JeffCo EMA Council violating Opening Meetings Act?

Alabama's Opening Meetings Act is there to protect people from elected officials abusing power. But it appears as if the council overseeing the Jefferson County EMA could be violating it and potentially allowing decisions about your tax money to go unchecked.{} ABC 33/40 found there are no bylaws, no public notice of meetings and no meeting minutes since 1997. The investigation into the Jefferson County EMA Council started after learning an EMA warehouse paid for by taxpayer dollars was used to store another group's antique fire trucks. 60 thousand taxpayer dollars a year pays rent for an Avondale warehouse. It now stores EMA equipment and trucks. But until a few weeks ago, the council chairman had antique trucks in there.

"He is the chairman. He decided to move the fire trucks in. I knew they moved in," said EMA Coordinator Allen Kniphfer.

Is that a misuse of taxpayer dollars?

"Aren't they [the antique fire trucks] good for the public? The gentlemen bring them to promote fire safety," said Kniphfer, which he says raises awareness about fire safety.

Under the warehouse lease, subletting is not allowed. Kniphfer says he was aware, so no agreement was signed. However, 75 hundred dollars was paid recently for the space used from January through July. Rent is 5,750 dollars a month.

Commissioner Joe Knight serves on the council. He says it concerned him. "We reported it to ethics. We reported to our auditors, which recommended we report to the Office of Public Auditors. We did," he said. {}{}{}

ABC 33/40 also wanted to know what else taxpayer dollars were used for but getting a documented answer wasn't possible. Knight says he doesn't keep any of those documents. He directed ABC 33/40 to EMA where there were no records of public notice, no meeting minutes since 1997 and no bylaws. The coordinator even said council meetings were often called at the end of a Jefferson County Mayor's Association Meeting without any warning. All of those are issues that appear to violate the state's Opening Meetings Act.

"It is what it is. You take what you have. If it's broke, you fix it," said Knight.

The fixes began with public notice of a bylaw committee meeting Wednesday, discussion about drafting bylaws at that meeting and the keeping of minutes.

The council chairman had a death in the family and was unavailable to answer questions about the trucks, procedures and his decision to leave the post next month.