A recent appointment to the Mobile County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority’s board of directors has put together a pair of members with a less-than-affectionate history in Mobile County politics.
On Aug. 7, the Mobile County Commission approved the appointment of Mobile County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Burdine to a six-year term on the board, where he will join former State Sen. George Callahan.
Burdine made headlines in 2002 when he filed a complaint with the Alabama Ethics Commission against Callahan at the height of his reelection campaign. Burdine also sent a copy of the complaint to the Press-Register just weeks before an election Callahan would ultimately lose to Democratic challenger Gary Tanner.
Two years later, the ethics commission validated Burdine’s complaint by finding Callahan did indeed violate state ethics law by obtaining $70,000 in state money for the Alabama Pecan-Satsuma Festival in Tillman’s Corner. ABC Signs, a company owned by Callahan’s son Greg Callahan, was contracted to handle the advertisement of the festival.
The incident was turned over to Attorney General Troy King, who in 2004 chose not to pursue charges against the former Republican state senator.
When the reports of Burdine’s complaint first surfaced, Callahan called the accusation a “vendetta” against him because of his son’s involvement in Burdine’s failed campaign earlier in 2002.
Burdine lost an election in House District 105 to Spencer Collier, whose campaign paid more than $14,000 to Callahan and Callahan Advertising – a company formerly run by Greg Callahan.
Despite all the unpleasantness, both candidates have said the past won’t affect their ability to serve on the MCWSFPA board, which provides water service for more than 13,000 residents in South Mobile County.
“(Callahan) and I go to church together,” Burdine said. “I wouldn’t say he’s overly friendly, but that’s all past history as far as I’m concerned.
Burdine said he put the issue behind him after it was turned over the Attorney General’s office for prosecution. He compared the situation to arresting a bank robber, saying “its up to the district attorney what they do after that.”
Callahan, whose current term runs until 2017, admitted he didn’t have any great sentiments for Burdine, but said their relationship shouldn’t have any bearing on the business of the MCWSFPA.
“You have to take up the issues that come before the board,” he said. “I don’t know of anything (the board deals with) that would cause either of us any problem.”
Callahan said he was aware of the appointment, but also said he hadn’t spoke to Burdine or County Commissioner Jerry Carl about the issue prior to Burdine’s confirmation last Thursday.
Carl solely appoints the members of the water authority’s five-member board, though two of the appointees predate his election to the commission. Carl said he met Burdine while campaigning for his District 3 seat on the County Commission.
He’s very community minded, and I think he brings some stuff to the table some of the others don’t have,” Carl said. “Since day one, we’ve had ethics issues (with the board) and I knew with Burdine’s law enforcement background, he would be a good help to watch over the taxpayers’ money.”
Some of the ethical issues Carl referred to were outlined in a 2012 forensic audit of the board’s financial practices by DV Consulting. Some of the findings showed the misuse of county property and monies.
Callahan himself was named in the audit report for using a MCWSFPA credit card to purchase his wife Betty Callahan’s flight to a board member conference in Chicago. The reimbursement for the ticket was not made until two years later.
His son’s company, ABC Signs, was also listed in audit as a vendor for the water authority, though the company only did a few hundred dollars of work for the board.
Despite his history with Burdine, Callahan said he was most concerned about the board’s lack of diversity.
Burdine has officially replaced Louis Rockhold, the board’s only female member.
“I would have thought Mr. Carl would have taken this opportunity to address what we see as the board lacking to serve the total community,” Callahan said. “We’ve had women on there before, like Margie Wilcox and Rockhold, but we’ve never had a black on there. I thought surely he would try to remedy that situation.”
Carl said he didn’t have a comment about the diversity of the board, but did say he was trying to appoint someone to the board “who would actually serve.”
Burdine is the third new member appointed to the board since Carl was elected. The board’s first meeting with Burdine will be at 5 p.m., Aug. 21 at the authority’s complex in Theodore.