Commission dismisses Hank Sanders as county attorney after 25+ years of service; hires white Birmingham law firm

Attorney Mark Parnell
Senator Hank Sanders

At its regular meeting, held Monday, April 12, 2021, the Greene County Commission selected a new attorney to serve as its legal representative. Attorney Mark Parnell, of Parnell and Thompson of Birmingham, was hired on the vote of three commissioners, Chairperson Roshanda Summerville, Commissioners Cory Cockrell and Allen Turner, Jr. At the opening of the commission’s meeting, before the printed agenda was voted on, Commissioner Corey Cockrell stated he had two items to add to the agenda: Building storm shelters with bingo funds; and Hiring an Attorney. The item on hiring an attorney had not been discussed at the previous work session. The agenda was adopted with the additions. Following a lengthly executive session, the commission acted on the original items on the agenda and approved the added item concerning building storm shelters with bingo funds. No additional information was presented regarding the storm shelters. The final item on the agenda related to hiring an attorney. Chairperson Summerville called for a vote on Candidate 1 (the candidate’s name was not stated). Commissioner Cockrell offered a motion to approved Candidate 1; Turner seconded the motion and Summerville voted with Cockrell and Turner. The chair declared that Candidate 1 was selected, then called for a motion to adjourn the meeting. Two other candidates the commission had considered, Attorney Hank Sanders and Attorney Prince Chestnut, were not presented for a vote. Reportedly, the Commission Chairperson selected a committee to interview applicants for the attorney’s position. Seemingly, this committee was composed of Chairperson Summerville, Commissioner Cockrell, and staff Brenda Burke. Burke later acknowledge that the extent of her role was to prepare the advertisements and set up the interviews for Mark Parnell and Prince Chestnut. CFO Macaroy Underwood was invited to sit in when the applicants were interviewed. Senator Hank Sanders stated that he did submit an application but did not receive a notice regarding an interview. According to Sanders, following the commission’s work session on Wednesday, April 7, he was asked to come to the commission’s office to discuss a financial matter with Underwood, Summerville and Cockrell. Sanders said that at the close of that meeting, Commissioner Cockrell asked him to discuss his “strong points.” At no point during the commission’s meeting or immediately following the meeting, did the commission offer any additional information to the public regarding the change in attorneys. When Chairperson Summerville was asked, following Monday’s meeting, who was Candidate 1, she deferred to Ms. Brenda Burke, who responded that she did not know. Burke indicated she had nothing to do with this. Commissioner Turner was asked who was Candidate 1, and he referred this to the Chairperson. Ms. Summerville was cautioned that this was public information and she had an obligation to tell the community who had just been hired as the Commission’s attorney. At that point, Ms. Summerville revealed the name of Attorney Mark Parnell. In separate follow-up discussions with Commissioners Smith, Brown and Turner, all three emphatically stated that they did not know Attorney Parnell, had never met him or spoken with him. Smith and Brown did not vote to hire Parnell, but Turner did. In later attempts to seek further comments from the Commission Chairperson, she only replied with no comment, and with the statement, “You must ask this of the whole commission.” In its September, 14, 2020 meeting, the Greene County Commission, through an added on agenda item, agreed to advertise for an attorney. At that time Commission Chairperson Allen Turner, Jr. stated that the current attorney, Senator Hank Sanders, was serving without a contract. He stated the contract had expired. At that same meeting, Commissioner Lester Brown offered a motion to provide a contract for the attorney and this was adopted. Brown stated at that time that his motion was intended to replace the agenda item to advertise for an attorney. Chairman Turner disagreed. Nothing else was made known about an attorney’s search until the April 12, 2021 commission meeting. At press time, Brenda Burke submitted the following statement: After completing the process, the Greene County Commission hired Parnell and Thompson as legal counsel.  Chairman Summerville stated: “Our decision is in the best interest of Greene County and the residents we serve.  We would like to thank Attorney Sanders for his years of service.” Other Business of the Commission The Commission acted on the following items: Adopted the Division C Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan. *Approved $15,000 for new control panel for jail lights from Capital Improvement. *Ratified $6,412 for new computer for Probate Judge’s Office from Capital Improvement. *Approved Amended lease agreement for the Greene County Sheriff Department. *Adopted the resolution regarding the Citizen Participation Plan (CDBG Grant). Adopted the resolution for Fair Housing (CDBG Grant) *Adopted resolutions regarding Standards of Conduct, Procurement Methods, Minimizing Displacement and Section 504 Transition Plan (CDBG Grant). *Authorize the Engineer to order three dump trucks and bodies, totaling $462,603. *Approved proposal from JM Wood Auction for the sale of existing dump trucks in June with a guarantee net of $457,560 and declare trucks as surplus. *Approved proposal from Jackson Security for camera surveillance equipment in area near old shop at cost of $13,313.75. *Approved proposal from Premier Electric to provide power for surveillance equipment in area near old shop at cost of $2,140. *Approved bid from ST Bunn for resurfacing and striping of CR 133 from 131 to the interstate 20/59 for cost of $268,526. *Approved proposal for Dynamic Civil Solution, Inc. for Hydrologic and Hydraulic Study for Miller Road, for 2020 FEMA Storm Event at cost of $11,250. *Approved proposal for Dynamic Civil Solution, Inc. for Hydrologic and Hydraulic Study for CR 97 for 2020 FEM A Storm Event at cost of $11,250. *Approved Brandy Eubanks as District 3 PARA Board Member. *Approved Gavin Edgars as District 2 E 9-11 Board Member. *Approved financial report and payment of claims as presented by CFO, Mac Underwood. Underwood reported the following claims paid in March 2021: Accounts Payable – $267,120.14; Payroll Transfer – $230.052.50; Fiduciary – $195,910.29 totaling $693,082.93. Electronic claims paid totaled $75,093.69. Underwood reported the following bank totals; Citizen Trust Bank – $4,486,650; Merchant & Farmers Bank – $3,551,307.69; Bond Sinking Funds – $1,085,793; Bank of New York – $715,920.40.