Jefferson County commissioners learned Tuesday that Wheless Partners will be hired to conduct a nationwide search to replace County Manager Tony Petelos, who announced his retirement recently.
“They’re going to be contacting all the commissioners to get input,” Petelos said. “I felt like having a local company would be better than having a company from out of state.”
Commissioner Lashunda Scales asked whether bids were taken for the job, but Petelos said they were not. Wheless Partners was hired under a personal services contract, he said.
Scales expressed concern that the county not slip into any of the hiring practices that got it placed under a consent decree.
“Our county attorney worked very hard to try to get us out of an age-old issue, and I see the training wheels kind of falling off,” Scales said. “That’s my concern because of (Petelos’) departure and another person is departing. I just want to make sure that whoever this firm is that is chosen, I’d be very interested in knowing how they go about their recruitment. Is it going to be public and if it is, where is it being published? I just want to know that.”
After the meeting, Scales said she wants the next county manager to be inclusive. She said she wants someone who has the county’s best interest at heart when considering the kind of individual to be hired and how that person interacts with the community.
“It’s very important that, as we move forward, that we have a leader in this county … that is going to ensure that everyone has a fair chance when it comes to employment and engagement with Jefferson County,” Scales said.
Human Resources Consultant
Commissioner Joe Knight questioned whether the county’s Human Resources Department will ever not need the services of Siena Consulting. A request to pay $167,406.25 to extend the Siena contract another year was moved to Thursday’s commission agenda.
“Will we be able to one day run our own HR department without having consultants to run it for us or consult with us, in order to tell us how to run it?” Knight asked.
Human Resources Director Caroline Brown said her department benefits from the consultants.
“They’re providing integration and assessment services for us,” Brown said. “We’ll look at what we do in the future beyond this two years.”
Brown said Knight asked a fair question, “but I think we need to have more discussion about that outcome.”
Port Authority Expansion
Commissioners moved to Thursday’s agenda an agreement to loan $840,000 to the Birmingham-Jefferson County Port Authority. The money would help acquire property and build a 20,000-square-foot building that the port authority will lease. The county will charge no interest on the loan.
David A. Russell Jr., executive director of the port authority, said the building should be complete by March 2022.
Scales was enthused about the prospects of the project and the increased cargo coming through the port.
“I’m thankful, Commissioner (Steve) Ammons, that you’ve been really on top of things as it relates to this port authority. I can kind of now finally see some tangibles happening, as opposed to just putting money in a dark hole.”
BJCC, and Polling Place
Ammons presented a request for support for the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex as it seeks funding for researching and evaluating the economic aspects of additional venues on the BJCC campus and nearby vicinity.
Commissioners also heard about splitting a pair of polling places in Trussville. If that measure is passed Thursday, part of the people who had voted at Trussville First Baptist Church will vote at Trussville Civic Center and some who had voted at Trussville City Hall will, instead, vote at Faith Christian Fellowship.
“This will lead to cutting out long lines for an efficient process,” said Barry Stephenson, chair of the Board of Registrars.
During a discussion of Cares Act funding to Royal Divinity to provide emergency food assistance, Commission President Jimmie Stephens expressed concern that during the pandemic some food has gone to people who didn’t need it. He said he wants to make sure that the most needy residents are the ones who receive the food.
Stephens said he didn’t mean to imply that Royal Divinity was giving food to undeserving families. Sheila Tyson took offense at the apparent indictment.
“The food program with Royal Divinity is CDBG block grant money, totally different from the USDA money,” she said. “The USDA, they pick different produce companies. which has absolutely zero to do with Jefferson County, that’s coming from the USDA.”
Tyson also was bothered by Knight’s query about the possible use of COVID emergency funds to help families who lost their homes in recent tornadoes. His concern is largely because the county fell short of the standard to qualify for FEMA assistance.
“We had an issue today for an Emergency Rental Assistance Program,” he said. “My question was … . Is there any way to help these people with these emergency funds? And the answer was no.”
Tyson said Knight should call U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville or Gov. Kay Ivey to see if either has funds for storm victims.