Bloomberg News

Alabamians Blame Jefferson County Bankruptcy Delay on Greed, Ego

November 15, 2011

Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- It wasn’t caution that kept Jefferson County commissioners from filing for bankruptcy sooner. It was greed and ego, Birmingham-area residents said after a sewer-debt crisis triggered the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.

And if you could sum up what else people here are saying, they’d add: It’s about time.

David Walton, a Birmingham cab driver, said he moved out of Alabama’s most populous county to neighboring Blount County last year because of mounting sewer bills.

“They were about to start hammering me with sewer fees and I was like, ‘Wow, now I’ve got to pay for them being crooks,’” he said.

The former mayor of Birmingham and president of the county commission is in prison for bribery in connection with the refinancing of sewer debt. Four commissioners, six former county employees and two local investment bankers were convicted of bribery and conspiracy, according to the court-appointed receiver managing the system.

“I don’t live in the county anymore because of it,” Walton said. “It’s not my job to pay for their corruption.”

Walton and others said yesterday’s bankruptcy decision was long overdue.

“They should’ve just went ahead and did this months ago,” he said. “There was a little bit of pride in there.”

Kevin Moore, a retired radio announcer, said it was more than that.

‘In Denial’

“They seemed to be in denial,” he said of county officials. “I’m glad they recognized what everyone has known for a decade now: they’re broke.”

Moore said he doesn’t doubt county commissioners had hoped to avoid a bankruptcy filing, though it was inevitable.

“They did nothing for eight or 10 years and this is what it’s come to,” Moore said. “They just never came up with a Plan B.”

Robert Hood, a 59-year-old Birmingham resident, said he’s faced with higher sewer bills because of the county’s financial dealings. The bankruptcy does little to bolster his trust in county government.

“They need to turn in some of that money they stole,” he said.

--Editors: Pete Young, Paul Tighe

To contact the reporter on this story: Gigi Douban in Birmingham, Alabama, at gigidouban@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net


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