Economic Development Spending Stirs Flap Among Jefferson County Commissioners

Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.) 9-24-2019

Steve Ammons, chairman of the Jefferson County Commission’s committee on economic development, called another commissioner’s moving without his knowledge to require full commission approval to spend economic development funds “a slap in the face.”

Ammons said he had no idea the resolution was coming up. “When it came up, honestly it was a slap in the face,” he said.

Ammons and Commission President Jimmie Stephens were absent Tuesday when Commissioner Lashunda Scales presented the resolution in the commission’s committee meeting. The measure was moved to the full commission agenda, with Scales and Shelia Tyson voting in favor of bringing the item up Thursday and Commissioner Joe Knight voting no.

In Thursday’s meeting, Ammons asked that the resolution be set aside for future discussion and consideration.

“I don’t mind talking about having processes or functions that say how it’s done,” Ammons said after the meeting at the Bessemer Justice Center. “I’m especially the one who should be part of that conversation, and I was not.”

Speaking with Birmingham Watch, Scales said she presented her resolution because she says there has been undisclosed spending from the economic development fund. She added that the spending in question had not come before the commission for a vote.

“Rather than to continue to ask for transparency and inclusion of information, I believed the best route to take,” Scales said, “would be to formalize this request in the form of a resolution that would be considered a violation if it were not adhered to.”

Ammons said discussions about spending from the economic development fund should be based on facts and data. He said he and his staff are the ones in place to lend the most to that conversation.

“We’re going to have the conversation,” he said. “We’ll be setting up an economic development committee meeting and we’re going to do a presentation … and talk about what economic development for Jefferson County should be.

“All I’m asking is for us to be reasonable adults and have reasonable conversations,” Ammons said.

Ammons and Stephens were absent Tuesday while they attended the Southeastern US-Japan conference in Orlando, Florida.

“It’s like any sales job,” Ammons said. “A lot of it is based on relationships. We have to go and build relationships with our friends from Japan. We only get like once or twice a year that we’re able to meet with them. We need to make sure we’re building relationships and maintaining relationships.”