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franklin county times

Morrow files suit to halt Bentley spending

Johnny Mack Morrow
Johnny Mack Morrow

According to reports, a civil suit was filed Monday seeking to halt the Bentley administration from spending BP funds without legislative approval, and a local representative is part of the suing party.

State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow and State Auditor Jim Zeigler are asking a Montgomery County Circuit to issue a declaratory judgment that Bentley’s spending of BP funds be declared unconstitutional and enjoin the spending.

Bentley had spent $1.8 million of BP funds on restoring the Governor’s Beach House. That project is not part of the suit because it is now completed, according to state auditor Jim Zeigler, a strong opponent of the beach house project.

The suit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, alleges the administration started spending on March 17 of this year to build a four-star hotel and conference center where the Gulf State Park Lodge used to be. They allege spending the funds is “unconstitutional and unlawful because none are derived from any source of funds allowed by Alabama law.”

The Bentley administration is using BP grant funds for the current work at the Gulf hotel and conference center site. The suit cites Code of Alabama section 9-4E-1 which states that only “project revenues, National Resource Damage Assessment funds or Restore Act Funds may be expended” for this project.

“This unlawful and illegal expenditure is also wasteful and hasty, and includes incurring unnecessary overtime payments for construction work as recently as Sunday, July 17, 2016, all in order to ‘outrun’ consideration by this Honorable Court by racing to illegally complete (the project).”  The suit asked for an expedited hearing.

Zeigler had earlier ordered Bentley to appear in the state auditor’s office and answer questions under oath about a long list of topics. That order cited a never-used section of the law. Bentley declined to appear.

The suit says “the recalcitrance of Bentley requires the filing of the suit to obtain from Bentley, and persons acting in concert with him, information vital …”

“I will finally get to put Gov. Bentley under oath and question him, this time as a defendant in this civil suit,” Zeigler said Tuesday. Defendants in civil suits are subject to being questioned in sworn depositions.

The suit names as defendants Bentley, conservation commissioner Gunter Guy, attorney general Luther Strange, acting finance director Bill Newton, and R. Cooper Shattuck, executive director of the Gulf State Park Project.

The suit asks for a speedy hearing, a declaratory judgment, and a restraining order against spending of funds without authority.

The suit is a by-partisan effort. Morrow is a Democrat and Zeigler is a Republican. The law firm of former attorney general Bill Baxley is representing the plaintiffs.