Baldwin County Commissioner Tucker Dorsey says the labyrinth of business entities surrounding him and his part-time employer are simply a method of reducing liabilities or the vestiges of old property associations and do not represent an ethical dilemma for him as an officeholder.
Dorsey has been explaining the rather complex layers of businesses and property owners’ associations started either by his boss Clarence Burke, himself or companies apparently owned in part or fully by Burke. Dozens of companies are listed by the Secretary of State’s office as being located at either 12940 Underwood Road in Summerdale or nearby at 14747 Underwood Road.
At one time Burke owned Summit Construction Co. Inc. at 12940 Underwood Road, but that property and business was sold in 2001 to businessman Jacob Cunningham, who changed the name to Summit Industries LLC. Burke held onto the name Summit Construction Co. Inc., and took it to 14747 Underwood Road, where it appears to serve as the umbrella under which numerous other companies are run. One of those is Magnolia River Management, which employs Dorsey.
The relationship between the three men isn’t business only, as Cunningham says he’s known both Dorsey and Burke for more than 20 years, adding, “I consider them both friends.”Dorsey said he still works for Burke, but was a bit less effusive about Cunningham.
“I know Jacob Cunningham, that’s pretty much the extent of it. I don’t go to his house for a cookout, he doesn’t come to my house for a cookout,” he said.
Still, despite Cunningham saying Burke has had nothing to do with Summit Industries LLC since 2001, both Burke and Dorsey have incorporated business entities at the 12940 Underwood Road address — even as recently as 2013 — and at least one of Burke’s companies filed an annual report last year listing 12940 Underwood as Burke’s address, even though the original incorporation was listed at a third address.
Dorsey said the reason so many of the property owners’ associations he incorporated still use that address is that they were created while Burke still owned Summit Industries LLC and once the POAs are turned over to the subdivision owners, it is up to them to make changes. Still, Dorsey Woods POA, which is listed as being incorporated in 2013 by Dorsey, lists Cunningham’s address as its own.
“I’m not sure why my office address continued to be listed in any new incorporations done by Clarence Burke or Tucker Dorsey after 2001,” Cunningham wrote in response to a number of questions emailed to him this week.
Four businesses listed at 12940 Underwood Road have been paid more than $950,000 by the county since 2010. Summit Industries LLC, owned by Cunningham, and Baldwin County Sewer Service, owned by Burke, have been paid for work totaling $539,000 and $140,000, respectively.
Trojan Landscapes, which state records list as being formed by R.D. Simpkins Jr. in 2002, was paid $43,899 in 2012 for work at the Lillian Boat Launch. That business now lists 14817 Underwood Road as its address.
In August of last year, Southern Excavating LLC was the low bidder on a contract for repairs at Sibley Street and Stedman’s Landing and has been paid more than $228,000 since. The company recently changed its name to Streamline Environmental.
Dorsey is barred by an Ethics Commission ruling from voting on any issues involving Baldwin County Sewer Service, something he says he has no problem with. He has voted on numerous issues involving Cunningham’s businesses, including last year’s Southern Excavating contract, but has also abstained from votes where he felt there might be a perceived conflict. One of those dealt with a surety bond put up by Summit Industries LLC for work on the Dorsey Woods subdivision. But Dorsey says he abstained because the company he works for was involved, not because of any perceived conflict with Cunningham’s company.
“The Dorsey Woods subdivision was developed by a company named Crossroads. Crossroads is managed by Magnolia River Management, of whom I was an employee. Now Summit Industries was the contractor on that and the county requires that every contractor put up a maintenance bond for every subdivision, and it’s just too close, because of who I was affiliated with. Doesn’t have a thing to do with Summit Industries,” he explained. “It was a subdivision Crossroads had, which, again, was a Magnolia River Management managed property. That’s why I abstained on that vote, because it was too close to home.”
In his responses to Lagniappe, Cunningham took issue with any possible questions about the work his companies have done for Baldwin County.
“Less than 1 percent of Summit’s revenue has been from Baldwin County since 2010. Between 2001 and 2010, Summit’s revenue from Baldwin County was nearly four times what it has been since 2010, but was still a very small percentage of our revenue. Summit does not rely on work from Baldwin County as a regular part of our business. We bid on work for the county sporadically based on the type of project out for bid and our current workload. There are many jobs that are advertised for bid from the county that we do not bid on because we generally stay very busy in the private sector,” he wrote. “Most importantly, all work Summit has undertaken for Baldwin County has been a result of competitive bidding.”
Dorsey also maintains any whiff of impropriety regarding his relationships with Burke or Cunningham and how he votes on the commission is neither smoke nor fire.
“Being in the development business we’ve worked with most of the contractors around here. Again with regards to ethics and doing the right thing with regards to taxpayers of Baldwin County, I’m not benefiting myself. It’s not somebody who is an employer of mine. It’s hard in an area the size of Baldwin County to not have relationships with people around the county, so it’s doing the business of the county,” he said. “All of the contractors in Baldwin County, all of them, have to bid for those jobs and those are managed appropriately and legally through our purchasing department and there’s no benefit to me for voting for or against those items.”
Clarification: Work being done in Rayne Plantation and The Reserve subdivision by Summit Industries LLC is private and not county contracted, as reported in the July 28 issue of Lagniappe.