Jefferson County released from receivership

JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - You might assume that anyone with the proper requirements can get a job with Jefferson County, but that has not been the case for many years.

Since the 1970s, the federal court has been dealing with lawsuits accusing the county of discrimination. Eventually, a receiver was installed in 2015 to take control of hiring and firing.

On Wednesday, federal judge Lynwood Snith ended the receivership, giving county commissioners reason to celebrate.

"We have worked with the receiver Mr. Oliver to do the right thing and to right the wrongs and fix the unfair and broken system of the past. We now have a much more diverse workforce at all levels," said Jefferson County Commissioner George Bowman.

While the county does get its hiring and firing back, a monitor will continue to review county hiring records to ensure it remains on the right path.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's office was released from the consent decree last year.

Copyright 2018 WBRC. All rights reserved.

To read a release with additional details from the Jefferson County Commission, see below:

BIRMINGHAM, AL – Today, Federal District Judge Lynwood Smith terminated the federal receivership in Jefferson County due to Jefferson County's ongoing improvement in workforce practices. A receiver is a ministerial officer representing the Court who acts on behalf of the judge in certain legal matters. The long-standing case now moves into a monitoring period whereby the Court will systematically review the continued progress of the county's hiring and promoting practices.

Since the late 1970's, Jefferson County was criticized in federal court for dragging its feet and failing to hire and promote a more diverse staff to include women and African-Americans. On June 15, 2015, Lorren Oliver was appointed to serve as the Receiver to work to bring the county into compliance with a 1982 consent decree.

"This Commission made it a priority to take this matter seriously, and I am very appreciative of them providing all the tools and support we needed to move this along to exit receivership within three years," said Tony Petelos, Jefferson County Manager. "I also want to thank the Receiver, Lorren Oliver, for the work that he did with us. I know it wasn't easy for him to wear two hats, but he's done it since June of 2015 and has done it well. We look forward to continuing our relationship as he serves as a monitor in this case and continues to lead the Personnel Board of Jefferson County."

The termination of the receivership demonstrates that Jefferson County Commission and the administration team have made significant progress to help turn things around and show their commitment to ensuring the workforce reflects the communities it serves. That's why hiring practices must focus on bringing in more diverse, qualified talent to better serve and represent all residents.

"We want our labor to replicate its citizenry," Commissioner Jimmie Stephens said. "Our strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is necessary to provide high-quality service. The end of the receivership demonstrates enormous progress toward more an equable hiring and promotion process.

"Ending the Federal Consent Decree has been a high priority for me, and today we are one step closer to ending the decree. All of Jefferson County's employees and residents —regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, abilities/disabilities, socioeconomic status, geographic region, or other defining characteristics—should feel welcome and valued," said Commissioner Sandra Little Brown.

Commission George Bowman expressed appreciation for Lorren Oliver's tremendous work. Bowman stated, "The cost the County was spending to fight the discriminatory allegations were tremendous and overwhelming. I commend Lorren for the work he has done to help us correct for the effects of the prior discriminatory employment practices. We now have a selection process in place that over time, ensures the workforce has a similar demographic composition as the pool of qualified applicants."

Jefferson County Commission is looking forward to closing what has been an unfortunate history and, more importantly, moving aggressively toward a future that shows Jefferson County is very confident that it can provide the best services.

"This federal court action first arose on May 27, 1975, leading to a Consent Decree in 1982 and ultimately, a Federal Receivership," stated Commissioner Joe Knight. "The termination of the receivership portion of this case is a milestone and signifies once again, this commission's resolve to transform a train-wrecked county into an efficient, fair and effective governmental unit." 

Commissioner David Carrington added, "It's hard to fathom the progress Jefferson County has made in the last 7 1/2 years, moving from hopeless despair to energetic optimism. Today's termination of the federal receivership concerning the County's past employment and promotion practices restores Jefferson County's government legally, fiscally, and operationally."

The termination of the receivership represents the closure of an enormous chapter of this case and allows the County to now focus on what it must do to exit the decree in the future.