A longtime member of the Prichard Water Works and Sewer board of directors has publicly questioned the hiring of a former consultant set to make $270,000 on a three-year contract.
Russell Heidelburg, who has been a director since 2008, said the board acted irresponsibly in approving the contract for Nia Bradley.
“I call it ignorant racketeering,” he said. “They didn’t do anything to cover their tracks. They are not acting with fiduciary responsibility.”
The money for the contract, which is roughly $7,500 per month, was not in the budget when the board agreed to hire Bradley. Heidelburg also said her duties as laid out in the contract are vague at best.
But Bradley said she will be helping to bring the board in compliance with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. She previously worked for Severn Trent when the company managed the system for the board. She also does work for Daphne Utilities, she said.
Bradley said she finds Heidelburg’s questioning of the contract “interesting,” as he, acting as board chairman at the time, hired her as a consultant. She argued that his problem with her contract stems from a larger power struggle between him and current board chairman Nathaniel Inge.
In late 2015, the board changed its bylaws and elected new officers. Heidelburg was elected chairman. Attorneys for Inge said the move wasn’t legal because it was done in a special meeting that Inge, chairman at the time, did not call for. Inge’s attorneys said the bylaws state that only the board chairman can call a special meeting.
Inge has since become chairman again.
Bradley’s contract does have some interesting caveats, though. For instance, the contract states that Bradley can only be terminated for cause if she is convicted of a crime related to fraud. Even if the board terminates the contract “for cause,” she is to be paid the remainder of the contract. In any other case, Bradley will be owed the money remaining on the contract in its entirety upon being released from the contract.
Attorney Raymond Bell, who works with board attorney Jay Ross, questioned the “for cause” portion of the contract in a letter to directors.
“It is advisable to expand this provision to provide any and all ‘for cause’ grounds,” Bell wrote. “ … It is unimaginable that the board would terminate the contractor for cause and also agree to pay the balance of the agreement.”
Bradley said she had the “for cause” section of the contract added because she didn’t want to be terminated because of the ongoing power struggle between Heidelburg and Inge. Bradley, who began her 20 years of experience as a board employee, said she hates to be thrust into the middle of issues between Inge and Heidelburg and only wants to work for the citizens.
“This is all for the citizens of Prichard,” she said. “My heart is here. This is not about the [power] struggle, this is only about getting the board in compliance and saving them money.”
As for the length and the amount of the contract, both Bradley and Inge said it is pretty standard.
“Actually it’s kind of low for what they’re asking and the money I’m going to save them,” Bradley said.
Heidelburg also inferred Inge and Bradley were related. Inge and Bradley both denied this.
In a report to the board during the Monday, Sept. 11, regular meeting, Bradley said she had ridden with system manager Bill Swopes to all of the system’s facilities. She said she would regularly report to the board at the meetings.