Jefferson County commissioners learned Tuesday about the local company that will be tasked with looking for a new county manager.
County Manager Tony Petelos, who announced his retirement recently, told commissioners at their committee meeting that Wheless Partners will conduct a nationwide search for his replacement.
“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 if bids were requested for the job of hiring a company to conduct the search. Petelos said Wheless Partners was hired to a personal services contract, which does not require bids.
Scales expressed concern that the county remain focused on avoiding any of the hiring practices, including racial discrimination, 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, someone who has the county’s best interest at heart regarding the kind of individuals who are hired and how they interact 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.”
Commissioner Joe Knight asked if there will ever come a time when the county’s human resources department does not need the input of Siena Consulting, which provides technical support and expertose as needed for executive-level hiring. A requested budget of $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.”
Loan to Port Authority for New Building
Commissioners moved to Thursday’s agenda an agreement to loan $840,000 to the Birmingham-Jefferson County Port Authority. The money will help acquire property and build a 20,000-square-foot building that the port authority will lease. There will be 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 enthusiastic about the prospects of the project.
“That’s going to flourish,” she said of 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.
“Plus, this is a reimbursable expense,” Scales continued, “so it’s just us being able to assist now and then 30 days posts you receiving the grant, then you should be able to repay the county.”
Ammons presented a request for support for the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex as it seeks funding for researching and evaluating the economic feasibility of additional venues on the BJCC campus and nearby area.
Commissioners also heard about splitting a pair of polling places in Trussville. If the proposal is approved on Thursday, some 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.
Stephens Voices Concern About COVID-assisted Food Boxes
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.
“I’ve seen it,” he said. “I would like for the oversight to increase to make sure that those in need are truly the ones receiving these COVID-assisted food boxes. And I don’t care what source is. We want to make sure that our most needy are the ones who receive this government benefit.”
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 was also 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.