Baldwin County Commissioner Chris Elliott is defending his vote to spend up to $30,000 in county contingency funds to renovate an office he may occupy as state senator if he defeats Democratic opponent Jason Fisher Nov. 6.
The office space, on the currently vacant second floor of the Fairhope Satellite Courthouse, would stand apart from the existing Alabama Legislative Office on the first floor. Last week, Elliott said the existing space is generally reserved for House members and support staff and whoever replaces retiring State Sen. Trip Pittman next week will need a dedicated office space.
“This space was envisioned 10 years ago when they renovated the courthouse,” Elliott explained. “The commission has provided office space for the delegation downstairs — for the House delegation. We determined we have room upstairs for the Senate delegation in an unused area …”
Pittman said during his two and a half terms in the seat, he largely used his tractor company’s office space for legislative business when he wasn’t in Montgomery. He couldn’t speculate as to how many of the state’s 35 senators have their own offices.
Guy Busby, director of constituent services for the Baldwin County Legislative Delegation, said the origin of the request was “at the county level,” but suggested the space was necessary.
“In Fairhope, we have two offices in addition to the reception area,” he said. “[State Rep. Joe] Faust uses one, and the other is often used by [outgoing State Rep.] Randy Davis or whoever may need it. If you do the math, we have three legislators and two offices. We could put someone in the conference room but the upstairs office is not being used.”
Busby also said under the legislation establishing the legislative office, there was an agreement for the county to provide office space for the delegation. County Administrator Ron Cink said the county contingency fund is for “unforeseen needs” the commission may not anticipate during the yearly budgeting process. The renovation was briefly discussed at a commission work session Sept. 11, then passed in the consent agenda one week later.
Fisher said he wasn’t aware of Elliott’s vote on the expenditure, but he believed Elliott should have recused himself from the discussion and the vote.
“That’s an example of unilateral decision-making with no regard for even the perception that there’s a conflict of interest,” Fisher said. “It’s also very presumptuous that if he had intentions of creating a space for himself, that’s the kind of politics Baldwin County residents are tired of.”
But Elliott downplayed the question.
“It’s a space allocation in a county facility, the commission is required to provide space for the legislative delegation, I can’t imagine how it would be a conflict for a state senator to have an office in a commission courthouse,” he said, adding it was “not unusual or different from” the delegation office in Bay Minette.
“There are questions in today’s environment as to whether it’s appropriate to conduct business in a tractor workshop or whether that should be done in a county facility,” he said.
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