Jefferson County Commission

Former Judge Bolin Now Answers to ‘Commissioner’

Jefferson County Mike Bolin looks at economic development data during his first County Commission committee meeting Aug. 8, 2023. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Mike Bolin took his first dip into the legislative branch of county government Tuesday as he took part in his first committee meeting as a member of the Jefferson County Commission.

The former Jefferson County probate judge and Alabama Supreme Court justice admitted to some trepidation as he “put a foot into the water” since this was just his sixth day on the job.

“I don’t care how smart or how dumb you are, you can’t acclimate to everything that goes on in there until you’ve gone through two or three rounds,” Bolin said. “I enjoyed being there. I enjoyed the back and forth.

“I’d like for everybody to be able to get along, but you’ve got five different people that have different minds,” he continued. “I want us to all be agreeable but if we can’t be, we can disagree in an agreeable manner and get along.”

Bolin recalled Commissioner Lashunda Scales saying all of the commissioners are serving the people.

“We’ve got a charge to do that,” he said, recounting something said by Commission President Jimmie Stephens. “I consider that as serious as any charge I had in 50 years in the judicial branch of government.”

The meeting included a light-hearted moment when Othell Phillips, executive director of the Jefferson County Economic and Industrial Development Authority, greeted the commission. He referred to Bolin as judge, which drew a quick correction from Stephens.

“That’s Commissioner Bolin,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Knight chimed in. “He has parenthesis with an R,” Knight said, “for rookie.”

Stephens opened the meeting by acknowledging that Bolin isn’t a first-timer at the courthouse. “You do have a head start,” he said. “You’ve been here longer than I have, probably twice as long.”

Family Court, Road Work

Bolin found immediate comfort at the committee table as he asked about a matter that was pulled from consideration. Citing his history in the judicial branch, he wondered about Jefferson County paying for training of Family Court staff since that organization operates under a circuit judge who is part of the state court system.

“If it’s state court business, the state should fund it,” he said.

“The state court doesn’t fund a lot of things,” Knight quipped.

“Maybe,” Stephens said, “we have someone with some influence with them who can help.”

During the meeting, County Manager Cal Markert acknowledged that $1.5 million had been saved during negotiations of the employee medication plan. Markert added that some departments had spent less than they were budgeted in fiscal 2023, prompting Commissioner Sheila Tyson to ask where those savings will go.

“I want to see that money,” Tyson said, “and I want to know how much it is because we might could do something else with it.”

Stephens said the county’s primary responsibility is to provide infrastructure, including the roads and bridges residents use to get to school and work. Scales said much of Districts 1 and 2, which she and Tyson represent, are in the City of Birmingham and thus don’t have roads the county maintains.

Knight, chair of the commission’s finance committee, said unused money goes into reserves in the next year’s budget. The county also puts money into three emergency funds for catastrophic event relief, budget stabilization and uncertainty.

“At the end of the budget year, we’ve had excess, so we fund those each year as much as we can. Sometimes it’s $2 million, sometimes it’s $5 million to each fund,” Knight said. “Over the years, we have some pretty good balances in there. My goal is to have at least $25 million in each fund, just for those three funds, plus your reserves. That’s been my goal, and I’m getting close.”

Funding Property Purchase for Econ Dev

In another matter, the commission moved to Thursday’s agenda an agreement to lend JCEIDA $3.975 million to purchase property for development.

The meeting concluded with Economic Development Advisor Jefferson Traywick presenting maps and charts to display the county’s economic development efforts. These are projects that have been announced or that are active in the county.

Traywick’s report included projects that are in the county’s higher-paying industry sectors such as manufacturing, health care and automotive. It did not include retail, hospitality and the like.

The report listed 98 projects that generated 10,148 jobs with an average salary of $26.65 per hour. The projects were in the commission districts as follows:

  • District 1 – 25.5%
  • District 2 – 37.7%
  • District 3 – 25.5%
  • District 4 – 9.1%
  • District 5 – 2.0%