HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Serve the city of Huntsville as a council member or work at the city’s utility company. State Senator Paul Sanford demands Huntsville City Councilman John Olshefski choose one of those options.
Some are raising eyebrows at the councilman’s new job. One group wants the councilman to give up his seat and let someone else serve as councilman.
Sen. Sanford learned recently, like other lawmakers, Huntsville Utilities hired Councilman Olshefski. Olshefski will soon be the utility company’s President of Customer Care.
“We were all shocked that it occurred. So, Thursday after we left Montgomery, I felt like I needed to address it because I had received multiples emails and phone calls asking what’s going on and can he do this,” said Sen. Sanford.
Olshefski, who represents District Three on the council, told WHNT NEWS 19 on Wednesday he finds no conflict of interest working at Huntsville Utilities.
“The bottom line is that we’ve done the whole research. The bottom line is that I will have to recuse myself from anything to do with Huntsville Utilities on my term,” said Councilman Olshefski.
Sen. Sanford appreciates the councilman’s kind gesture. He said he can’t get out of his head how it looks, though.
“He obviously notices there is a conflict of interest or he would not have to recuse himself from a vote on that,” added Sen. Sanford.
Sen. Sanford believes the councilman is breaking state law. He points to Alabama Code Section 11-44-94 which reads:
Conflicts of interest of municipal officers and employees
No officer or employee elected or appointed in any such city or town shall be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract for work or material or the profits thereof or services to be furnished or performed for the city or town, and no such officer or employee shall be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract for work or materials or the profits thereof or services to be furnished or performed for any person, firm, or corporation operating an interurban railway, street railway, gas works, electric light or power plant, heating plant, telegraph line, or telephone exchange within the territorial limits of said city.
No such commissioner or other official of such city or town shall be interested in or be an employee temporarily, professionally or otherwise, of any person, partnership, corporation, or association operating any public service utility within said city or town.
No such officer or employee shall accept or receive, directly or indirectly, from any person, firm, or corporation operating within the territorial limits of said city or town any interurban railway, railway, street railway, gas works, waterworks, electric light or power plant, heating plant, telegraph line or telephone exchange, or other business using or operating under a public franchise, any frank, free pass, free ticket or free service or accept or receive, directly or indirectly, from any such person, firm, or corporation any gift or other thing of value, or any service upon terms more favorable than are granted to the public generally. Every such contract or agreement shall be void. Such prohibition of free transportation shall not apply to policemen or firemen in uniform nor to policemen in the discharge of their duty, nor shall any free service to city or town officials heretofore provided by any franchise or ordinance be affected by this section.
Any violation of the provisions of this section shall be a misdemeanor; and, upon conviction thereof, the guilty person shall be punished by a fine of not less than $100.00 nor more than $500.00, and may be imprisoned in the county jail for not more than 90 days and shall also be removed from office.
Jeannee Gannuch, President of the South Huntsville Civic Association, sent this statement:
“Councilman John Olshefski is in clear violation of the Code of Alabama, Section 11-44-94. For this reason, South Huntsville Civic Association demands his immediate resignation. We must move as soon as possible to restore representation to the citizens of District 3.”
The Huntsville City Attorney told WHNT NEWS 19 Chapter 44 of Title 11 does not apply to this situation. Peter Joffrion says it only applies to cities and towns organized under a “commission” form of government. Huntsville has a mayor-council form of government.
Sen. Sanford has requested a formal investigation by the Alabama Ethics Commission. You can read the request by clicking EthicsComplaint.
Sen. Sanford’s office sent WHNT NEWS 19 the Alabama Code it believes applies to the city of Huntsville.
Aldermen not to hold other municipal offices or have interest, etc., in municipal contracts, etc.; penalty.
(a) No member of any city or town council shall, during the time for which he has been elected, be appointed to any municipal office which shall be created or the emoluments of which shall be increased during the term for which he shall have been elected; nor shall he be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract or job for work or material, or the profits thereof or services to be performed for the corporation, except as provided in this title.
(b) Any person who violates any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than $50.00 nor more than $1,000.00, and may also be sentenced to hard labor for the county for not more than six months.