Jefferson County Sheds Close Federal Oversight of Employment Practices

Jefferson County Commissioner Sandra Little Brown. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Federal District Judge Lynwood Smith ended the federal receivership in Jefferson County in a move county commissioners hailed as a sign of the county’s improvements in employee and hiring practices.

The receiver was put in place in response to a consent decree in 1982.

“The ending of the consent decree has been a top priority for me,” Commissioner Sandra Little Brown said at a press conference. “Today, we are one step closer with the ending of this receivership as being in compliance with the court’s order.”

A receiver is a ministerial officer representing the court who acts on behalf of the judge in certain legal matters.

The long-standing case involving employment now moves into a monitoring period, during which the court will systematically review the continued progress of the county’s hiring and promoting practices.

Since the late 1970’s, Jefferson County has been criticized in federal court for dragging its feet and failing to hire and promote a more diverse staff, including women and African-Americans. On June 15, 2015, Lorren Oliver was appointed to serve as the receiver to bring the county into compliance with the 1982 consent decree.

Oliver will now become the court-appointed monitor as the county moves toward an end to the consent decree.

Commissioner Joe Knight said today’s action takes the federal judge out of the equation.

“The receiver is now no longer with us,” he said. “But it doesn’t remove the judge’s supervision of the case. The receiver will now become the monitor and he has passed the baton back to us so that we can do the hiring and firing through HR (human resource) services so that it’s fair, (not) discriminatory and in compliance with the consent decree we entered in 1982.”

Commissioner George Bowman said Jefferson County has worked with the receiver “to do the right thing and to right the wrongs of the unfair and broken system of the past.

“We now have a much more diverse workforce at all levels of county government,” Bowman continued. “This has created a positive and creative environment for employees and citizens alike.”

Today’s action allows the human resources director, county manager and County Commission to oversee employment decisions of the county. Specifically, the human resource director again has the power to administer all decisions of the county pertaining to the hiring, promotion, demotion, transfer, discipline, suspension or termination of merit- and non-merit- system employees.

The exception is those powers given by law to the county manager, County Commission and other elected officials of the county. Additionally, the human resources director will collaborate with the county manager in making employment decisions.

The County Commission retains its appointing authority and other powers over the county attorney and county manager. The county attorney retains authority over employment decisions for the other attorneys and staff in the legal department.

The chief equity and inclusion officer, the HR director, the county manager, the County Commission and department heads are responsible for making sure the terms of the consent decree are met.

“Our new vision is to be a model local government that anticipates and meets the evolving needs of a diverse community with energy, character, dedication and accountability,” Brown said.