The Alabama Ethics Commission sent out letters earlier this month dismissing multiple complaints filed against Fairhope Aiport Authority member Ray Hix, Fairhope Municipal Judge Haymes Snedeker and Fairhope Council President Jack Burrell for alleged violations of the Alabama Ethics Act.
Many of the complaints were filed by local blogger Paul Ripp about a bid that was submitted to the Fairhope Airport Authority for a hangar lease that was eventually awarded to a company owned by Hix and Snedeker.
Ripp alleged the RFP process for a hangar lease at the Fairhope Airport was “grossly flawed and gerrymandered” by Burrell to be awarded to Ray Hix, who sits as a member on the Fairhope Airport Authority.
“The council president was part of a two man ad hoc committee selecting the most qualified bid for a lease hangar space,” Ripp wrote in his complaint to the Ethics Commission. “All of these gentlemen share a common friendship away from the airport. An official investigation should reveal the scope of their business relationship. It is a classic case of the Ethics Commission being played by individuals that manipulate the Commission with their own Advisory opinions.”
In an interview back in February of this year, Burrell showed The Courier numerous documents from the bid process that showed that while the three bids that came in for the hangar lease were close to one another in construction costs, fuel usage for the Hix/Snedeker bid greatly exceeded those from the other bidders, 21 percent higher than the next closest bidder.
“It’s about $6,000 a year more, which is not a small amount,” Burrell said. “Even without the fuel flow, it was still a larger amount, almost 11 percent higher. Those were the numbers the bidders submitted, and we made our recommendation to go with the bid that offered the Authority the most money.”
Burrell added that Hix/Snedeker had to get a formal opinion from the Ethics Commission in order to take part in the bid.
“The Fairhope Airport Authority and Mid-Bay Air went above and beyond to do everything by the books,” Burrell said.
During a Tea for Two talk at the Fairhope Museum last week, Ripp mentioned that his complaints had been dismissed and he accused the Alabama Ethics Commission of corruption and of trying to “whitewash” his complaints with a one-page letter dismissing them.
“The Ethics Commission came through for the elected officials and the 1% who they represent,” Ripp wrote on his blog last Wednesday. “A one page form letter that dismisses a 10 month investigation and hundreds of pages of documents. This is standard operating procedure for the Ethics Commission.”
In that post, Ripp attached two letter sent to him by Thomas Albritton, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, that told him his complaints against Hix and Burrell had been investigated and dismissed.
“The Commission concluded, upon review of the evidence from the investigation, that there was not probable cause to believe that Jack Burrell committed a violation of the Alabama Ethics Act,” Albritton wrote. “Accordingly, your complaint has been dismissed.”
Letters addressed to Hix and Snedeker’s attorney Dennis Bailey also said the Ethics Commission had dismissed the complaints against the pair.
“The complaint has been investigated by Commission investigator Tony Goubil,” the letter said. “The result of that investigation was presented to the members of the Alabama Ethics Commission at their meeting held October, 4 2017. The Commission concluded, upon review of the evidence from the investigation, that there was not probable cause to believe that Ray Hix violated the Alabama Ethics Act. Accordingly, the complaints have been dismissed.”
The letter for Snedeker read the same as above, substituting “Haymes Snedeker” for Hix’s name.
Ripp went further in his comments about the Alabama Ethics Commission in his Friday blog posting.
“One thing you can say about the Alabama Ethics Commission is that they are shamelessly predictable,” Ripp wrote. “To dismiss a complaint and not answer any questions nor offer any explanation as to the allegations, is a whitewash of facts. The Ethics Commission is suppose to be looking out for the citizens of the state. Instead we have a faux organization that protects the connected and convicts the weak. They have become the Unethical Commission.”
On Oct. 19, Hix and Snedeker sent a copy of their letters to Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson and Burrell, saying they hoped the findings from the Ethics Commission would end some of what they called the “slanderous and conspiratorial behavior” undertaken by some local residents.
“We humbly share for the public record the attached letters of exoneration from the baseless and malicious complaints against us that were submitted to the Alabama Ethics Commission,” Hix and Snedeker wrote. “Our sincere hope is that the slanderous and conspiratorial behavior by some individuals in our community will stop immediately. Like most citizens, we are committed to collaboratively working with our city officials and staff to protect and enhance the unparalleled quality of life in Fairhope, Alabama.”
Burrell said the move from the Ethics Commission sending a letter about dismissing the complaints against him and the others was noteworthy.
“It’s an extraordinary move for the Alabama Ethics Commission to even make a comment on cases,” Burrell said. “It proves what we were saying all along - they were baseless allegations with no merit.”
Burrell said he had long felt he would be exonerated by the Ethics Commission.
“I was never concerned I would not be exonerated by the Ethics Commission,” Burrell said. “There was never a shadow of a doubt that I had done anything wrong. There was no question I would be exonerated. It feels good to not have to think about it, but I was never concerned it would actually amount to anything.”