Dunn recalls private meeting with McCrary, APCO execs; McCrary, Matrix still together; and More, Much More
By EDDIE CURRAN
(Published Oct. 21, 2015)
There’s much here for those who follow Alabama politics, especially those interested in the last Big Mule standing -Alabama Power.
I will disclose here, as I have before, that in April 2014, I donated $125 to incumbent Place 2 Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn in the race he was to lose against Chip Beeker. I gave the same amount to Kathy Peterson, who lost her unsuccessful challenge to Place One commissioner Jeremy Oden.
The donations — the first and only political contributions of my life — were made reluctantly. Not that I didn’t want them to win, as I did. However, I only gave because I hoped the state media — which has for the most part ignored this site and the reporting on it — would be compelled to report the donations, and, thus, the existence of this website.
My reasoning was that A) there would be stories on the PSC contributions; and B) Dunn and Peterson had so few donors that reporters writing such stories would have no choice but to mention my contributions and cite my work here. Alas, there were stories, but my donations were not in them. My ploy to buy publicity with $250 failed.
It’s been awhile since I included that disclosure on one of my stories here and thus am doing so again now.
As readers of my work on this site and in my past life as a reporter at the Mobile Press Register know, I like to include a lot of details and records in my stories. This adds to length, but I think it’s necessary, especially on a one-person web-site, where credibility and thus accuracy come to play more than when reporting for an established paper or website. While there’s plenty of opinion here, I like to think I back it up.
Lastly, my contact information is below, such as for anyone who wishes to provide tips, request corrections or clarifications, or make donations to this otherwise entirely self-funded project.
Now for today’s menu, in order of appearance:
— Alabama Power Exec to Dunn: ‘You don’t really care about being re-elected, do you?’
— Son of PSC’s Beeker takes job with small firm that hires for Alabama Power and Southern Co. siblings
— The moment when Terry Dunn learned the Alabama PSC was ‘just a joke’
— Does Alabama media need help from Captain Obvious?
— No sir, my name is not Joe Perkins
— McCrary and Matrix: Still Together
Alabama Power Exec to Dunn: ‘You don’t really care about being re-elected, do you?’
In September 2013, Terry Dunn and one of his fellow commissioners attended a celebration in Gadsden of the 100th anniversary of Alabama Power’s Gadsden Steam Plant.
During a break in the festivities, Dunn and his wife were approached by Charles McCrary, then Alabama Power’s president and CEO; Zeke Smith, the company’s executive vice president of external affairs, and Nick Sellers; vice president of regulatory and corporate affairs. (The photo on the main page shows Smith, at left, whispering to Sellers during a PSC meeting.)
The company brass, as Dunn well knew, was not happy with him.
The month before the gathering in Gadsden, the Alabama PSC voted 2-1 to alter the method it uses to regulate Alabama Power’s rates. Commissioners Twinkle Cavanaugh and Jeremy Oden voted for it — which is to say, they voted as Alabama Power wanted them to vote and on a plan conceived, not by the PSC, but by the company.
After the vote, Oden and Cavanaugh gave differing estimations of the savings Alabama Power customers could expect to enjoy as a result of the change, with Cavanaugh’s estimation of the savings higher than Oden’s, and both notable for being flat wrong.
Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman, put on the spot by media inquiries, couldn’t support the rosy pro-ratepayer projections offered by either commissioner. This suggested that either Cavanaugh and Oden didn’t understand what they voted for or were lying about the implications.
Sznajderman said customers would not see any immediate rate decreases, adding that the change “was expected to put downward pressure over rates in the long run.”
Dunn, the no vote, told reporters that the change was all smoke and mirrors and wouldn’t lower rates at all. He said customers expecting a decrease on their bills wouldn’t “see anything” as a result of the PSC’s change.
Dunn’s no vote, while it didn’t alter the outcome, had consequences. The state media stayed on the story, reporting his blistering criticism of the PSC’s decision and essentially calling his fellow commissioners lapdogs to the power company.
For decades, Alabama Power had been accustomed to unanimous votes on all its matters before the PSC. That even one commissioner would vote against the company on a matter of substance was intolerable.
To the company’s top brass and governmental relations executives, it was an outrage — a problem that needed fixing.
That’s where things stood in mid September 2013, when McCrary, Smith and Sellers approached Dunn at the event in Gadsden.
“McCrary told me, ‘You need to call a press conference tomorrow and explain it to the people that this thing is going to bring their rates down,’” Dunn recalled.
“I told him I wasn’t going to lie to the public and tell them it was going to bring their rates down. I told him I would go live under a tree before I would do that because it was a flat lie.”
According to Dunn, Zeke Smith said that if Dunn would do as McCrary suggested, then Dunn could “declare victory on this,” since by saying the decision brought rates down, Dunn could say he had accomplished his goal of lowering rates.
Smith told Dunn that if he declared victory, then “all this stuff will go away.”
Dunn took that to mean that Smith was saying that the attacks on Dunn and his chief of staff by Yellowhammer News and the company’s shill groups would cease.
Dunn responded that he had no intention of coming out in support of a plan he thought was a sham.
According to Dunn, Sellers then asked him, “You don’t really care about getting re-elected, do you?”
“I take that as a damn threat,” Dunn told Sellers.
Dunn and his wife walked off. Asked if he and his wife were surprised by the exchange with Alabama Power’s top executive, Dunn said they were not.
“We knew how they were so it wasn’t like it was a big surprise,” he said.
Son of PSC’s Beeker takes job with small firm that hires for Alabama Power and Southern Co.
At the start of the December 2014 meeting of the Alabama PSC, commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh welcomed the commission’s newest member and invited him to say a few words.
Chip Beeker devoted his brief remarks to thanking those who had helped him during his 18-month long campaign to oust Terry Dunn. “There are so many I would like to thank,” he said. “I see them out there (but) I dare not start naming names because I would certainly leave someone out, but thank you.”
Beeker then made three exceptions, identifying by name three people who he said gave greatly of themselves to help him defeat Dunn. They were: His wife; his oldest son Chris; and John Ross, partner in the lobbying/political consulting firm Swatek Azbell Howe and Ross, which counts Alabama Power and Southern Co. as clients.
During that same time period — early December 2014 — someone sent me an e-mail referring to the LinkedIn page for Chris Beeker. It showed that new PSC commissioner’s son had taken a job with a Tuscaloosa-based company called Steele and Associates.
The tipster assumed that the company was associated with well-remunerated Alabama Power shill Charles Steele. The tipster thought this most suspicious. I agreed, if it was true.
Chip Beeker, after all, had singled Chris out — as opposed to either of his other two adult children — as having contributed substantially to his campaign.
Chris Beeker’s LinkedIn page showed that he left a position as a loan originator at a bank in Tuscaloosa in June 2014. That month — specifically, on June 3 — his father defeated Dunn in the Republican primary for PSC Place Two.
However, there were two other candidates, and Beeker failed to reach 50 percent. As a result, Chip Beeker had to continue campaigning until the July 15 run-off.
As an active participant in the campaign, Chris Beeker was unquestionably aware of the accusations by Dunn and others that his father was the “Alabama Power candidate.”
Chris Beeker assuredly knew that while the PSC regulates other utilities, including the state’s main providers of natural gas, by far the commission’s most important and most publicized role is to determine the rates Alabama Power is allowed to charge.
Considering all of the above, if Chris Beeker took a job with a company with a more than casual link to Alabama Power, it would, at the least, be worth looking into.
However, some quick research revealed that Steele and Associates had no connection whatsoever to Charles Steele. Rather, it was a staffing company, originally called Warren Steele and Associates, and formed in Ohio in the 1980s. The current iteration is based in Tuscaloosa, and was incorporated in Alabama in 2009, by Warren Steele’s son, Alan Steele.
Staffing companies, as most know, provide employees who work at the client’s company, but who are paid by and receive benefits from the staffing firm.
A review of Steele and Associates website reflects that the firm specializes in providing high level employees, such as engineers, supervisors, or others with specific skills and experience levels, as opposed to, say, clerical staff or laborers. Employees are hired for a set time period, usually in the range of six months to two years.
The company website listed a host of well-known clients and/or former clients. They included major corporations like Procter and Gamble, Anheuser Busch, and Dow Chemical. Several large electrical power companies were listed, though not Alabama Power or any companies in the Southern Co. family.
I was wary of doing a story on a public official’s son without strong evidence of a connection to Alabama Power, and the website didn’t provide any such evidence. I’m doing this project on my own time and was busy with other things, so I decided to take a pass.
Because the website did show that Steele and Associates clientele included power companies, I didn’t rule out coming back to it at a later time and giving the story a closer look.
In early August I decided to revisit Chris Beeker’s employment with Steele and Associates. His LinkedIn page showed he still worked there. I saw that the firm also had a LinkedIn page, went there, and found the firm uses the page as a tool to announce job openings and attract applicants.
It soon became apparent that Chip Beeker’s son had gone to work for a small, Tuscaloosa-based firm that counts Alabama Power and its Southern Company sister companies, Georgia Power and Mississippi Power, for a sizable portion of its business.
The following is a screen shot showing what the firm’s LinkedIn ads look like. Each ad contains a summary of the position, with a more detailed description that opens when you click on it (see the bottom left portion of the ad).
This particular ad sought applicants for an open position in Birmingham for an, “Electrical Design Checker,” with the job to last a year. It stated that candidates must have “a minimum of 20 years experience in the power or heavy industrial industries.”
None of the ads identify the client company. But in some, including the one above, the ad makes clear who the successful applicant will be working for. For example, the detailed portion that clicks open for this ad states that Steele and Associates was seeking someone who has the “ability to review and understand Southern Company design standards, guidelines and procedures.”
I do not think it unfair to presume that Steele and Associates was seeking an “electrical design checker” to work for Alabama Power, which is, after all, based in Birmingham.
As of mid-August, when I did my review, there were 57 job positions on the firm’s LinkedIn site, all posted in the previous eight months. Jobs posted before then — about December 2014 — had apparently fallen off the site.
I meticulously reviewed each of the 57 job posting to determine, as best I could, the client.
Here is the summary of my findings:
— Of 57 job positions posted, 33 are almost certainly for Southern Company subsidiaries Alabama Power, Mississippi Power, and Georgia Power, with 22 of them almost surely for Alabama Power.
— Another 15 are almost surely for Duke Energy, which provides power to customers in the Carolinas and most of Florida.
— Four positions are with power companies, or almost surely with power companies, though it can’t be determined for what power company.
— Just five of the 57 positions advertised by Steele & Associates on its LinkedIn page during the eight month period were clearly for positions with no connection to power companies.
Among them was the ad at the top of this page, seeking a “contractor coordinator” in Wilsonville, Ala., the home of Alabama Power’s Gaston Steam Plant. This employee would be, among other things, a point of contact “at the plant.” I do not think it unfair to conclude that this is for a job at Alabama Power.
In May, Chris Beeker posted an ad on his Facebook page seeking someone to fill a position as a “safety specialist” in Demopolis, home to Alabama Power’s Greene County Steam Plant. That plant is undergoing renovations to convert it from a coal burning to a natural gas burning plant.
The ad (see below, as it appeared on his Facebook page) seeks someone with experience in “industrial and power plant construction.”
Beeker’s LinkedIn page shows when he left his prior job — in June 2014 — but doesn’t state when he started work at Steele and Associates. In e-mails to Chris Beeker and Alan Steele, I stated it was my understanding that Chris Steele started work there after the campaign. Each e-mail included a request for corrections of any erroneous aspects of my e-mails, and neither sought to correct this.
In any event, by June 2014, if not well before, it was clear that Alabama Power’s favored and campaign cash rich candidate was going to defeat Terry Dunn and replace him on the PSC.
In late August, I sent my first e-mail to Chris Beeker and Steele. It included my summary of the 57 positions on the firm’s LinkedIn page; presented the background of the Dunn-Beeker campaign described above; and asked, among other questions, the following:
Did anyone with Steele & Associates have any communication with anyone associated with Alabama Power, including its employees, outside consultants, and attorneys, regarding the hiring of Chris Beeker?
Has Steele & Associates business with the Southern Company increased since Chris Beeker was hired?
Does Chris Beeker believe it’s a conflict of interest for him to provide services for a company that his father was elected to regulate?
Within about five minutes of my sending the e-mail, Alan Steele called. He gave what can fairly be called a very spirited explanation of his company’s relationship with Alabama Power/Southern Co., and his decision to hire Chris Beeker.
Steele said that if I “did my research” I would have known that his hiring of Beeker had nothing to do with Southern Company and/or Alabama Power. He said Beeker’s job involves developing new business, not serving existing clients.
“He (Beeker) doesn’t make one dime from Southern Company,” Steele said.
Steele said his company has been providing workers for Southern Company for five years. Prior to then, Steele and Associates hired skilled utility and construction workers for the complex “coal gasification” power plant built by Duke Energy in Edwardsville.
The technology used for that plant is roughly the same as that at the multi-billion dollar coal gasification plant being built by Southern Company (Mississippi Power) in Kemper, Miss. Given his company’s location in Tuscaloosa, and experience in that kind of project, it was a “perfect fit” for Steele and Associates to provide workers for the Kemper project and also for Southern Company, Steele said.
Steele said his business with Southern Company and its affiliates hasn’t increased since he hired Chris Beeker. “We have the same volume with them that we had four years ago,” he said.
Steele said that last year he lost two employees. Chris Beeker was a friend who Steele felt was perfectly suited for his company. He said he hired him for that reason and that reason only.
He did not refute my summary of the 57 positions on his LinkedIn page but said some of his clients’ positions are not advertised on the LinkedIn page so that doesn’t present a total picture of his business.
Steele said his his company has a staff of seven people, and that it currently has 107 employees, by which he meant workers paid by his company who work at a client’s site.
In large part because there is no longer a two-party system in Alabama, the Dunn-Beeker race was the most heated, and probably most publicized, election in 2014. Chip Beeker received a record sum of donations for a PSC race from Alabama Power supporters.Almost immediately upon replacing Dunn, he (Chip Beeker) voted for a rate increase that Dunn would assuredly not have voted for.Your company is not large, and based on my research, your largest current customer is Southern Company.Chris Beeker was heavily involved in his father’s campaign, to the point that he left his job to work on it. At his first meeting as a commissioner, Chip Beeker thanked two people in particular for their efforts on his campaign — his son Chris, and John Ross, who so happens to be a lobbyist/political consultant for Alabama Power.After his father’s election, he was unemployed. You then hired him. His own Facebook posts show he is involved in seeking applicants for jobs with Alabama Power….I will note that you said you were aware of Chris because he was a friend, and that no one with Alabama Power or anyone associated with the company contacted you on Chris Beeker’s behalf or played any role whatsoever in your decision.
I asked both to contact me, whether by phone or e-mail to let me know if anything from that summary of the situation was incorrect or if either wished to make any additional comments. Neither responded.
Positions on the Alabama Public Service Commission are unique among statewide elected offices because the job is so associated with the one company. Yes, the PSC regulates natural gas providers and other utility providers, but none of them become involved in the political process to anything approaching the degree that Alabama Power does.
Taking Alan Steele at his word — that he hired Chris Beeker because Beeker was a friend and that Alabama Power/Southern Co. was not a factor in any way — what must Chris Beeker have thought about going to work for a small firm that counts Alabama Power/Southern Co. as one of its largest, if not its largest, customer?
He took the job, so one can only assume it didn’t trouble him. I think it should have, such as to the point of not taking the job.
- Quality Coordinator, Kemper County, Miss. Kemper is where Mississippi Power’s multi-billion dollar “gasification” plant is being built. This is clearly for work at that plant, and thus, for Mississippi Power/Southern Co.
- Contract Specialist, Wilsonville, AL. The position involves work at a major project. Wilsonville is home Alabama Power’s Gaston Steam Plant, where four coal fired units are in the process of being converted to run on natural gas. This is clearly a power plant job for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Electrical Design Checker, Birmingham. Ad seeks a candidate with experience in “power or heavy industrial industries” and specifically seeks someone who has the “ability to review and understand Southern Company design standards.” This is clearly a power company job for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Construction Safety Specialist, Bainbridge, GA. The ad seeks someone with experience in “power generation.” Southern Co. has recently purchased solar plants in Bainbridge. It is a power company job in Georgia Power’s territory, and is surely for Georgia Power/Southern Co.
- Solar Project Owner’s Representative, San Francisco. Southern Power, a subsidiary of Southern Co., recently purchased a controlling interest in a major solar project which has its headquarters in San Francisco. Considering Steele and Associates role as a major staffer for Southern Company, its fair to say that the client is Southern Power/Southern Co.
- Construction Manager, Maine. The ad is for a position at a wind farm. This is a power company job, but with no clear connection to Southern Co.
- Technical Writer, Birmingham. The add seeks someone who has “familiarity with electric utility terminology.” It is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is almost surely for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Chemical Engineers, Dekalb Co., Miss. The two positions advertised are for work at “a large power plant.” The only large power plant in the county is at Kemper. This is clearly a power company, and specifically, for Mississippi Power/Southern Co.
- Mechanical Chemical Engineer, Birmingham. The ad seeks someone who has “experience with power generation operations.” It is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is almost surely for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Mechanical Designer, Birmingham. The ad refers to “power generating facilities” and seeks someone to work at “our client’s non-nuclear fleet of generating facilities.” It is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is almost surely for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Startup Process Engineer, Meridian, Miss. The ad includes the phrase, “integrated gasification combined cycle projects,” which clearly means the Kemper plant, which is now in a start up phase. Meridian is very close to Kemper. This is clearly a job with Mississippi Power/Southern Co.
- Engineering Technologist, Charlotte, NC. The ad seeks someone that the applicants “must have previous utility experience.” This is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is almost surely for Duke Energy.
- Control Specialist, Birmingham. The ad states that “experience in power utility is required.” It is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is almost surely for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Loan Originators, Birmingham. The ad seeks to fill positions in the mortgage business, and assuredly is unrelated to Alabama Power or Southern Co.
- Quality Assurance, North Carolina. Seeks worker with experience in “coal combustion” or “hydro fueled power plants.” This is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is almost surely for Duke Energy.
- Field Geologists, Vincent, AL. The work involves “underground utility investigations” throughout the southeast. underground utility. The same exact ad can also be found on Southern Co.’s job search website, so this is clearly for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Safety Specialist: Demopolis, AL. The ad seeks someone with experience in “industrial and power plant construction.” Demopolis is home to Alabama Power’s Greene County Steam Plant, which is undergoing renovations to allow it to generate power from natural gas. This job is surely for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Healthcare professionals, Iowa. This ad is not for a utility or the Southern Co.
- CNC Machinist/Programmer, Boligee, Ala. The ad seeks someone experienced in oil field operations. This is unlikely to be for a utility.
- Mechanical Designer, Atlanta: The ad seeks someone with experience in “power generation facilities” and states that it’s for a position with a “Fortune 500 company in Atlanta.” It clearly involves work with a power company and because of the location, is almost certainly for Georgia Power/Southern Co.
- Site-work Designer for Ash Pond Closure Projects. The ad does not specify a location, but seeks a person with knowledge of environmental regulations in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida — all states where the Southern Company operates. Ash ponds are created by power plants that burn coal. This is clearly for an electric utility, and based on the location, for the Southern Co.
- Mechanical Engineer, Birmingham: Seeks someone with experience in “mechanical design for various power plant processes.” It clearly involves a power company and because of the location, is almost certainly for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Technical Aide, Birmingham. The ad refers to “power generation facilities” and “power plant processes.” It clearly involves a utility and because of the location, is almost certainly for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Project Engineer, Contoe, NC. The ad reflects that the work will be at a solar plant. This is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is almost surely for Duke Energy.
- Electrical Supervisor, Ackerman, Miss. Work involves “carbon injection systems at a power generation facility.” The Southern Company owns the Red Hills Power Plant in Ackerman. This is almost surely for Mississippi Power/Southern Co.
- Quality Lead Coordinator, Quinton, Ala. The ad has language that indicates its for a large operation involving electricity. This small town is the home of Alabama Power’s Plant Gorgas. It clearly involves a power company and because of the location, is almost certainly for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Startup Project Engineer, Kemper County, Miss. The ad is in Kemper, refers to “Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle Projects” and says the client is a Fortune 500 company. The position is clearly for a position with Mississippi Power/Southern Co.
- Environmental Specialist, Arden, NC. This appears to be for work with a power company, and based on the location, is almost surely for Duke Energy.
- Administrative Assistant, job located on campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Gautier, Miss. Mississippi Power assists with educational programs there but not possible to determine client from ad.
- Junior Cost Engineer, Charlotte, NC: Refers to coal ash management, a part of power plant operations. This is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is almost surely for Duke Energy.
- Senior Cost Engineer, Charlotte, NC: Refers to coal ash management, a part of power plant operations. This is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is almost surely for Duke Energy.
- Engineering Technologist, Orlando, FL. Job description contains a host of duties consistent with work for a power company. Based on the location, is almost surely for Duke Energy.
- Installation Manager, Union, KY. For work on a landfill construction project.
- Quality Coordinator (Electrical), DeKalb County, MS. This position is clearly at the Kemper plant, for Mississippi Power/Southern Co.
- Engineering Technologist, Florence SC. Position involves work for an electric utility. Based on location, this is almost surely for Duke Energy.
- Site-work Engineer, Birmingham. Position involves “coal combustion” and “power generating facilities.” It clearly involves a power company and because of the location, is almost certainly for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Site-work Designer, Birmingham. Position involves “coal combustion” and “power generating facilities.” It clearly involves a power company and because of the location, is almost certainly for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Electrical Design Specialist. The position involves work with “electrical power substations” and is clearly for a power company. The position is clearly with a power company but no location is given. Is surely for Duke Energy or Southern Company.
- Field Geologist, Logan Martin Dam. The Logan Martin Dam is an Alabama Power operation. It clearly involves a power company and because of the location, is almost certainly for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Project Control Specialist, Semora, NC. Job description doesn’t describe type of industry, but Semora is home to one of the country’s largest power plants, run by Duke Energy. This job is almost surely at a power plant and for Duke Energy.
- Senior Boiler Design Engineer, Wilsonville, AL. The position involves “gasification technology,” a very specific technology used at the National Carbon Capture Center facility operated by Alabama Power’s near its Gaston Steam Plant. This is clearly a power plant job for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Environmental Specialist, Birmingham. The ad seeks applicants who are “comfortable working closely with clients at all levels of the organization throughout the Southern Company.” It also states that the client company wants “an individual with Southern Style.” Southern Style is the name of the Southern Company’s code of ethics. This is unquestionably a position with Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Project Controls Scheduler, Charlotte, NC. This appears to be for a power company, and based on the location, that would be Duke Energy.
- Project Cost Control Specialist, Charlotte, NC. This appears to be for a power company, and based on the location, that would be Duke Energy.
- Senior Engineer, Lake Mary, FL. This is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, where Duke Energy has a plant, is surely for Duke Energy.
46.Mechanical Designer, Lake Mary, FL. This is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is surely for Duke Energy.
- Mechanical Designer Engineers, Birmingham. Jobs involve work at “power generation facilities.” It clearly involves a power company and because of the location, is almost certainly for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Business Development Manager, Denver. This job is in commercial real estate.
- Quality Coordinator, Wilsonville, AL. This is for a “Fortune 500” company, the job requires and “electrical background” and Wilsonville is the home of Alabama Power’s Gaston Steam Plant. This clearly is a job for a power plant for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Quality Coordinator, Kemper County, MS. This job for a “Fortune 500 company” is obviously at the Kemper Plant, and is for Mississippi Power/Southern Co.
- Startup Project Scheduler, Moss Point, MS. Ad makes it clear that the job is for a Fortune 500 power company. Based on location and other issues, this position is clearly for Mississippi Power/Southern Co.
- Startup Project Scheduler, Quinton, AL. Ad makes it clear that the job is for a Fortune 500 power company. Based on location and other issues, this position is clearly for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Technical Writer/Graphic Designer, Birmingham. No way to determine from description what kind of company this position is for.
- Quality Engineer, Birmingham. Job description says applicants must produce work that “meets or exceeds Southern Company’s technical and quality requirements.” The job is clearly for a power company, and specifically, for Alabama Power/Southern Co.
- Technical Support, Charlotte, NC. The position is described as being for a “Fortune 500 utility and energy company. This is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is surely for Duke Energy.
- Technical Aide, Birmingham. The position is described as being for a “Fortune 500 utility and energy company. This is clearly a position with Alabama Power/Southern Co.
57. Relay Construction Engineering Technician, Lake Wales, Fla. The position is described as being for a “Fortune 500 utility and energy company. This is clearly for a power company, and based on the location, is surely for Duke Energy.
The following ad was posted in mid-September, since the conclusion of the above survey. It shows Steele and Associates seeking to fill positions for four senior electrical engineers, two in Birmingham and two in Atlanta, where Georgia Power and Southern Co. are based.
The ad states that applicants must have the “ability to review an understand Southern Company design standards, guidelines and procedures.”
The moment when Terry Dunn learned the Alabama PSC was ‘just a joke’
Terry Dunn learned that Alabama Power had the PSC in a vice grip shortly after coming aboard the commission in late 2010. He had reviewed the PSC’s organizational structure and concluded that the division which oversees electricity (as in, Alabama Power) should be separated from the division that oversees providers of natural gas (Alagasco and Mobile Gas).
Dunn went to the office of then PSC President Lucy Baxley to discuss his idea. After Dunn made his proposal, Baxley asked him if he had “cleared” his plan “with Zeke” — as in, Zeke Smith, the Alabama Power executive.
Dunn, recently recalling the episode, said he responded with disbelief to Baxley. He told her it was the PSC’s decision to make, not the company it regulates.
Baxley, he said, wasn’t swayed.
“She said, ‘You have to talk to them (Alabama Power). You need to find out if that’s OK,’” Dunn recalled.
When Dunn returned to his office, he angrily expressed his disbelief to his chief of staff, David Rountree.
“Why are we even here? What are we doing here if they are running the whole show? Why am I here if they’re regulating themselves,” Dunn recalled telling Rountree. He said he was so exasperated that his chief of staff — who’d served under prior commissioners Jim Sullivan and Susan Parker — didn’t know how to respond.
The meeting taught Dunn an important lesson, he said. It revealed to him that the Alabama Public Service Commission was “just a joke.”
Does state media need help from Captain Obvious?
The other day I heard from my old friend, Captain Obvious. We met during his tenure as captain for the Carnival Cruises ship, the Elation, which for years called the Port of Mobile home. During that time the Captain developed a fascination with Alabama politics.
Just the other day he called to tell me he’d been reading up on the criminal case against Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
“He’s guilty as hell, obviously,” declared Obvious.
I asked him what other of oddball activities by Alabama’s political elite had caught his eye. Here is how the conversation went from there:
Cpt. Obv: Well, if you really want to know, I damn near fell overboard when I learned that your governor’s chief of staff and his ‘senior political advisor’ were not being paid by the state, but that the chief of staff was on loan or some such from a politically active company and the ‘political advisor’ was actually the employee of some non-profit that doesn’t have to disclose where it’s getting its money.
I saw where one of the non-profit’s directors is from that company, Alabama Power, you write about so much.
Me: How did you learn about it, Captain?
Cpt. Obv: Obviously, from one of your state’s newspapers. And it was an excellent story. It was written by that John Archibald chap, he being my favorite source for news from your screwball state. He tends to actually find out stuff.
As I recall, he reported that a a woman with one of those Biblical names — Ruth, no, Rebekah! — held the title ‘governor’s senior political advisor’ but was actually being paid by something called — you can’t make this up — the Alabama Council for Excellent Government. Not an obvious name choice for such a secret outfit but if it works for them, it works for me!
Me: To be sure, Captain, it’s not obvious who is paying her salary. Quite the opposite. That’s why they call them “dark money” groups, because the donors who give the money and obviously control how it’s spent get to hide. They don’t have to disclose who they are, such as on campaign forms or anywhere else.
Cpt. Obv: No shit, Sherlock. Sometimes I wish that was my name. Captain No Shit Sherlock. Obvious though it was, your point is well made. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there is no way to know how much your governor’s “senior political advisor” is being paid or who is paying her.
Heck, she could be getting paid by one of those Big Mules your state has. It could even be the Masons, or a Russian oligarch. Quite a fascinating set-up! A new one on me, you might say!
Me: I don’t know if you are aware of this, Captain, as it’s a recent development, but last week the Alabama Ethics Commission — or as I like to call it, the Alabama Irony Commission — addressed the issue. The commission voted to put a stop to these so-called “executive loan” arrangements, the exception being that if one is proposed, it must first be blessed by the commission. Actually, I thought it a fair resolution.
Cpt. Obv: Oh, I saw that. I read all the stories. There was one in that shrinking media conglomerate called Al.com and also in the Montgomery Advertiser, the Anniston Star, and one by the Associated Press.
I also read the “executive loan” editorials in the Montgomery paper and the one in Gadsden. Even that Alabama Political Reporter thing — the Anti-Hubbard Daily Gazette — reported on the “executive loan” decision. I noticed something in the stories and editorials that was so obvious I’m thinking you might even have picked up on it.
Me: You mean that all of them cited the arrangement that the former chief of staff Seth Hammett had with the PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, but not one made the first mention of the governor’s senior advisor and her excellent if most secretive employer? Wait, there was one exception.
This single sentence in the Al.Com story: “Also, Rebekah Mason has been paid by the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, a nonprofit, while working as Bentley’s senior political advisor.”
Capt. Obv.: Exactly! I’m reading them, and thinking, well darn it, where is she? The Hammett arrangement? That was written about last spring and nobody made a peep. But it was the story about the excellent non-profit paying for the senior political advisor that started the fire! And the fire is why the Ethics Commission addressed the issue, to put out the fire! And yet, and yet, none of the stories addressed it! I’m thinking to myself, ‘Holy Sea Bass, Where is she?’
Me: So obvious I noticed it! You know, Captain Obvious, that I used to be a reporter. I can’t imagine reporting on the Ethics Commission’s decision and not asking folks, and getting in the story, how the payment arrangement to the senior political advisor fits in.
And if I’d done one of those stories and turned it in, one if not four editors would have asked my why in the hell I hadn’t included that in the story. They’d have sent the story back to me and made me get on the phone or do something to either explain to readers where things stood with the pay deal with the senior political advisor, or, at the least, let the readers know we tried but that this or that person or persons refused to comment.
Questions, really obvious ones, like: Is Rebekah Mason still working as the governor’s senior political advisor, and if so, is she now getting paid by the state or still by the “dark money’ group? Has the Ethics Commission been asked to review her arrangement? Etc. etc.
Capt. Obv.: You mean, your editors would have demanded that you ask the obvious questions? Those were the days, eh? When I saw the headlines, that, more than anything, was what I was looking for in the stories — answers to those very questions. But Nada!
Yes, it’s obvious that your media folks are dodging the obvious or fearful of asking the obvious questions. It’s not entirely obvious why, but they’re damn sure doing it. She went from being in all the stories to Persona Non Reporta Ona! Yes she did. That much is obvious!
No sir, my name is not Joe Perkins
In May, I received a call from a man who identified himself as Winston Porter. He wanted to speak with Joe Perkins and asked if I was Perkins. I was surprised to the point of dumbfounded, and didn’t initially respond. He proceeded, informing me that he was calling regarding an op-ed he was told I (Perkins) wanted him to write.
I yanked my tongue away from the cat and told Porter I was not Joe Perkins, or, another way of putting it, I was not a political consultant paid buckets of money per annum by Alabama Power for services neither will even vaguely describe nor can possibly be proud of.
After telling Porter I wasn’t Perkins, he asked if I was Lance Brown, the former Matrix employee who now serves as head of the dark money Alabama Power shill group Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy, or, PACE. Porter seemed to think that if I wasn’t Perkins, I had to be Brown.
I assured him I was not Lance Brown, either. I told him that to get Perkins’ number he should look for the web-site of Matrix LLC.
If I’d been halfway to sneaky, I would have said I was Brown or Perkins and got down to business. “What we want — as in, me and my client, Alabama Power and Southern Co. — is for you to write an op-ed, to be published in newspapers in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida, saying that eating coal, such as in sandwiches or salads, is healthy, and burning it to generate power damn sure is.”
An opportunity missed, but not the first one. After saying goodbye to Mr. Porter, I naturally was curious to find out who he was.
Google revealed that Porter served as an assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Ronald Reagan and is now an energy and environmental consultant based in Savannah. He frequently makes speeches and writes op-eds on environmental and power generation issues.
In these, he takes positions supportive of coal use and industry; and against positions commonly associated with the environmental movement. His op-eds have been published in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
I also found where he’d written a “guest blog” for Lance Brown and PACE two years ago. Here’s the top of it:
To make sure this wasn’t some bizarre hoax — one never knows with those silly rabbits at Matrix LLC — I did a search on the phone number used to call me and verified that it was indeed Porter’s number. I’ve not come across a recent op-ed by Porter that’s directly connected to Alabama Power or the Southern Company, though that doesn’t mean one hasn’t run somewhere.
McCrary and Matrix: Still Together
Charles McCrary retired from Alabama Power in spring 2014. This summer, McCrary re-entered the political domain, and called upon someone he knew well from his day’s at the power company.
In June, McCrary, former Auburn coach Pat Dye and Harbert Management CEO Raymond Harbert announced the formation of the Alabama Jobs Foundation. The goal of the foundation is to encourage passage of a constitutional amendment that would bring a lottery and casino gaming to the state.
The most recent list of registered lobbyists released by the Alabama Ethics Commission shows that Joe Perkins is registered to lobby for the Alabama Jobs Foundation.
This web-site has proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Matrix and Perkins played a central role in the “Dark Money” campaign against Terry Dunn; and that the firm did so for the benefit of its long-time client, Alabama Power.
Then, as now, Alabama Power won’t say what Matrix does for the company, or how much it pays the firm. As for what Matrix and Perkins do for Alabama Power, here’s the short answer: Dirty work that Alabama Power doesn’t want to be caught doing or be connected with, lest it tarnish the company’s meticulously crafted “Power of Good” image.
That the Alabama Jobs Foundation has engaged McCrary’s old friend Perkins to further its cause should raise the eyebrows of anyone considering supporting its goals of propping up state budgets with gambling proceeds.
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