Donald V. Watkins
Randall Woodfin: One Last Secret
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on May 22, 2019
Yesterday, I published an article titled, “Thank you, Alabama Power Company.” The article covered Sherman Industries’ press statement yesterday that the company may not move its downtown concrete batch plant to the Five Points West community and may seek an alternative site that is zoned for this business. In the article, I described Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin as a “political puppet” of Alabama Power Company.
A few Woodfin supporters and some of my perennial critics thought this characterization of Woodfin was unfair. I disagree.
I am a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. When I write and publish a story, I work hard to make sure it is factually accurate. My critics do not have this affirmative obligation. They are free to throw spitballs and hide their hands.
I thanked Alabama Power Company in yesterday’s article because this is the entity that created Mayor Randall Woodfin, financed his campaign, and controls his political agenda. Woodfin was not his own man on the October night in 2017 when he defeated incumbent William Bell in a runoff election, and he is not his own man today. Woodfin is owned “lock, stock, and barrel” by Alabama Power Company.
Make no mistake about it, any allegiance Woodfin may have to the residents of the Five Points West community is secondary in nature.
What has never been publicly disclosed until today is the fact that Mark Crosswhite, the President and CEO of Alabama Power Company, served as the de facto chairman of the Woodfin Transaction and Inaugural Foundation, Inc. The Foundation is a tax exempt IRS 501(c)(4) Alabama non-profit corporation that was established to (a) fund the transition team’s organizational work and (b) retire Woodfin's campaign debt. In private solicitations to prospective donors, Crosswhite was actually described as the “Chairman of the Woodfin Transaction and Inaugural Foundation, Inc.”
In a December 6, 2017 AL.com article, Ed Fields, a senior advisor to Mayor Woodfin, stated that retired Birmingham Southern College president, General Charles Krulak, was the Foundation’s chairman. This representation may have been true on paper, but not in fact.
The Foundation raised vast sums of cash for Woodfin from big-money donors in private fundraisers hosted by Crosswhite and Woodfin in late 2017 and early 2018. The Foundation’s donor list and amount of each donor’s contribution have never been made public by the Woodfin campaign.
Woodfin, who campaigned on “transparency” and “accountability” in government, has closely guarded the identity of this undisclosed group of donors, which includes various entities in Alabama Power's network of political allies and partners.
Interestingly, the Foundation’s private fundraisers were facilitated by the Birmingham law firm of Balch & Bingham, LLP. As I reported in Sunday’s article titled, “Why Randall Woodfin will not fight Sherman Industries,” two of the law firm’s partners, Joel Iverson Gilbert and Steven George McKinney, were indicted by a federal grand jury in September 2017 on charges of bribing former Alabama State Representative Oliver Robinson to block a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiative to add a predominantly black community in North Birmingham to a federal superfund cleanup site. Gilbert was convicted, along with Drummond Company executive David Roberson. McKinney was acquitted. Oliver Robinson pled guilty.
Woodfin’s March 15, 2018 Transition Report called “The Woodfin Way” has sections touting his “transparency” and “accountability” in government. Yet, the critical behind-the-scenes fundraising role played by Mark Crosswhite and Balch & Bingham is not mentioned anywhere in the Report. In contrast, the names and roles of dozens of other Woodfin transition team members are prominently listed throughout the Report.
As expected, the Report lists General Charles Krulak as the Foundation’s figurehead board chairman. Ms. Bobbie Knight, a former Alabama Power Company senior management executive, is listed as the co-chairperson of the Woodfin Transition Team.
When Alabama Power Company, which is the Number 1 air polluter in the state, saw Woodfin engulfed in the searing flames of the Sherman Industries-Five Points West concrete plant controversy, the company stepped in to help Woodfin navigate this sensitive environmental protection issue – at least for now. Woodfin, who is NOT a fighter, did not know what to do about Sherman Industries’ plans to relocate its air pollution-spewing concrete batch plant to the Five Points West community. His PR strategy was to toss this political “hot potato” to an impotent city council and blame the council when the concrete plant became operational in Five Points West.
After Sunday’s article ran, Alabama Power stepped in and showed Woodfin how to slow down Sherman Industries’ planned move, at least for a little while.
Based upon the careful wording in the company's authorized press statement yesterday, it is not clear whether Sherman Industries' controversial concrete plant relocation plan is dead. The company has NOT pulled its application for an air permit for the Five Points West site. Furthermore, Sherman Industries wants to continue talking to the Five Points West residents about the company's concrete manufacturing process and environmental protection measures for the site.
Randall Woodfin has never come clean about the nature and scope of his intimate relationship with Alabama Power Company and Balch & Bingham. The truth is this: Mayor Randall Woodfin can’t take any meaningful environmental protection actions for his political base without getting permission from Alabama Power Company and Balch & Bingham.
This is Woodfin’s last secret.
PHOTO: Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Randall Woodfin meets with neighborhood leaders from the Five Points West community at Sherman Industries' proposed site for its concrete manufacturing plant.