The Jefferson County Commission heard Tuesday from entities seeking funds to feed those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the discussion spilled over to who got credit for the sought-after federal funds.
Commission Chairman Jimmie Stephens closed the meeting by saying that it appears American Rescue Plan Act funds are being distributed by individual elected officials.
“If we depoliticize what we do, I think this commission can move forward as a more unified body,” he said. “It is the whole commission that votes by majority, by resolution, as the donor of these funds. We have other elected officials participating as well. This leaves a misconception as to the source of funds and their use. This is mainly an attempt to clarify that.
Entities seeking ARPA funds from the Food Insecurity Program were:
- Kikstart Inc., $175,000.
- Mission Alabama, $64,900.
- Christian service mission, $190,000.
- Jones Valley Educational Farm, $70,000.
Three organizations were approved on February 17 for ARPA funds for food gifts:
- Central Alabama Community Food Bank, $750,000
- Cooperative Downtown Ministries (Firehouse), $90,585.
- Downtown Jimmie Hale Mission, $120,000.
The three organizations approved in February met only one request.
But at their last meeting, the commissioners said they wanted to hear from each organization asking for money then.
Kikstart Inc.’s Dr. Douglas Jackson found himself directly in the crosshairs of the commission’s questions regarding a recent food distribution event in which gasoline was also distributed and potential voters were registered.
Commissioner Sheila Tyson said the gasoline giveaway portion was her event, an event that did not use county funds.
Commissioner Steve Ammons said one could perceive that these events were interconnected.
“If Commissioner Tyson was giving gas and they were giving food, there was no telling who was giving what,” he said. “With two county elected officials there, the perception is that they give that food, the county gives it. They don’t know the difference between gas and food and all that. Sheriff Mark Pettway was also present.
Commissioner Lashunda Scales expressed concern that the commission was not receiving enough credit for its role in distributing federal funds.
However, Justin Smith, assistant to County Executive Cal Markert, said entities receiving federal funds are contractually required to credit the federal government as the source of those funds.
Scales also told Jackson that she would appreciate entities such as her alerting her office when they are doing things like donating food in her district.
“Respectfully, sir, to any organization that’s in the sound of my voice, give us the courtesy to say, ‘Here’s where we’re going to be in your respective fields,'” she said. “Or if you just say to the county manager’s office, ‘Here’s where we’re going to deliver food.'”
Stephens urged depoliticizing the allocation of food to those in need.
“If one person becomes the focal point, it’s difficult for the whole commission to act…to do what needs to be done,” Stephens said. “We have to come to a consensus; we need to work together to make sure this is done.
Commissioners placed a pair of resolutions related to the Department of Community Services and Workforce Development on the agenda. One was to extend Nigel Roberts’ contract, the other was to separate community services from workforce development.
“Workforce development is a program (which is) funded by the federal government. It comes from the state,” Markert said. “All we’re proposing to do is separate that, make it its own department because it really is its own department anyway. Currently, the action did not involve putting anyone in charge of the department.
“We want to make workforce development better and more manageable,” he continued. “We are not looking to lay off employees. Will someone need to report to Workforce Development or Community Development? We may have a little moving to do but nothing major.
Commissioners heard approximately six rezoning applications. Among them was one at 6632 Warrior River Road in the Concord area for which the applicant is seeking a liquor license in conjunction with a package store.
“There’s a liquor store that’s being offered for a corner there,” Stephens said. “We saw that they might be bringing bingo machines in the back. This is something the commissioners are considering very seriously.
Commissioners placed on the agenda for Thursday’s full committee meeting a resolution for a project agreement with Milo’s Tea, which is moving its lemonade division to the former Barber Dairy location in Homewood. This project will create 291 new jobs between the Bessemer and Homewood sites.
The deal will provide an employment incentive for the company, capped at $100,000.
“The value of the business and the value of keeping these jobs here is significant,” said Ammons, who chairs the commission’s economic development committee. “This is a huge expansion of their lemonade line in Homewood and an expansion of their tea line in Bessemer. This prevented them from moving to another state, which they had the option of doing.