Who Has Final Say Over Jefferson County Money Matters?

Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Jefferson County commissioners and Jefferson County Tax Collector J.T. Smallwood have different ideas of who must OK contracts set up by Smallwood.

Commissioner David Carrington said Thursday any contract involving Jefferson County government income and expenses must be approved by the commission. Smallwood, an elected official, said he doesn’t work for the commission.

“Department heads answer to the commission. I answer to the voters of Jefferson County every six years,” Smallwood said. “We don’t work for the commission. Now some of the employees in my office do. I guess that’s a little different story.”

Smallwood is running against Joe Knight to represent District 4 on the commission on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

The issue came up because MaLinda Stubbs Parker, manager of tax collection in Smallwood’s office, asked the commission to approve an agreement. It provides that the county gives mortgage-holders tax information they need and mortgage-holders pay for that service for as many as three mortgage companies – $4,951.34 each, or as much as $14,854.02 – to the general fund of Jefferson County.

Carrington said that Smallwood was overstepping the bounds of his office in entering into the agreement.

“An elected official can’t bind the county,” Carrington said. “They can’t bind them for revenue and they can’t bind them for expenses. It has to come before this body in a public meeting and that hasn’t been the case.

“I’d be concerned if it only happened one time, but this appears to be an ongoing situation at the Tax Collector’s office,” Carrington said. “If an elected official can go around the elected body of the citizens and commit the county to resources without any penalty, there are no checks and balances.”

Ultimately, commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the resolution with Carrington and Sandra Little Brown abstaining. Commission President Jimmie Stephens said he voted for the matter because denying it would cause hardship on citizens and would create unintended consequences for the “inappropriate actions of one elected official.”

Parker has been the manager of county tax collection since January. She said she presented the matter to the commission as it involved a contract.

“I’m not authorized to enter into a contract even though it’s revenue,” she said. “Mr. Smallwood wasn’t here at the time, but I knew that he signed it last year.”

Parker said she works for and with Smallwood but under a different set of rules.

“I’m a merit system employee,” she said. “I’m hired and fired by the appointed authority, which is Mr. (Tony) Petelos, (the county manager).”

Parker said the confusion was a matter of timing, with the resolution being brought to the commission late.

“My perspective is next year we don’t want to wait till the last minute,” she said. “We’ll make sure in August or September that we start reaching out to the mortgage companies…Then we can put it (the agreement) on the (commission) agenda in a timely manner. It won’t be an item that’s sticking out like a sore thumb. It was outside of the normal cycle.”

In other new business, the commission approved a through-road agreement with the City of Midfield, pending the approval of the city council. It also approved travel expenses of county attorney Theo Lawson, who is going to a conference dealing with safety at railroad crossings.

The meeting ended with commissioners going into executive session for just over an hour on a matter of pending litigation or likely litigation.

“But I’ll tell you it’s all good,” Stephens said. “There’s nothing bad.”