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Under Proposed Ordinance, A Seat on Water Works Board Gets Harder

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By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

The Birmingham City Council will consider adding new requirements for its appointments to the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB).

The ordinance, presented by Birmingham City Council President Wardine Alexander and Pro Tem Crystal Smitherman, is an attempt to “codify a set of standards and qualifications” for BWWB appointees, according to a release from the council.

The ordinance, which is scheduled to come before the council on April 18, would require that at least one board member have an engineering background and that at least one have a financial background.

Additionally, board members would need to be Birmingham Water Works customers and not have conducted business with the utility for at least two years from their appointment.

The ordinance was presented at the council’s April 11 meeting but was delayed to the next week after it didn’t require a unanimous vote to consider it. Councilor Clinton Woods voted no.

The BWWB, which governs the water for Birmingham and surrounding areas, reaching into five counties, has seen controversy over the last year, including criticism from customers, as well as elected officials like Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

Currently, the BWWB has nine members, with four appointed by Birmingham City Council, two appointed by the mayor of Birmingham and one each by the Jefferson County Mayor’s Association, the Shelby County Commission and the Blount County Commission.

Last month, Alabama Rep. Jim Carns introduced a bill that would significantly change the makeup of the BWWB, reducing the board from nine to seven members and limiting the appointment power only to the mayor of Birmingham and the governor of Alabama.

However, that bill has received backlash from a number of entities, including the council.

“In its current form, this bill only has implications for the City of Birmingham and appears to be an affront to the duly elected leadership of our city and the residents we serve,” Alexander said.

Smitherman said the house bill should be brought before Birmingham residents in a public hearing and that the council “opposes any legislation that erodes our authority as local legislators.”

On Thursday, Carns brought a new, but similar bill to overhaul the membership of Birmingham Water Works Board which won approval by a narrow margin in an Alabama House committee.

Carns said the intent of the legislation is to improve oversight, accountability, and governance for the board, which he said is a regional board, despite the name.

The bill now goes before the full House.

This story was updated on 4/13/2023 at 6:35 p.m.