Jeffco Commission Ready to Hash Out Details of Health Care Authority, Debates Economic Development Funds

Jim Henry, right, of Cabaniss, Johnston confers with county attorney Theo Lawson. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Today’s committee meeting of the Jefferson County Commission yielded two more meetings.

One addresses the county’s pending agreement with UAB concerning the master plan for the university healthcare authority; the other is to settle a potential change in an administrative order regarding spending from the economic development fund.

Commissioners agreed to reconvene this Thursday’s commission meeting at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12 to hash out details of the healthcare authority. The panel will go into executive session so commissioners can address questions to the county attorney and the independent attorney who are working on this matter.

The Economic Development Committee will meet at 9 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 18 to discuss spending from the fund.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said the master agreement with UAB was sent to the commission and county manager Tony Petelos. Subsequently, the county sent the agreement back to UAB with some changes.

Jefferson County has been in a period of due diligence the past several months, working toward the transfer of responsibility for the health care of the county’s indigent residents to a UAB Healthcare Authority. The plan has been that the authority would take over health care for poor persons in early 2020.

“What we have now is a very fair and reasonable agreement,” Stephens said. “The reason I asked for (review of the agreement) to be postponed is so all the commissioners can become comfortable with it. We have agreed in principle and I believe now we have agreed in a workable order.”

Stephens said he and Commissioner Joe Knight, the commission’s representative on the board of the healthcare authority, agreed the best move was for commissioners to meet in executive session with attorneys to explain details of the agreement.

“This entire commission needs to be on one accord moving forward,” he said of the healthcare authority. “The more clarity we have with that, the more satisfied everyone will be.”

Commissioner Lashunda Scales repeated her concern for the status of Cooper Green employees and their ability to remain in the county’s retirement system.

“If they are not going to be included,” Scales said, “then I have a problem with them no longer being county employees and going under a healthcare authority that will not allow them to retain their pension.”

Stephens said he is “totally satisfied” that employees at Cooper Green Mercy Health System will remain employed and eligible for the pension earned while an employee of Jefferson County. Once established, Cooper Green employees will work for the healthcare authority.

“The transition will take place,” Stephens said, “and will be seamless. The primary concern is: Does this model give our indigent citizens the best chance for affordable and top-quality healthcare? Personally, I think it does.”

Jefferson County Commission Lashunda Scales. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Commissioner Sheila Tyson said she will “absolutely be voting no” on the healthcare authority because she was not appointed to the board of the authority.

“Until you make it right, until you treat me right, I’m gonna vote no,” she said, “because I know I deserve to sit on that board.”

Economic Development Funds

The approval of expenses for trips for staff development sparked a heated discussion between commissioners Steve Ammons and Scales. She renewed her assertion that spending from the county’s economic development fund, which was established in 2018, did not receive commission approval.

Ammons distributed stacks of documents from past commission meetings that he said showed that spending from the fund had been approved.

County attorney Theo Lawson said all expenditures are approved by the commission. The question, he said, is whether trips for economic development must be pre-approved, which could tip the county’s hand.

Lawson and some commissioners said that some economic development matters need to off the radar to avoid alerting other areas vying for the same development.

“All I asked for was not only transparency but to have a process in place where travel, conventions, anything that we participate in that is non-confidential be brought before the general public and that it’s brought before the commission for a vote,” Scales said. “If we’re going to say there’s a lack of transparency with the overall budget, why are we not being transparent as relates to economic development, that fund and how it’s being spent.”

Ammons said the accusation that he or his staff is not being transparent is not correct. “I don’t know how much more transparent I can be,” he said. “We are on the 18th going to have an economic development committee meeting and we’ll discuss what economic development is in Jefferson County and the uses of the economic development fund.”

On the subject of economic development, commissioners heard from Todd Ward, development and entitlements manager with Carvana, concerning a development coming to Bessemer.

The county is providing a $114,000 employee incentive to help bring the project to fruition. It is a 5-year incentive for 57 of the 300 jobs expected to come to the facility.

Ward said other Carvana locations have had two buildings. The one that is expected to begin operation in the first or second quarter of 2021 will be a prototype that has just one building, which will be used for the inspection and refurbishing of cars.

The vehicles are purchased online and delivered via truck by Carvana employees.