Joining Forces: Jeffco Debates Combining Inspections, Storm Water and Development Offices

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Solomon Crenshaw Jr., BirminghamWatch

Jefferson County Commissioner Joe Knight

Jefferson County could someday come close to being a one-stop-shop when it comes to inspections, storm water and land development.

Commissioners heard a report during their committee meeting Tuesday morning about merging those three departments, as called for by a federal receiver in charge of  the county’s human resources.

Zhaleh McCullers, director of the Storm Water Management and interim director of Development Services for the county, made a report to commissioners, complete with slides and graphs. Improving efficiency and service to citizens were two key elements.

The presentation included the number of staffers in each separate department and noted how consolidation ultimately could reduce the overall cost of operation while cutting down the places citizens would have to go to get permits.

McCullers said the public would get the most benefit and the county would enhance use of existing staff. Once approved, she said, the transfer could take six months to two years.

“With this going into play, this puts us in the 21st century,” county manager Tony Petelos said.

McCullers said she is retiring in three years. She hopes she’ll be handing the revised operation to a successor “not on a silver platter but a golden platter.”

Commissioners were generally pleased with the concept, which includes the possibility of purchasing permits online and eliminating trips to a courthouse. But there were some concerns.

Commission President Jimmy Stephens said the main thing for which they are looking is the combined departments to remain operationally effective.

“The primary concern is with litter and trash,” he said. “Now we have one person and then another individual who actually controls the enforcement area. We would now have five people in zones who would do that. That enforcement is the deterrent to future perpetrators.”

Commissioner Joe Knight echoed that sentiment.

“If somebody dumps a bag of garbage out in a remote area, especially out in unincorporated county, we have somebody who will go out there and go through that trash,” he said. “That is not a glamorous job but it’s a necessity.”

The plan, Knight said, is for that job to be done by a zoning inspector. Those, he said, are two different tasks.

“We just have to see if it’s going to work,” Knight said.

A federal judge appointed a receiver over Jefferson County’s Human Resources Department in October. The judge gave the receiver charge to bring the county into compliance with a consent decree. Three decades ago, the lawsuits were filed claiming the county discriminated against blacks and women in hiring.

Asked about the consent decree, Stephens said everything the commission does regarding personnel is done in conjunction with the federal receiver.

 

Addressing Violence

In another matter, District Attorney Pro Tem Danny Carr told commissioners about Birmingham’s Violence Reduction Initiative. He spoke about call-in sessions, during which people are brought into a meeting because they seem to be in line to be a witness, victim or perpetrator of a violent crime, based on research from police and incident reports,

Carr said people at those sessions are told that he and others in law enforcement want to see them alive, safe and not in prison.

“It’s geared toward gun violence, or any violence that occurs against a person,” Carr said. “We talk with them and we make certain promises to them in exchange for services we can render them to help them get out of a life of crime.”

Commissioners also presented a resolution declaring April Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Jefferson County.

“Sexual violence is a prevalent issue across all communities in Jefferson County,” said Meg McGlamery, executive director of the Crisis Center. “We want people to know that there’s help. Someone who’s been hurt in some way sexually, the Crisis Center is here, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The Crisis Center can be reached by calling 205-323-7273.

 

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