550 tickets and 100 parking spots and use of three suites.
Philip Bryan, communications director for the Alabama Republican Party, said Hubbard and the Auburn Network "are not given anything for free — this business transaction includes not one dime of taxpayer money."
"A good comparison would be a regular season ticket holder who pays Auburn for season tickets and also gets a gameday program included in that package. Just on a larger monetary scale," Bryan said.
The Democrats said people should know who is receiving some of the most popular tickets in the state, especially as Hubbard goes throughout the state asking people to contribute to Campaign 2010, the Republicans' effort to take control of the Legislature from Democrats.
"The tickets that the Auburn Network receives as a part of the payment to Auburn University is in no way, shape or form associated with Campaign 2010," Bryan said. "The tickets are given through Auburn Network, not Mike, to the advertisers and sponsors of the Auburn Network and its radio programs — just like every other major university in the country."
The members of the Democratic Caucus said Hubbard should be more forthcoming since he and Riley are calling for more openness and transparency. Little said Auburn is a public university and Hubbard is a public official.
-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen