No Surprises, Please: Jeffco Commissioner Urges Others Not to Spring Last-Minute Funding Requests

Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Commissioner David Carrington invoked the names of past commissioners as he urged current and future commissioners to handle requests for county funds in a timely manner.

Commissioner Sandra Little Brown is requesting a community grant of $2,000 for the Housing Authority Birmingham District, but that request did not make it onto the agenda of today’s committee meeting

Carrington warned commissioners that others, including former commissioners John Katopodis and Jeff Germany, had gotten in trouble over their management of discretionary funds.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said he took offense from the comparison.

“This is a different commission and we’ve never been in any trouble, nor do we intend to get into any trouble,” he said. “We do things by the book, through the checks and balances. If it improves (the) quality of life of the citizens of Jefferson County, it benefits us and it benefits no one individual (commissioner). We want to make sure that continues on this commission.”

Brown said later that all grants must have the proper documentation before they can go before the commission in its full meeting Thursday and before the money can be allotted. She said it was not the first time a last-minute addition had been made to the committee agenda.

Carrington urged commissioners to submit items for consideration in a timely manner, saying, “I really cringe that too many of them were added at the last moment.”

“The commission has the final approval for the expenditure of public funds,” he said. “We are the stewards of the public’s money. It’s not the legal department. It’s not the finance department. It’s not the county manager. It is the county commission that has to say if this is a legitimate public use project.

“When (items are) added at the last second in committee, we don’t have time to do our proper vetting,” Carrington continued. “I really would like to see if something doesn’t make the (committee) agenda Wednesday afternoon (before committee meeting), it’s not brought up in committee. The time is too short to do a fair due diligence, in my opinion.”

Stephens said there is plenty of transparency in place to protect the public trust.

“I believe the concern was there were last-minute push-throughs and the process was not followed,” the commission president said. “I believe once (Carrington) was assured the process was being followed and the checks and balances are in place, everything worked out fine.”

Insurance Premiums Going Up

In another matter, commissioners were taken aback by a hefty increase in the county insurance premium. That increase will force commissioners to adjust the fiscal 2019 budget they passed at their most recent meeting.

Commissioners expressed concern that they were just hearing of the rate increase, which went from about $585,000 to $974,000. That, said Stephens, was a significant increase.

“I don’t lay that blame on any particular person,” the commission president said. “But possibly we’ve gotten comfortable with (the process) and we were not anticipating any change in premium, since we haven’t had any in the previous years. But it did occur. We will make sure it does not reoccur.”

Commissioners instructed the county manager to begin looking for insurance in April, considering other companies in pursuit of the best rate.

“This time they doubled the premium and we can’t do that as commissioners,” Stephens said. “We have to make sure your tax dollars are spent in a wise and efficient manner.”