Commission votes in tie on county administrator

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The county commission voted for the second time on a hire for the county administrator position Monday night and again came to a halt on the process after reaching a tie vote.

Commissioners Robin Sullivan, Russell Johnson and Chad Copeland voted in favor of hiring interim administrator McKenzie Wilson, who is the director of safety and personnel with the county, while Charlie Harris, Homer Wright and Jimmy Barron voted against the hire.

Although the three nay-voting commissioners did not bring forward a vote on an alternative candidate at the meeting, all three had voted for Dr. LaKerri Mack, Troy University professor and president of the board for the Boys and Girls Club of Pike and Surrounding Counties, at the previous meeting.

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Chairman Sullivan said the vote will now stay on the agenda for two more meetings with a chance for a commissioner to change his vote and possibly break the tie.

Dianna Bascomb, president of the Pike County branch of the NAACP, addressed the commission and criticized what she said was a “lack of processes” for choosing a candidate and breaking a tie in the event that the commission is split.

“We have three concerns,” Bascomb told the commission. “One is the lack of written criteria by which to select an administrator, two is the lack of a human resources staff to properly vet candidates and, third, no written process in which to break a tie. What’s the process?”

Since Harry Sanders retired from the position in March, the commission advertised the opening for a month, collecting nearly 20 applications for the position in that time. The commissioners then each reviewed the applications individually, picking their top candidates out of the pool. The list was culled down to five based on which candidates the commissioners ruled out.

The commission interviewed those five candidates in May and then narrowed the list further down to two, as evidence by the commission’s first vote for the hire, with all votes going to either Mack or Wilson.

Bascomb argued that the process was influenced by personal bias and nepotism.

“You are obligated to be fair and impartial,” Bascomb said. “I urge you, in service to your constituents, to go back to the drawing board and develop a process to choose an administrator in a fair and impartial manner.”

No commissioners responded publicly to Bascomb’s comments.

The commission was also scheduled to hear from Ken Upchurch of TCU Consulting Services during the meeting to finally review the findings of the feasibility study for a new jail, but Upchurch was not present for reasons that Sullivan said were unknown.

The presentation has been forwarded to the next meeting and Sullivan said he is working on contacting Upchurch to find out what caused his absence and to ensure his availability for the next meeting.

The commission has been working with the third party organization since September 2017 to conduct a study on numerous data points concerning the future jailing needs of Pike County and what kind of facility would be necessary to serve those needs.

The organization was originally expected to have the results of the study ready by February 2018, but a family emergency of one of the organization’s employees reportedly caused delays, as well as organizing meetings with the county’s stakeholders.

The county heard from Donta Frazier, director of the Pike Area Transit System, about a new budget for the program seeking more money from the county than the previous year.

“Wiley Brooks, who mentored me, is now the head guy for rural transit in the state,” Frazier said. “In April he came and we went through the budget and he told me we could add more here and there. The federal government and ALDOT (Alabama Department of Transportation) have approved that money if we want to use it.”

Although the federal and state governments have approved to provide more funding to the program, the county would also have to match with more money.

Last year the county’s portion was approximately $97,000, while Frazier came forward with a proposed $107,000 contribution for the department for the upcoming fiscal year. The contribution is just a part of the program’s $775,000 total proposed budget, which comes from federal and state sources as well as the cities of Troy and Brundidge.

The City of Troy approved their end of the program’s funding at their last meeting.

Copeland brought up similar concerns that the county discussed last year when considering whether to continue their part in the program and to what level the county can contribute.

“When you’re asking for $107,000 out of a $6 million general fund, that’s a lot of money,” Copeland said. “ … I need every piece of information I can to give an informed opinion.”

Copeland discussed the program having just 39 daily riders last year, although over 100 more riders also made intermittent use of the transit system as well. He also asked Frazier about the number of people using the system as a ride to work, including a group that uses the transportation to ride to a specific workplace.

“Have we approached any of these businesses and told them we seem to be subsidizing their employees to come to work?” Copeland asked.

Frazier said that the grants are only provided if the program is used to allow residents to go wherever they request to go and that it cannot be limited.

The commission requested for Frazier to return at the next commission meeting with more information about the budget and program for their consideration as they approach the time to craft the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in October.

The county approved to advertise for four local roads to be bid for resurfacing as part of the county’s 24-month plan to address roads that previously had no funds designated toward their repair and are ineligible for grant funding.

The roads include County Road 2243 from Warrick Creek to County Road 2246; County Road 2204 from County Road 2214 to County Road 2203; County Road 6629 and County Road 4413.

The commission also approved the purchase of a one-ton truck for the department for the cost of $23,000. The truck purchase was set to be included in the next year’s budget proposal for the department, but Oliver said they had the opportunity to get a good deal if they acted now by getting the truck available from the ALDOT waitlist.

The commission approved a grant application for the resurfacing of a portion of 7749 and paving of a short, dead-end dirt road County Road 2256. Oliver said the commission was one point away from getting the same application granted last year and it has a good chance of being approved.

The commission will meet again Monday, July 23, upstairs at the Pike County Health Department. The work session will begin at 5:15 p.m. and the business meeting will follow at 6 p.m.