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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Rep. Mike Hubbard, recently ended a private consulting agreement between his company and a utility in Southeast Alabama.
The Southeast Alabama Gas District, an Andalusia based utility, signed into an economic development consulting agreement with the Auburn Network Inc. in February 2012. SEAGD agreed to pay the Auburn Network for the consulting services of Mike Hubbard, $12,000 per month for two years from the beginning of the contract. At the time the contract was voided, at the request of Auburn Network Inc., SEAGD had paid at least $204,000.
Hubbard founded the Auburn Network in 1994 and has been its President and CEO ever since.
The consulting contract stipulates that Hubbard, as an employee of the Auburn Network, would provide "economic development services for SEAGD, including identifying and delivering economic development prospects for facilities utilizing natural gas, such facilities to be located within SEAGD's service area."
According to the Southeast Alabama Gas District's website, the utility provides gas services to a handful of different municipalities in the Wiregrass section of Alabama including Dothan and Troy.
Last June, SEAGD paid for Rep. Hubbard to travel to France for the Paris Show with his wife to recruit aviation suppliers and similar companies on behalf of SEAGD. He also attended meetings with Gov. Robert Bentley who traveled to Paris with Greg Canfield, Alabama's Secretary of Commerce. The state paid for Gov. Bentley and Secretary Canfield's trips, to the tune of about $90,000 according to a spokeswoman for Gov. Bentley.
The Director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, Jim Sumner, said Hubbard and representatives for SEAGD checked with the agency before it entered into the contract with the Auburn Network. Sumner said he, along with Ethics Commission Chief Counsel Hugh Evans, advised that the contract passed legal muster with them.
"They understand that [Rep. Hubbard] can do nothing through the legislative arena to assist them" Sumner said. "From the way I understand it, [SEAGD] just wanted help from [Hubbard] to get more businesses into Southeast Alabama."
Sumner pointed out that even though Hubbard is one of, if not, the most powerful member of the Alabama Legislature. Even though he has control over committee assignments and which bills receive floor debate, his authority alone can't disqualify him from pursuing private business interests.
"No," Sumner said. "We have a citizen legislature. They all have private outside interests."
Sumner said he's convinced that the agreement Auburn Network Inc. was not one designed for Rep. Hubbard to use his office for personal gain. He also said that given Hubbard's long history in the legislature, he understands the "dos and don'ts" of the ethics code.
Sumner added, "He knows that you can't use your position to get a contract and once you are involved in some outside contract with somebody, you then can't use your position within the legislature to introduce something that would benefit them."
Specifically related to SEAGD paying for Hubbard to attend the Paris Air Show, he said there's a clear economic development mission there.
"You have a number of business interests in Alabama, maybe approaching 50 interests, that pool their efforts together that make sure the delegation that goes over gets the most bang for its buck, not only for the state but for the business community throughout the state," Sumner said.
Repeated interview requests to speak with Rep. Hubbard have been denied over the past month.
Rep. Hubbard's Director of Communications, Rachel Adams, provided a statement on behalf of the Speaker. The statement said, "Auburn Network, Inc. recently asked the Southeast Alabama Gas District to void their agreement with our company because of unfounded criticism being generated by politically-motivated liberal groups in Montgomery. Auburn Network is confident that the economic development contacts, leads and prospects it developed while working with SEAGD will soon lead to more jobs, industry and opportunity for the citizens of the Wiregrass region."
It is unclear what income, if any, Rep. Hubbard earned from the contract that Auburn Network Inc held with SEAGD. Hubbard would not have to provide that consulting income to the Alabama Ethics Commission because it was an agreement with the Auburn Network and not him personally.
A spokeswoman for SEAGD, Shannon Jackson, said the company worked specifically with the Speaker of the House on economic development efforts. She said Hubbard helped the company create a lead list, and to develop contacts locally, regionally, and statewide.
Jackson added that Hubbard's efforts helped lead to a coming jobs announcement in Dothan. She said the details of a future project will emerge soon that will bring 500 jobs to the area.