The Baldwin County Commission voted 3-1 to renew the contracts of nine employees Nov. 12, but that same margin voted against extending the contract of County Administrator David Brewer.
Brewer, a graduate of the University of Alabama, has been employed with Baldwin County since 1996. He served as the interim County Administrator from Nov. 10, 2010 until May 2011, when he was appointed to the position full time.
Commissioners Tucker Dorsey, Chris Elliot and Skip Gruber voted against renewing Brewer’s contract, while senior Commissioner Frank Burt voted in favor of the renewal, which comes with a $98,000 salary.
“That’s the nature of a political appointment – you have to have a leadership style that matches with the political body,” Elliot said. “Mr. Brewer’s leadership style didn’t mesh with mine. It really was just time for a change.”
Dorsey said he appreciated Brewer’s work, adding that he’d been very good in his capacity as administrator.
“The position requires someone to oversee the operation of several different department heads, and I don’t think his management skill is conducive to running those departments,” Dorsey said. “We were glad to fulfill his contract up to tenure, but this a new commission and we felt it was time to make a change.”
Burt was the lone supporter for renewing Brewer’s contract and the only dissenter in regards to renewing the other nine contracts approved by the commission. Burt said he thinks highly all of nine of the individuals whose renewals he voted against, but did so because of concerns over a statute governing civil service contracts.
“If you have taken an appointment from someone that was previously a merit employee, if they had worked for ten years in the merit system, then you have to at least offer them their previous job back,” Burt said paraphrasing Alabama Code 36-26-32.1.
That statute says any person in a merit or civil service system with the state who relinquishes a position to accept a non-merit appointment “shall be returned to permanent status in the same merit classification which that person held at the time of appointment” if they meet certain requirements including serving in the previous position for at least 10 years.
Burt said an offer was made four years ago in an almost identical situation involving former Baldwin County EMA Director Leigh Anne Ryals, who returned to her previous position as assistant director after her contract with the board was not renewed.
Burt believes Brewer also met those qualifications by serving as the assistant county administrator for 18 years before being appointed by the commission in 2010. However, he was not offered the chance to return to his previous position.
According to Burt, the county’s attorney David Conner hadn’t decided what the best course action to take was regarding the statute and advised the commissioners as such in an executive session just before the vote on Wednesday. Burt said the commissioners ignored the statute and Conner’s counsel when they returned to the open meeting to vote on the ten contracts.
“I asked that they consider it before any of the ten employees were renewed, and to me, I think the (commission) stepped in a hole,” Burt said. “I understand clear, though I admired David and his work, the right of the commission to end a contract. I would have made the motion myself, but not without at least offering him his old job back.”
Despite the rhetoric about differing leadership styles, Brewer said the issues with the commission began shortly after the June primary that brought Elliot onto the Commission in place of Bob James and solidified another term for incumbent Gruber.
According to Brewer, his professional relationship with Burt was the primary reason his contract was terminated, something he said was clearly expressed to him by more than one commissioner.
“Several of the commissioners had come to me and said that, ‘while I did a good job and they couldn’t ask for anybody better,’ they felt I was too close to Frank Burt,” Brewer said. “That was the reason given to me, and I don’t know of any other.”
Brewer said he often sought Burt’s advice because he’s been a seated commissioner since 1989, which helps overcome what he called a “lack of institutional memory” in several county positions.
According to Brewer, several of the county’s employees have sought advice and information from Burt over the years, which he said had created an “animus” or hostile feeling amongst some of the the commissioners.
“It just made itself a focal point on me,” Brewer said. “Only a fool doesn’t go to the wisest person in the room and at least ask. I guess there must be some feelings that are contrary to that, but I don’t know.”
During the commission’s Nov. 4 meeting, Burt offered to resign if it would convince his fellow commissioners to renew Brewer’s contract. Despite that offer, Burt opted to keep his District 1 seat when the contract renewal was voted down.
When asked about Brewer’s relationship with the senior commissioner, Elliot said the issue was “probably less about Burt than he thinks it is,” but choose not to go into any further detail.
Dorsey chose not comment on the matter, reiterating that he personally just felt it was time for a change in county leadership.
“I think principally, [Commissioner Burt and I] agree on some things, and in other areas we don’t agree,” Dorsey said. “But the commission is body of four, and we make decisions based on what’s best for the whole of Baldwin County.”
County Administrator is a politically appointed position, so Brewer was no longer an employee of the county effective immediately.
He said there are some vacation days and a final check to sort out, but “there will be no severance package.”
Ron Cink, whose contract as the county’s budget director was renewed at the meeting, was named as Brewer’s interim replacement by a 3-1 vote.
Because the position is a political appointment, there is was no need to advertise the opening. For now, It’s not certain how long Cink will serve as interim county administrator.
At the same meeting, Erich Bergdolt, assistant attorney for the city of Mobile, was put up for consideration by the commission.
“He was offered a contract similar to the rest of our appointed positions,” Dorsey said.
According to Burt, Bergdolt told the commission he wanted to discuss terms of his contract before accepting the position and then later rejected the $100,000 offer after the differences could not be reconciled in a subsequent working session.
As for his relationship with his fellow commissioners, Burt said he had no animosity for the others.
“I can work with anybody I believe, but I’ve got a fiduciary responsibility, a moral responsibility and an oath of office to keep,” he said. “I’m willing to work with them and hope they’re willing to work with me.”
According to Burt, several of those who attended the meeting spoke in support of Brewer after the vote not to renew his contract had passed.
Brewer said he was “really blessed” work with 23 commissioners over his 19-year career with Baldwin County, and said it wasn’t his place to second guess the decision not to renew his contract or decision made the county officials.
“A lot of people think government jobs are lifetime appointments, but they are temporary privileges, and that temporary privilege has ended for me,” he said. “It will also come up somewhere else. I’ll do this at some other jurisdiction and I’ll serve that community with the same passion and desire to help that I had in Baldwin County.”
The following contracts and salaries were also renewed during this morning’s regular meeting. All contracts were renewed for four a period of four years. Budget Director Ron Cink, $90,000; Building Official Michael Howell, $82,000; Clerk/Treasurer Kim Creech, $98,000; Communication and Information Systems Director Brian Peacock, $98,000; Engineer Cal Markert, $130,000; Terri Lynn Graham, $85,000; Emergency Management Director Mitchell L. Sims, $95,000; Juvenile Detention Director Jennifer Lee, $92,000 and Personnel Director Andrea Rider, $82,000.