Jefferson County Is on the Brink of Shedding Personnel Consent Decree

Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Tony Petelos, county manager for Jefferson County.

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

U.S. District Court Judge Lynwood Smith wished Tony Petelos a happy Halloween, one in which he would get more treats than tricks.

But the Jefferson County manager had already gotten a big treat when he heard Smith say that Jefferson County is “teetering on the edge” of being able to conclude the consent decree on personnel practices that has hovered over it for nearly 40 years. And it was a treat he was glad to get.

“Absolutely,” Petelos said after the status hearing this morning. “It’s been almost four decades, this consent decree, and we’re very close to bringing it to an end. It’s very positive. We’re very excited. Four decades is a long time.”

The county has been under the consent decree since 1982, after plaintiffs sued alleging that the county and other defendants had been discriminating based on race and sex with respect to recruitment, hiring, assignment, promotion, discipline and other terms and conditions of employment.

Joseph J. Sperber IV, an attorney with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, opened the proceeding by saying that he had not expected the consent decree to continue beyond the end of the year. He added, however, that the vacancy in Jefferson County’s human resource department director’s position pushes back that resolution.

Sperber said he had hoped a new HR director could be in place this year. Jefferson County attorney Theo Lawson assured the court a candidate has been hired, but that candidate is working through an exit from current employment. The name of the new HR director was not disclosed.

During the hearing, it was initially suggested that the new HR director could be acclimated to the position within 60 days. Smith said 60 days was “ambitious” and offered 90 days as a more realistic target. He was told that the candidate had not previously worked in the public sector.

Smith said that candidate’s entry into a merit system makes for a “daunting learning curve.” He said Loren Oliver is the “best option” for guiding the new HR director. Oliver was assigned to monitor Jefferson County’s hiring practices. He previously was appointed as a receiver.

“You need to be a tutor now,” Smith told Oliver. The judge also urged attorneys for each side to communicate with one another as they work toward an end to the consent decree by mid-2020, “the sooner the better.”

“Getting it right is best worked out collaborately,” he said.

More BirminghamWatch Coverage

Birmingham Gives Tax Breaks For UAB-Area Student Apartment Project, Commission Expected To Follow Suit

The company building a seven-story student housing development near UAB received permission from the city this week to forgo some property and sale taxes for the project. The county is now set to hear a similar request later this week.

Jefferson County Schools To Go Virtual-Only For First Nine Weeks; Start Sept. 1

The Jefferson County Board of Education voted Tuesday to begin the 2020-2021 school year with nine weeks of online education only and no option for traditional classroom learning.

Business Capital, Knowledge Remains Out Of Reach For Many Minority Entrepreneurs

None of the Black-owned businesses in 4th Avenue and Civil Rights commercial districts have gone out of business because of the pandemic.

BCRI Gets Emergency Funding From City Of Birmingham

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute has been closed since March because of the pandemic causing a lack of revenue. Now it's receiving $250,000 in emergency funding from the city of Birmingham.

Health Care Disparities: Being The Target Of Racism Can Make You Physically Sick, Research Shows

The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that racial discrimination against Black children and youth can affect their health.

Birmingham Council OKs Partial Transit Funding Under Protest From Hoyt

The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to fund the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority through the end of 2020.

More BirminghamWatch Coverage