Jeffco Commission to Vote on Expanded Use of Mass Notification System

Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Jefferson County Commission members will vote Thursday on a policy governing non-emergency commission use of the Everbridge mass notification system.

With Commissioner Steve Ammons absent on county business, commissioners voted 3-1 on Tuesday to move the proposal to their meeting agenda. Commissioner Lashunda Scales voted no.

The matter came up when Commissioner Sheila Tyson suggested using the system to inform county residents about details of the 2020 census. Commission President Jimmie Stephens said a resolution needed to be submitted for the system – often associated with weather warnings – to be utilized.

Scales disagreed that a resolution was needed. She noted a recent instance in which members of her staff, in coordination with Circuit Clerk Jacqueline Anderson Smith, used Everbridge to alert residents about registering to vote and participating in absentee voting.

Scales offered an amendment to the resolution offered by Stephens. It would allow a commissioner to use Everbridge to convey non-emergency information to his or her own district. That amendment died for lack of a second.

Commissioner Lashunda Scales. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

“If you believe it is voter information or any topic that is at issue for your district, you could properly and in a timely manner get that information out to your constituents,” she said. “That failed.”

Stephens said the County Commission acts only through resolution and each commissioner has a voice in that resolution. “If we’re going to put forth a public service announcement, it needs to be done through resolution of the County Commission,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Knight said Everbridge has morphed from being an emergency notification system to a simple notification system.

“Well, who notifies and who can use it and what’s the content?” Knight asked. “What we’re trying to do is make our policy say: Let’s try to communicate as a commission. That’s the best way to do it because sometimes we don’t. I certainly think we deserve a heads up that, ‘Hey, this is going out.’

“If you think it’s important for you to put out information in your district,” he continued, “if you’ve got the means to do that, that’s between you and your constituents.”

Commissioner Jimmie Stephens. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Answering a question, Knight acknowledged concern that Everbridge could become politicized.

“Some think it already is,” he said. “I don’t want to see Everbridge overused or abused. I think there ought to be something in place, otherwise we’re going to be running in five different directions.”

In another matter, commissioners heard a resolution from County Manager Tony Petelos to establish a Jefferson County Department of Security. The move would take Barry Kennamer, the chief of security, and 60 others from General Services to their own department.

While commissioners approved moving the matter to Thursday’s agenda, they acknowledged that there is still much to do to establish the new department.

“Oh gosh, yes. There’s still a great deal of work to be done,” Stephens said. “The questions I had were considering the organizational structure and the funding, how that would be done. None of that appeared to be thought through very thoroughly before it was presented to the commission.

“I’m for the establishment of a security department. I think it’s needed and necessary,” he continued. “At the same time, we need to have our ducks in a row before we come to the commission and ask for it.”

Protective Stadium Update

Stephens provided an update for his fellow commissioners on progress of Protective Stadium. He said construction is continuing “within budget constraints.”

“The original budget projections, I think, were $173 million,” he said. “Right now, it may be $185 million for construction costs, which is a little over the original budget but within budget constraints.

“There are moneys to complete the project,” said the commission president and member of the board of the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Authority. “There were dollars that were allocated to the project, anticipating these cost overruns and the time lag for increased material costs.”

Also, Petelos, the county manager, told commissioners that April 11 has been set as the date for transition of indigent health care from Jefferson County to the Cooper Green Mercy Healthcare Authority.