DECATUR, Ala. — The Decatur City Council races include an unusual proposal by an attorney who works for the City of Decatur in the ongoing 3M litigation. He proposed to work behind the scenes against two incumbent candidates — candidates critical of the way the 3M litigation is being handled.
The outside counsel Barney Lovelace, and the law firm representing Decatur in the 3M litigation, are currently being paid by 3M, the company said, at the request of Decatur and Morgan County.
Incumbent council members Paige Bibbee and Charles Kirby were the subjects of a January email authored by Lovelace, sent to members of his law firm. In the email, Lovelace says he talked to Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce officials about looking for candidates to challenge Bibbee and Kirby.
Read the full memo here:
Both have opponents in next week’s election. Kirby is being challenged by Hunter Pepper, a small business owner and recent high school graduate.
Bibbee has three opponents, Ray Glaze, Carlton McMasters and Philip Wright.
Lovelace did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Kirby says the attorney’s letter was designed to shape Tuesday’s upcoming elections.
“It’s a clear statement of intent to have an impact on elections,” he said. “What the average citizen doesn’t know is that impact has already been there for years. This is just more overt than normal.”
In the email, Lovelace pledges to support would-be candidates, but quietly.
“… I could not be publicly involved in this effort, but very deep behind the scenes, I would help as needed,” he wrote.
Lovelace and his firm still represent Decatur in the 3M litigation.
The City of Decatur paid the firm’s legal for a time as part of the ongoing 3M litigation.
Then that changed, Bibbee says, in 2018.
3M is now paying for Lovelace and his firm to represent the city in the ongoing litigation. 3M says that’s because Decatur and Morgan County asked the company to do so.
“As part of settlement negotiations with the City of Decatur, Morgan County and others related to PFAS in the Decatur area, the City and County have demanded—and 3M has agreed—that 3M reimburse them for legal fees and expenses incurred as the negotiations continue,” a 3M spokesman told WHNT News 19.
But there’s no formal record of the Decatur City Council making that request, according to Decatur City Attorney Herman Marks. He said the request came up during lawsuit mediation — a process with broad confidentiality rules — where Lovelace and his firm are representing Decatur.
“At that time, Mr. Lovelace brokered a deal with 3M to pay our legal fees,” Bibbee said. “I asked for documentation of that, just to see what the terms and conditions of that contract were, and I was told by our attorney that Mr. Lovelace said that was confidential in nature and could not be shared with council.”
Bibbee and Kirby have been critical of the pace of settlement talks between 3M and the Tennessee Riverkeeper, the organization that sued the company, Decatur, Morgan County and others in 2016. The suit alleges 3M chemicals polluted the Tennessee River.
The two council members have also questioned if another attorney with an environmental background should be hired and whether Decatur should switch sides and sue 3M.
That’s not the only source of friction between Bibbee and Lovelace.
Bibbee has also publicly opposed a request that council members sign a nondisclosure agreement related to 3M discussions.
In mid-June, the Decatur City Council moved to limit Mayor Tab Bowling’s ability to approve lawsuit settlements, like the case involving 3M, without council approval. Bowling was not happy about the move and offered his own prediction about the five-member council’s future.
“I don’t understand what in the world y’all are trying to do as far as changing, amending this code, this ordinance,” Bowling said. “Especially considering that four of the five councilmembers are pretty much lame ducks and will not see another opportunity to serve this city.”
Councilman Billy Jackson is running unopposed. Councilmembers Kristi Hill and Chuck Ard are not seeking reelection. Bibbee and Kirby are on the ballot.
3M recently entered into a far-reaching consent agreement with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for chemical cleanup and remediation of properties in Decatur, Morgan County and Lawrence County.
WHNT News 19 asked 3M if it was aware of Lovelace’s letter and proposal to help candidates in the upcoming election.
“3M has not and will not take a position in local Decatur municipal elections,” the company told WHNT News 19.
Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce officials discussed the council races with Lovelace, according to the email.
John Seymour, the chamber’s president and CEO, said the chamber’s political action committee, Prosperity PAC chose not to endorse any candidates in this year’s Decatur municipal elections.
“Our primary goal is to make sure there are people running for office that have Decatur and Morgan County needs as a priority,” Seymour told WHNT. “We believe that to the be the case.”
Suggest a Correction
Suggest a Correction