The Birmingham Airport Authority (BAA) has appealed a decision by the Alabama Ethics Commission determining that the BAA’s employees are considered public employees under Alabama’s ethics law.
Numerous requirements and restrictions accompany the designation as “public employees” for purposes of the ethics law, including the filing of annual statements of economic interest with the ethics commission.
Under Alabama’s ethics law, the triggering event which makes someone a public employee is that they are “paid in whole or in part from state, county, or municipal funds.” While BAA’s employees are not paid in whole or in part from public funds, the ethics commission employed a more activist interpretation of the law and deemed them public employees.
BAA contends that because the salaries of its employees come from user and landing fees paid by airlines, as well as rental and concession fees at the airport, they do not fall within the provisions of the ethics law.
Mark White, attorney for BAA, believes the commission’s interpretation of the law could have a wide-ranging impact across Alabama.
“Immediately after the Opinion it became apparent that the Opinion impacted thousands of Alabama citizens who work for various Authorities throughout the State, and who had always been classified as not being ‘public employees,'” he noted in a statement to Yellowhammer News.
Following the issuance of the commission’s opinion in August, executive director Tom Albritton commented to Yellowhammer News that he did not know how many people would be affected by the decision.
Both sides to the appeal agreed to stay the operation of the opinion, for the time being. Under Judge Brooke Reid’s order, affected persons will not have to comply with the commission’s regulatory requirements until a determination is made in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Albritton explained the commission’s reasoning behind agreeing to the stay.
“The Commission agreed to the Stay because although we’re confident that we decided the issue correctly, we thought it was only fair to those affected by the Opinion to delay its operation until the Opinion is affirmed,” he outlined.
One source familiar with Alabama’s Ethics Act agreed with White’s assessment of the impact of the ethics commission’s opinion.
“My sense is that [the commission] added thousands of people to the rolls of the list of ‘public employees’ restricted by the Act because they read the qualifying clause as having no field of operation,” the source observed.
Albritton indicated in a statement that the commission planned to answer BAA’s complaint “within the time provided under the Rules of Civil Procedure, if not sooner.”
Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer News