DECATUR, Ala. – Recently, Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling authored a Facebook post criticizing 3M then removed it from the page. The mayor told News 19 writing the post was a mistake and that is why he took it down.
The post Bowling wrote says in part, “Decatur 3M has hurt us beyond our limits.”
This presents a major shift in messaging from the mayor who has often expressed confidence in the company or declined to comment about 3M. The city is a co-defendant with 3M in a lawsuit asking for the clean up of chemicals the corporation discharged into the Tennessee River.
In 2019, council members were asked to sign non-disclosure forms that related to ongoing mediation in two lawsuits involving 3M. If signed, the city council would be barred from alerting the public of a health threat related to the litigation without a vote. Four council members refused to sign.
David Whiteside is the co-founder of Tennessee Riverkeeper, an environmental watchdog group that filed the lawsuit.
“I wish he hadn’t deleted the post,” Whiteside said.
Whiteside says was surprised by the post.
“It’s really the first time I’ve heard him complain about them at all,” he said.
But he says it also creates concerns.
“I’m concerned about what level of harm he’s talking about with the community. I’d like to know more about that,” Whiteside explained.
Mayor Bowling told News 19 he was being treated for COVID-19 when the message was posted. He said he was prescribed strong steroids at the time and the post was a mistake. He also said he is encouraged by the negotiations, but could not provide any details – including if 3M would replace or repair the aquatic center or ball fields.
“I am concerned that he is asking them for new baseball fields and a news aquatic center when we should be focused on the best clean up possible and forcing them to expeditiously clean up this pollution, not new ball fields. That’s not a trade,” Whiteside said.
News 19 asked Whiteside if he thought the post could impact negotiations with 3M.
“I would think that 3M would be taking would be taking the mayor and the city a lot more seriously with what he just said about them,” he stated.
News 19 also contacted Decatur city council members about the post. They did not offer any reaction to the post itself.
Carlton McMaster released the following statement:
“As a city council member, I only want what’s best for Decatur. Having just recently taken office, I think it would be premature to comment on what effect, if any, the mayor’s comments could have in the ongoing negotiations with 3M. The health and safety of Decatur, our citizens and our river is of the utmost importance to me, and I do think it is extremely important to maintain a working relationship with 3M that renders a positive solution for Decatur.”
Jacob Ladner responded to our inquiry with this statement:
“I did see the post from the Mayor. I would defer any questions about his to post to him. As far as the ongoing litigation involving 3M, I want the best outcome for our citizens that is possible. As a company that has been a part of our city for a long time, I am sure that 3M wants a similar outcome.”
Kyle Dukes Pike issued this statement:
“I have seen the post. I have no comment on the Mayor’s post or his stance on the 3M lawsuit, with ongoing litigation I prefer not to comment until I have more information regarding the settlement. It is my hope that the relationship between the City and 3M will continue to be positive as we work towards a solution.”
Pike, Ladner and McMaster all said they had not talked to the mayor about the post. Councilors Hunter Pepper and Billy Jackson did not respond to our request for comment.
A 3M spokesperson released the following statement to News 19 about Bowling’s Facebook post: “3M remains committed to working with the city in the ongoing mediation efforts.”
3M is currently under a consent order with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management that requires the company to clean up PFAS chemicals in, Decatur, and Morgan and Lawrence counties.