- Associated Press - Friday, April 10, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - In an arrangement approved by the state Ethics Commission, Gov. Robert Bentley’s interim chief of staff does not receive a salary from the state but for the last year has been paid by PowerSouth Energy Cooperative in Andalusia.

The arrangement puts a private company employee in the hub of the executive branch. However, Bentley said Friday that it is not a conflict because Interim Chief of Staff Seth Hammett does not work on issues related to PowerSouth.

“It’s really not. He was my (Alabama Development Office) director for over a year, almost 18 months, under the same arrangement. We got approval from the Ethics Commission. We want to make sure that there was no problem with that,” Bentley said.

Bentley appointed Hammett as interim chief of staff last May when former Chief of Staff David Perry announced he was resigning. Hammett spent 12 years as the speaker of Alabama House of Representatives including when Bentley was in the House. The Democrat from Andalusia was considered at the time one of most influential politicians in the state.

Bentley Communications Director Jennifer Ardis Bentley said the arrangement is intended to be temporary.

“The Governor asked Seth Hammett to stay for one year, through the 2015 Legislative Session. The Governor will reassess his Chief of Staff position at the conclusion of this legislative session,” Ardis said. The governor’s office describes Hammett’s employment as an “executive loan” arrangement with the company.

There is not a set salary for the position of gubernatorial chief of staff. Former Bentley Chief Of Staff Chuck Malone earned $179,000 in the position. Malone resigned in 2011 after Bentley appointed him as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. It is not known how much he is paid by PowerSouth.

The staff of the Alabama Ethics Commission OK’d the arrangement last year, according to a letter provided by the governor’s office. PowerSouth and the governor’s office had a similar arrangement when Hammett served as director of the Alabama Development Office in 2011.

“The main prohibition, which I know Speaker Hammett, as well as the Governor understand, is that, he cannot use his influence to benefit PowerSouth,” Ethics Commission Chief Counsel Hugh Evans wrote in a letter to the governor’s office on April 30, 2014.

PowerSouth is an energy company that provides wholesale power needs to 16 electric cooperatives and four municipal electric systems in Alabama and northwest Florida. Hammett is the company’s vice president of Business Development. His duties include recruiting business to the company’s service territory.

PowerSouth spokesman Mark Ingram said Hammett continues to do his job for the company.

“We saw it as an opportunity to continue to work hand in hand with the governor’s staff,” Ingram said. “He continues to take care of his duties here,” Ingram said.

Bentley said Hammett’s main duties are his state job.

“He works for me,” Bentley said.

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