Expanded Birmingham Water Works Board takes seat, elects Sherry Lewis as chair

By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

Sherry Lewis (center) was elected chairman of the expanded Birmingham Water Works Board. (Frank Couch, The Birmingahm Times)
Sherry Lewis (center) was elected chairman of the expanded Birmingham Water Works Board. (Frank Couch, The Birmingham Times)

A newly expanded Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) on Wednesday, Jan. 4 began to reshape how the panel will be governed by electing all new members in leadership roles.

The board, which increased to nine members from five, met for the first time since a state law was passed―and ruled constitutional―that allowed members from others areas, including Shelby and Blount counties, to serve.

The special board of directors meeting lasted two hours.

Sherry Lewis was elected chairman, and former Irondale Mayor Tommy Alexander was elected vice chair. They replace Ron Mims and Kevin McKie, respectively, both of whom had been elected by the previous five-member board.

Lewis said, “I am humbled and excited at the same time, but I know the weight of being the chairman of the board. I plan to be accountable to every board member, but more than that I plan to be accountable to the ratepayers.”

Last month a state court judge ruled that laws passed by state lawmakers in 2015 and 2016 to expand the BWWB are constitutional. The new seats took effect on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.

Lewis was reappointed the board last week by Birmingham Mayor William Bell.

New members include Alexander, who was appointed by the Jefferson County Mayors Association; Deborah Clark, appointed by Bell; William “Butch” Burbage, appointed by the Shelby County Commission; and Brett King, appointed by the Blount County Commission.

With those newly seated members and Lewis in the majority, the board began making changes. In a 5–4 vote, the board decided to hire the Parnell Thompson LLC law firm, even though the Fuston, Petway, French LLC law firm currently represents the board.

Mark Parnell and Mary Thompson of Parnell Thompson LLC were board attorneys when they worked at the Waldrep Stewart & Kendrick LLC law firm, which had represented the board for more than 30 years; the contract was terminated in December 2015.

Members voting in the minority questioned whether some of the moves were legal. Mims and McKie, as well as BWWB members George Munchus and William Muhammad, said the decisions were being rushed and could wait a week for a regularly scheduled meeting.

Even though the new board was divided on most issues, Lewis said she believes the panel will become unified.

“I’m going to work with every board member. … This won’t be a split. I plan to contact every board member and get their input,” she said. “I’m here to do the job of the water board―provide the best water at the lowest price.”

Alexander said he also expects a unified board.

“I see all of us getting on the same page,” he said. “I know that all of us will not always agree, but I think we can agree to disagree. On the things we agree on, we can do it. We are here for the ratepayers―to give them water at the cheapest price we can give them.”