Jefferson County Rebranding Contract Must Be Altered to Give Work to Minority Companies

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

Lashunda Scales wanted to make one thing perfectly clear. The president pro tem of the Jefferson County Commission was not “playing the race card” as she debated a proposed contract on rebranding the county.

Scales’ concern centered on a contract county manager Tony Petelos presented for a professional services agreement with Big Marketing and Communications. The $203,500 contract did not spell out how historically under-utilized business enterprises would be represented in this agreement.

“Let me say this so this doesn’t turn into a race card conversation,” Scales said Tuesday. “If it were someone white, if it were someone of any other race, if there is not inclusion, I’m going to ask the question as to why. The county makeup is of all races of people, all classes of people. If it does not reflect that, I’d like for us to work within the same vein and cooperative spirit to make it right.”

During the commission’s committee meeting, Commission President Jimmie Stephens cautioned against micromanaging Petelos, whose job was to bring a contract to the panel for consideration.

Scales said the county having been under a consent decree demonstrates some things haven’t been done correctly.

“I will never micromanage you (Petelos) but I will question,” she said. “And if it was so right, it would have reflected that in this contract. You can only go by what is in the contract.”

Scales was referring to the county’s having operated from 1982 until earlier this year under a federal receiver in connection with a consent decree on hiring and employee practices. The county still is in a monitoring period to assure it continues to abide by the decree.

Commissioners approved the professional services agreement – which is tied to the celebration of the county’s bicentennial – provided the contract is changed to reflect minority involvement.

After the committee meeting, Scales said women and African-American people have been disenfranchised from the county.

“I believe that not only should (history) reflect that change that has occurred because of federal monitoring, we need to make sure that our contracts reflect that,” she said. “We want to have participation of women- and African-American-owned business. That means that whatever that contract looks like for whatever that service is, it needs to reflect the consent decree.”

Commissioners also considered but didn’t pass a resolution providing cost-of-living salary increases for all sworn personnel in the Sheriff’s Department, including the major/assistant sheriff, chief deputy, Metro Area Crime Center commander, deputy chief, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, corporal and deputy sheriff.

Finance officer John Henry said it would take until April for the pay raises to take effect. Steve Ammons made a motion but it died for lack of a second.

Scales argued against this action, saying she had communicated with someone “very close” to Sheriff-elect Mark Pettway, who unseated longtime incumbent Mike Hale.

“After speaking with that person this morning, what was told to me was they’d like to wait until the sheriff takes office, assess what’s happening in the department and then go forward with the budget as the sheriff sees fit,” she said. “Not so much of us making decisions on their behalf, the sheriff’s behalf, before he even takes office.”

Scales said the current budget reflects the request of the previous sheriff, Hale.

“This sheriff may want to appropriate funding differently than the past or previous sheriff,” Scales said.

Salary Adjustments and Other Changes

Human resources also were the subject of a long discussion. A pair of salary adjustments were passed for some unclassified department heads, deputy directors and laborers. Also passed was an accumulated leave conversion and professional development expenses.

But a proposed tuition reimbursement plan was sent back for more work.

“I have a lot of questions,” said Commissioner Joe Knight, who heads the finance committee. “We have to have a little more discussion. People seem to forget we’re still in a lot of debt. We have to really be careful because I’ve been here when we’ve had to laid people off because we didn’t have the money to pay them.”