By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – After several months of speculation and threats, Alabama Power Company has officially severed ties with the Business Council of Alabama.
In a letter to BCA chairman Perry Hand, Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite said the state’s business lobby had “alienated federal and state officials, failed to communicate with its own members, squandered our collective corporate goodwill, allowed its financial health to decline, and become a divisive force in our State.”
In response, Hand thanked Crosswhite for the official letter, but noted that Alabama Power ceased to be an active member of the BCA since April because of its lapse in dues payments.
“As you know, we have worked diligently to address the concerns and issues you have raised; however, we have not, in good conscience, been able to adhere to the deadline dates you have prescribed to our Executive Committee,” Hand wrote.
For almost a year, the Power Company has sought the removal of BCA’s CEO Billy Canary. Spokesman Michael Sznajderman cited concerns about “leadership and effectiveness” within BCA, but did not comment further.
As previously reported, one point of contention has been Canary’s outspoken support of education reform and the right-to-work, two core BCA legislative agenda items for which Alabama Power does not share share the same zeal as other companies.
The effort to oust Canary and change BCA leadership eventually turned into an aggressive smear campaign against Canary, Hand and other BCA officers.
Hand and other members of BCA’s executive committee resisted calls to immediately remove Canary, seeing it as a hostile takeover of sorts.
They also bristled at attacks launched via online media outlets, which Hand referenced in his response to Crosswhite.
“[T]his internal debate has played out in public with paid political bloggers launching false statements and defamatory rhetoric, hoping to interfere with these orderly discussions. These attacks have deteriorated to personal attacks on volunteer business leaders of BCA, myself included. This behavior is unacceptable and our organization will not allow these personal attacks to alter our course for an orderly transition of executive leadership at BCA.”
Demands & Deadlines
According to BCA’s Perry Hand, Alabama Power’s Mark Crosswhite previously demanded Canary’s removal by May 1 of this year. The deadline then moved to June 1.
The BCA executive committee “did not concur” with that deadline, according to Hand, and instead attempted to implement a transition process that would see a new CEO in place by January 1, 2019. That timeline, it was thought, would not interfere with the organization’s political efforts in the 2018 elections. It would also see Canary step down a year before his contract is set to expire, a concession not previously reported or acknowledged.
That did not satisfy Crosswhite, according to a company source familiar with his thinking.
Hand said the final demand came last week from an intermediary who suggested that the immediate appointment of former House Speaker Seth Hammett, a Democrat, as the interim CEO of BCA would smooth over tensions.
Hammett, who also served as Alabama Development Office Director and Chief of Staff in the Bentley administration, is a lobbyist for PowerSouth Energy Cooperative.
Hand said that, while he considers Hammett a personal friend, he had to tell the intermediary “that’s just not going to fly” with the BCA board.
Attempts to reach Hammett for comment have so far been unsuccessful.
Their repeated demands and deadlines not met, Alabama Power officially severed ties on Monday.
“Despite repeated assurances that our concerns will be addressed, there has been no meaningful response. At this point, further discussions would be fruitless and a waste of everyone’s time,” Crosswhite wrote.
The BCA-Alabama Power break-up has long been expected and was probably inevitable given how dug in the two organizations became during this process.
Some are speculating that other corporations could follow Alabama Power in severing ties with BCA and starting their own business group.
Would that hurt the organization’s bottom line and or effectiveness? BCA leaders say no, that the organization has more than one year’s operating expenses in reserve and remains home to nearly 4,000 dues-paying member businesses.
The decision to exit BCA comes one month until runoff elections for state primary contests in which the business community is actively engaged.
Hand at least kept the door open to the power company returning to the fold once tensions cooled.
“Our door remains open to you and all Alabama businesses who wish to move our state forward,” he wrote.
“Thank you for the support given to the BCA in the past, and I truly hope that our actions in the coming weeks will justify your support once again.”