Friday, March 24, 2023

As Birmingham focuses on environmental justice, Southern Company's "De Facto" CEO seems untouched by the suffering many of his customers face

K.B. Forbes (left) and Jim Kerr

Just-released audio files capture a high-level Southern Company executive dismissing concerns about environmental racism in the North Birmingham neighborhood, which is predominantly Black and riddled with pollution, according to a report today at Meanwhile, K.B. Forbes (CEO of the CDLU public charity and advocacy group) reports at that the CDLU, and law enforcement, now possess documents (including financial spreadsheets) that conclusively show Southern Company was involved in the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal and the Burt Newsome Conspiracy Case.

As for the audio files in question, they do not just capture the voice of a high-level executive, it's the voice of a man who, for now, essentially is running Southern Company. That's according to Donald Watkins, a longtime Alabama attorney and businessman. Under the headline "Jim Kerr, Southern Company's Top Lawyer & Chief of Staff Exposed!"Watkins writes:

James Y. (Jim) Kerr serves as the Southern Company’s general counsel, chief compliance officer, and chief of staff to CEO Tom Fanning. Kerr also functions as the company’s “De Facto” CEO.

Documents and audiotapes made available to us have exposed Jim Kerr's true colors. This is a man who smiles in the faces of black company executives, employees, and board members, while defiantly refusing to acknowledge and condemn environmental racism when concrete examples of such racism are brought to his direct attention.

Jim Kerr is dripping with a dangerous form of racism, albeit polite in form and sophisticated in delivery. He is embedded in a Wall Street utility company that serves a heavily black customer base. In the ordinary course of business, the Southern Company takes money every month from millions of black customers and uses this money to maintain and fortify the very apparatuses that keep blacks downtrodden and trapped in poor, polluted neighborhoods.

In this article, you will hear Jim Kerr’s insensitivity to the environmental racism suffered by a group of North Birmingham black residents who are also Southern Company customers. Listen to the tone of his voice and his spoken words.

That brings us to the audio files, which are from an interview K.B. Forbes conducted with Kerr. Watkins sprinkles sections of the audio throughout his article, which can be found by clicking this link. The full interview, in one piece, can be heard by clicking on the link in the following paragraph:

The entire Kevin Forbes-Jim Kerr audio recording is available for your listening pleasure by clicking the link below:

What do we learn from the audio? Jim Kerr seems to have little, or no, concern about the suffering of Black people, many of whom are customers of Southern Company and Alabama Power. Such suffering, it appears, does not touch the world in which Jim Kerr operates. Writes Watkins:

An audiotape we have obtained captures a 2018 phone call between Jim Kerr and Kevin B. Forbes (referred to as "K.B." on the audio recording), who serves as the chief executive officer of CDLU. During the call, Forbes discussed several topics with Kerr, including racketeering activity, criminal conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and the environmental racism involved in the infamous North Birmingham Bribery Case.

This article focuses on the environmental racism discussed during the call. Future articles will focus on the nature and scope of Kerr's knowledge of the Southern Company's criminal racketeering enterprise, accounting fraud, and obstruction of justice.

The backdrop for the environmental racism discussion begins with the North Birmingham Bribery Investigation in 2016. In this bribery case, the Southern Company knowingly allowed Alabama Power Company, one of its most profitable affiliates, and Balch & Bingham, its longtime law firm, to establish a phony non-profit entity to raise $360,000 that was later laundered through another entity and used to bribe former state Rep. Oliver Robinson. Email chains show that Southern Company was in the loop on the bribery scheme from the beginning.

Robinson took the bribery money in a quid pro quo arrangement in which he agreed to oppose community and regulatory efforts to designate heavily polluted black neighborhoods in North Birmingham as EPA Superfund sites. Designation as a Superfund site would have forced the industrial polluters to clean-up the neighborhoods at company expense.

Watkins breaks down the interview for readers, and it does not portray Jim Kerr, or his firm, in a flattering light:

Kevin Forbes characterized the toxic pollution in North Birmingham and related Oliver Robinson bribery scheme as an example of modern-day environmental racism. Kerr bluntly dismissed this characterization, “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!”

Jim Kerr did not react with any degree of passion until Forbes brought up an analogy of Southern Company’s refusal to hold Balch & Bingham accountable would be like refusing to hold Woolworth accountable when they “wanted to keep Blacks out of the soda fountain.”

Kerr called Forbes’ analogy “preposterous.” Forbes rebutted Kerr, saying, that it was accurate because the bribery scheme “discriminated against poor African-Americans in North Birmingham CERLA.”

Again, Kerr refused to acknowledge or accept that the North Birmingham scheme discriminated against poor blacks, by 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.

The conversation then reaches a five-second gap, which seems to speak volumes in its silence. Writes Watkins:

Forbes then confronted Kerr with the fact that Jeffrey H. Wood, a lobbyist for Balch & Bingham, 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.

Oliver Robinson and two other co-defendants (i.e., a Balch & Bingham partner and a Drummond Company executive) were sentenced to federal prison in the bribery and money-laundering scheme.

Jeffrey Wood, however, was not lobbying on behalf of Drummond. He was lobbying for Alabama Power, whose top three executives at the time (i.e., CEO, General Counsel, and VP of Government Affairs) were all former Balch & Bingham partners.

All three executives eventually reported to Jim Kerr in his role as Southern Company general counsel, chief compliance officer, and chief of staff for Tom Fanning.

At first, Jim Kerr said he wasn’t sure what Forbes was asking, but after Forbes repeated the question with certain reminders, Kerr took 5 seconds to respond with this 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.

Documents now available, including internal Southern Company emails, add significant context to the equation, Watkins writes:

Today, we know from a flood of Southern Company internal emails and other documents made available to us that Jim Kerr lied to Kevin Forbes when he claimed that neither the Southern Company, nor any entity affiliated with it, participated in the North Birmingham Bribery Scheme. Based upon the emails and other documents, the bribery scheme appears to have been a Southern Company operation, from concept to execution and from top to bottom.

This bribery case was "fixed" to avoid any mention of Southern Company or Alabama Power during the trial. U.S. Attorney Jay Town shutdown the criminal investigation before it could touch the true ringleaders in the bribery scheme.

Jay Town and then-Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite celebrated Town's "fix" of the bribery case by chugging down drinks at a secluded Birmingham lounge.

What is worse, a racially insensitive, obviously untruthful, and very compromised Jim Kerr is presently overseeing the Southern Company's internal investigation by the law firm of King & Spalding into the company's criminal racketeering enterprise, accounting-fraud scheme, and obstruction of justice. This is a major conflict of interest for Kerr. He is too implicated in all aspects of this legal mess. At this juncture, Jim Kerr needs his own lawyer.

The King & Spalding investigation is part of the Southern Company's request for a non-prosecution agreement, which Jim Kerr thinks Bill Clinton can deliver for the company and its affiliates via his political hookups in Washington.

The audio recording is a damning piece of evidence against the Southern Company. It also supports the criminal RICO complaints filed with the Department of Justice in January and March of 2023 against the Southern Company, Alabama Power, and those entities and persons who acted in concert with them.

Jim Kerr seems oblivious to Alabama's tortured history on race, so Watkins provides a few reminders:

Here is the documented history of racism and discrimination against blacks that Jim Kerr refused to acknowledge or condemn:

In May of 1933, Birmingham, Alabama City Engineer A.J. Hawkins released a city map that ranked its neighborhoods and communities as follows:

1. Best

2. Still Desirable

3. Definitely Declining

4. Hazardous

5. Negro Concentration

6. Commercial and Industrial

7. Undeveloped

Black neighborhoods were deemed less desirable than those areas that were contaminated with hazardous waste. All-white city, county, and state public officials ran the state of Alabama in 1933. Jim Crow laws and customs were rigidly enforced.

Black Birmingham residents could do very little to improve the quality of their neighborhoods. The delivery of basic city services to “Negro Concentration” neighborhoods was pretty much an afterthought. Yet, this did not stop these black residents from trying to improve their communities and plight in life.

By the 1960s, blacks in Birmingham decided that they were willing to face fire hoses, police dogs, church bombings, home bombings, and death in order to end the sweltering heat of Jim Crow oppression. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote about the suffocating conditions of racial segregation in his infamous 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail."

Birmingham played a pivotal role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Voting Rights Act made it possible for blacks in the South to register to vote and elect candidates of their choice to public office. Over time, the Voting Rights Act changed the color, face, and responsiveness of state and local governments throughout Alabama and across the South.

In 1979, Birmingham elected Dr. Richard Arrington, Jr. as its first black mayor. With his election, the civil rights movement that began in the streets had been ushered into City Hall. City government became inclusive, responsive, and progressive in all facets of municipal services, and in all neighborhoods.

By 2018, environmental justice had moved to the forefront of the national civil rights agenda. Black residents in North Birmingham wanted the industrial polluters who poisoned the air, ground, and water in their community to clean it up.

By then, these polluters were in an unholy alliance with the Southern Company, Alabama Power, and seven other networking partners.

Jim Kerr knew, or should have known, all of this shameful history. Yet, he chose to summarily dismiss it. To Kerr, the pain, suffering, and plight of North Birmingham's black residents, who are also Southern Company customers, simply did not matter.

What is more, Jim Kerr, who is the chief lawyer for the Southern Company and all of its affiliates, knew, or should have known, that a federal court in Dillard v. Crenshaw, 640 F. Supp. 1347, 1357 (M.D. Ala. 1986), found, as a judicial fact, that Alabama "had an unrelenting historical agenda, spanning from the late 1800s to the 1980s, to keep its black citizens economically, socially, and politically downtrodden, from the cradle to the grave." This judicial finding had been cited and adopted by dozens of courts by the time of the Forbes/Kerr recorded conversation.

Jim Kerr, it turns out, has played a major role in placing Southern Company in a legal, public-relations, financial, regulatory, and moral jam. Writes Watkins:

In light of the established historical record of environmental racism in Alabama and across America, Jim Kerr represents the most dangerous form of white racism – a highly-educated person with an Old South, dismissive attitude toward racism who characterizes the black experience with racism as a "hypothesis" and who willfully disregards the environmental protection rights, pain, and suffering of poor blacks whose housing options are limited by pervasive discrimination and unchecked bank redlining practices.

Since 2014, Jim Kerr has been peddling this brand of racism throughout the Southern Company and its affiliates. Because of his positions within the company, Kerr’s brand of racism can spread like wildfire throughout the Southern Company ecosystem, and beyond.

Jim Kerr's words and deeds have caused irreparable harm to the Southern Company's brand and good name. The Southern Company saga just gets worse from here.

Stay tuned! Much more mind-blowing Southern Company news is coming your way. The company's board members are up next.

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