Jefferson County Commission

Never Again: JeffCo Commission Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Bankruptcy Resolution

Jefferson County Commissioner Joe Knight. 12.5.23 (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

The longest-sitting members of the Jefferson County Commission on Tuesday recognized the 10-year anniversary of the county being removed from bankruptcy.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens and Pro Tempore Joe Knight were reminded of the occasion by text messages from David Carrington, a commissioner with them at the time of the bankruptcy along with Sandra Little Brown and George Bowman.

“It was a very traumatic experience that we went through,” Stephens said during Tuesday’s commission committee meeting. “I want to congratulate the commission and legal staff and our county manager and his staff. Those who were here – Knight, Theo (Lawson, the county attorney) and myself. It has a great deal of significance to us.”

The county bankruptcy was sparked by enormous debts the county incurred during court-ordered sewer construction repairs. An elaborate series of bond swaps designed to help restructure the debt made the situation worse as interest rates on the debt shot up during the mortgage lending crisis. It became impossible for the county to pay its debt and continue providing services to residents.

Knight called those “perilous times” when he was called to make “one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make as a commissioner.”

“We were on an island, absolutely,” Knight said. “We had no support from anywhere. You had to make this decision as to, is this going to be the end of Jefferson County as so many of the naysayers said? We got through it, and we really have proved the naysayers wrong with what we’ve done since then.”

Stephens echoed Knight’s depiction of that commission having no one in its corner.

“We had no support from the business community, at all,” he said. “We had no support from state government, at all. (Editorial cartoons) had us all with our backs together, saying, ‘We’ll fight anybody.’”

“We were the fight club,” Knight recalled.

“Yeah, we were the fight club,” Stephens agreed. “That’s still on my (office) refrigerator in there.”

“And,” Knight recalled, “our illustrious governor at the time (Robert Bentley) said, ‘That’s a county problem.’”

Added Stephens: “It was on our shoulders to solve, and we did. Now we don’t have that problem anymore. And with the policies we’ve put in place and the management team that we have, it’s our hope to never be in that kind of shape again.”

Election Payments

The Tuesday committee meeting also included resolutions regarding payments to the absentee election manager of the county’s Bessemer Division for the recent primary and runoff elections in state House District 55 and District 16.

One resolution rescinded $4,800 of compensation approved at last week’s commission meeting and the other was an amendment that paid absentee election manager Karen Dun Burks $4,600 for serving 23 days in that capacity.

“In the last meeting, there were two resolutions that dealt with the runoff for District 55 and another one for 16,” Lawson said. “Basically, what this does is a matter of housekeeping. One payment should be made for District 55 and it should also include District 16. The other one (resolution) is rescinded because you would not have two payments for the same day for two elections that occurred on the same day.”

The county attorney noted that last week’s discussion also addressed an election in Helena, which included an area in the Bessemer Division. It was determined that payment had already been handled.

“Helena was not relevant,” he said. “This is just a matter of housekeeping and making sure that the proper payments were made for the election and the runoff for 55 and 16.”

The matter was moved to Thursday’s commission agenda on a 4-0 vote with Commissioner Mike Bolin abstaining.

Landfill Caps

The commission in its committee meeting also discussed a resolution for the county to hire LaBella Associates PC to develop cap repair drawings of the Shannon Landfill. The company also would produce a manual for bidding and construction of cap repairs at the landfill, conduct the pre-bid conference to provide clarity to bidders and correspond with the county.

Stephens said that matter had years ago been discussed by the commission, first as an unfunded project and later when project funding was designated. The commission president asked chief financial officer Angela Dixon to research that matter.