After combing through a list of candidates from around the country, Mobile County Communication District board members found a new leader already sitting at the table — voting last week to promote Acting Director Charlie McNichol to the job full time beginning July 1.
Seventeen applications were received and reviewed by a personnel committee chaired by board member Trey Oliver, who “put together a process” that ultimately whittled the list down to three who were presented to the full board.
During the regular meeting May 12, the board went into executive session to discuss the final candidates to replace former director Gary Tanner, who the board terminated following an internal investigation of the district’s management practices.
“It will be a one-year probation,” board member Robert Adams said. “This would take effect July 1 after the personnel committee and the board can have sufficient time to review salary, job description and related matters.”
Adams was joined in supporting McNichol by board members Jeff Reeves, Cynthia Coleman and President Stephen Bowden, while Oliver abstained from voting.
“I respect the board’s decision and their efforts to get this done so we can continue answering the calls of the public,” McNichol said following the vote. “With a new board and a new director, going forward, I feel like we’ll only be making progress in a positive way.”
Though the personnel committee and ultimately the full board will set McNichol’s salary, it will likely be more than the $83,000 he received as deputy director. Before he was removed from the position in February, Tanner was making upward of $126,000 as director.
McNichol first took the job as MCCD’s deputy director in July 2013, after Tanner was promoted to director from the same position. Oliver also recommended McNichol for the job in 2013, and unlike Thursday, voted to approve his appointment — something he didn’t find to be a conflict of interest at the time.
A former assistant police chief with the city of Daphne, McNichol was later a law enforcement coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Mobile, though he was forced to resign from his federal job after being convicted of a misdemeanor for leaking sensitive information. McNichol also spent a brief period in the private sector, working for DRC Group in Louisiana.
With several new board members and a new director, Adams said the MCCD is looking to continue restructuring its operations, though it’s still unclear exactly how that will shake out.
“I can guarantee there will be some movement of positions. Obviously, there will be a director, but maybe with some different job descriptions and things like that,” Adams said. “Right now, I don’t know if I can say there will be a deputy director or not. We simply haven’t got that far yet.”
MCCD “isolated” from county commission
Since the controversy surrounding the MCCD’s ongoing $40 million radio enhancement contract with Harris Corp. began, the dynamic among MCCD’s board members and the rest of Mobile County’s government appears to have changed.
Last week, Adams moved to improve the board’s communication with the Mobile County Commission by giving quarterly reports of MCCD’s activities at future commission meetings.
“I feel it would be of value to have some type of channel of communication between us and the county commissioners,” Adams said. “I feel like we’re isolated from them.”
Though Adams didn’t go into detail, the county and MCCD’s board have been using their lawyers to communicate in recent months, with County Attorney Jay Ross making it a recent habit to attend MCCD’s board meetings.
The change is a diversion from a cozy history that’s seen the entities share funding, resources and even employees in the past, but with little county oversight or scrutiny.
Recently, attorneys have focused on finding an agreeable use for $700,000 refunded from a $3.6 million communications project both entities paid for in 2012.
The funds originated from a homeland security grant meant to improve communication between Mobile and Baldwin counties, but the system has never been used even though it continues to cost the MCCD for electricity and regular maintenance.
There have been opposing ideas among commissioners, county officials and 911 Board members about which agency the money should be refunded to and how it should be used. Last week, MCCD attorney Jeff Hartley said meetings with those stakeholders were continuing and everyone was working “in good faith” to resolve the issue.
“There’s been a lot of different opinions, but I think the ball is back in the court of  to come up with a counter proposal,” Hartley said in a brief update.
While the grant issue may be showing signs of progress, MCCD board members have already tasked the new director with reviewing the district’s longstanding arrangement to pay the county the maintenance service at its facility on Zeigler Boulevard.
“The district owns this facility and everything in it, but Mobile County’s maintenance employees that work in all the county buildings have historically worked out here,” McNichol said. “It’s always been something they’ve charged for. They’ll send us a bill like [anyone else].”However, with MCCD’s renewed effort to reduce costs, board members are looking to closely examine that arrangement, which one board member said was “not competitive” and others blame for previous bills that were “a little bit exorbitant.”
However, the exact cost to MCCD is unclear. Mobile County Public Affairs Coordinator Nancy Johnson did confirm the county bills for those services as requested, but redirected questions about the cost to MCCD. When asked about the average price, McNichol said he was “still digging into the details,” but would share the information once it has been compiled for the 911 Board.
“What the board is concerned with is not only cost, but making sure that a 24/7 facility such as ours is given the appropriate priority,” he added.