Sparks was representing Gov. Robert Bentley, who defeated the Democrat in the 2010 race for the governor’s office. With him was David Gehman, secretary of the Poarch Band. The money went to the Webster’s Chapel Tornado Relief Organization.
Sparks, the director of the Alabama Office of Rural Development, has joined Gehman in visiting storm-struck communities across the state to donate money to relief efforts. Once the trek is completed, about $500,000 in revenue from the tribe’s casinos will be helping Alabama residents rebuild.
Sparks and the Poarch Band had a relationship well before the storms struck. The Indian group, which operates three casinos in the state, contributed to political action committees that funded Spark’s gubernatorial bid last year, according to camping finance reports.
Sparks’ campaign platform hinged on a new gambling tax and a state lottery as new revenue sources for the state.
It was not that connection, but Sparks’ current role in state government that led the Poarch Band to partner with Sparks on the state storm damage funding tour, Gehman said. Sparks helped direct the Creek donations to the rural areas that needed help most, he said.
“The governor’s interest in Webster’s Chapel was relayed to me to try to help in any way we can,” Sparks said.
Jerry King oversees the Webster’s Chapel Tornado Relief Organization’s fund. He said the money will be used to help local storm victims who do not qualify for federal aid, but still need assistance. King also said though the money was given to the Webster’s Chapel relief fund, it would be used to help storm victims in other Calhoun County communities.
Sparks and the Poarch Band have already visited Hackleburg, Pratt City, Phil Campbell and the former candidate’s native DeKalb County to pass out checks.
“Those needs are just as great as they are everywhere else,” Sparks said.
Gehman said the ongoing tour aims to fulfill the tribe’s promise to help Alabama communities. Without the tribe’s gaming business, the help wouldn’t be possible, though promoting gambling is not the goal, he said.
“It’s not that we’re using it for political leverage,” Gehman said. “Without those (casinos) this would not be happening.”
King said the Webster’s Chapel organization is in the process of registering as a non-profit with the state. People who want to donate to the group’s effort can do so at local Regions Bank branches, King said. He said he hopes the visit Tuesday reminds people of the needs that still exist in storm ravaged communities.
“To me this is a big step in what I hope will open up the community’s eyes and ears,” King said. “The attention seems to be going away.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.