The chief legal officer for Atlanta-based Southern Company, parent firm of Alabama Power, says he found nothing "inappropriate" after reviewing documents related to a Balch Bingham bribery scheme to discourage residents of mostly black North Birmingham from having their soil tested for industrial toxins.
In an interview with Ban Balch Publisher K.B. Forbes, General Counsel Jim Kerr generally pleaded ignorance to the whole affair, even though the Balch-Southern Company relationship goes back almost 100 years. The ties are so tight, in fact, that CEO Tom Fanning has ignored calls to sever ties with Balch and its history of paying $360,000 in bribes to former State Rep. Oliver Robinson to help ensure North Birmingham residents would never know their property was infested with industrial poisons.
In Jim Kerr's world, this is not discrimination or environmental racism -- at a time when Black Lives Matter is becoming a potent force for social and political change. Is Fanning taking the same "Nothing to see here" approach as Kerr? That seems to be the case for now. Writes Forbes at banbalch.com:
Refusing to fire alleged racist law firm Balch Bingham, Southern Company CEO and Chairman Tom Fanning’s leadership is now under attack.Three audio clips from the Kerr-Forbes interview can be heard at the following link. It sounds as if Forbes struggles to suppress guffaws after hearing some of Kerr's answers:
New audio files appear to expose systemic racism at the utility.
In 2018, one of Southern Company ‘s top executives refused to acknowledge or condemn racism attributed to a bribery scheme while on a phone call with the CDLU.
Jim Kerr, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and the Chief Compliance Officer at Southern Company, allegedly reviewed two matters involving Balch after meeting with the CDLU.
One of the matters was the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal whose main objective of suppressing African-Americans from having their toxic property tested by the EPA was born at the offices of the embattled law firm Balch Bingham.
For 98 years, Balch Bingham has received millions in fees from Southern Company and its wholly-owned subsidiaries.
North Birmingham is 92.5 percent African-American.
Kerr had the audacity to dismiss the racist scheme, telling K.B. Forbes, the Chief Executive Officer of the CDLU, “I don’t accept your proposition or your hypothesis.”
Forbes responded, “Should [Balch Bingham] have the right to suppress African-Americans? You think that’s okay? I’m asking you point blank, do you think it’s okay? Do you find it morally repugnant or not Jim? Come on take a stand!”
Kerr seemed to stay mostly in a trance until Forbes raised a well-known incident of racism from the1960s:
Kerr would not react until the CDLU brought up an analogy of Southern Company’s refusal to hold Balch accountable would be like refusing to hold Woolworth's accountable when they “wanted to keep Blacks out of the soda fountain.”
Kerr called CDLU’s analogy “preposterous” but the CDLU rebutted Kerr, saying, that it was accurate because the bribery scheme “discriminated against poor African-Americans in North Birmingham CERLA.”
Kerr then again refused to acknowledge or accept that the North Birmingham scheme discriminated against poor African-Americans, declaring, “I have no evidence that that is the case that any entity involving my organization or any entity based on the information that I’ve been given that that is the case. Your analogy is unfounded.”
Did Kerr, and Fanning, have reason to know Balch was engaging in flagrant environmental racism in North Birmingham? Consider these insights from Forbes;
Jeffrey H. Wood was a lobbyist for Balch Bingham and was lobbying on Capitol Hill in 2016 about the North Birmingham EPA matter at the same time as the bribery scheme in North Birmingham against the EPA was happening.
Former State Representative Oliver Robinson, a Balch partner, and a Drummond Company executive were sentenced to federal prison in the bribery and money laundering scheme.
But Wood was not lobbying on behalf of Drummond.
Wood was lobbying for Alabama Power, whose top three executives (CEO, General Counsel, and VP of Government Affairs) are all former Balch Bingham partners. Alabama Power is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Southern Company.
At first, on the phone call, Kerr said he wasn’t sure what we were asking, but after repeating the question with reminders, he took 5 seconds to respond with a canned legal answer: “It’s, um… I told you that I looked into the information provided me. We reviewed the information and I have no concerns about anything inappropriate.”
Even national news publication geared towards African-American millennials The Root noted Kerr’s 5 seconds of silence:
Kerr responded, “We do not see a place to step into [the Robinson scandal].” That rings hollow considering that Wood, Balch’s point lobbyist for Southern, was lobbying on Superfund policy at the time on behalf of Southern. In fact, Wood has specifically recused himself from any matters at the ENRD pertaining to the 35th Avenue site, suggesting that he was specifically lobbying about the site. After [the CDLU] pointed this out, Kerr took a long pause before going full Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “We reviewed the information. I have no “We reviewed the information. I have no concerns about anything inappropriate.”