County Commission Chair’s Focus Should Be on Economic Growth

By Gerald Allen

Tuscaloosa County ranks fifth among Alabama’s sixty-seven counties in population, and is fourth in geographical size. Our county is home to many thriving businesses, including a world-class Mercedes-Benz plant. The state’s flagship university, a leading research hub and home of the best college football team in the nation, is located in our county. Tuscaloosa County is a thriving place of commerce, recreation, and sports.

Yet two of the most important offices in our growing county, probate judge and county commission chair, are served by one person, making Tuscaloosa County one of only thirteen counties left in Alabama that combines the offices of county commission chair and probate judge. The responsibilities of these two offices are vitally important, and we have reached the point where no one person, no matter how talented, can adequately fill both positions.

Take a moment to consider the economic impact the county commission chair has: the chairman leads the Tuscaloosa County Commission in its vital role in working to implement pro-growth economic policies that will create an environment for more jobs. The County Commission works hand-in-hand with the local legislative delegation and the Chamber of Commerce to recruit new businesses to locate here. We are competing with cities from around the country for these new jobs, as locales like Mesa (Arizona), Chattanooga, and Tulsa (Oklahoma) are working hard to land the same jobs we desperately want to come here to Tuscaloosa County.

Yet the chair of the Tuscaloosa county commission also serves our county’s probate judge. As probate judge, he is responsible for maintaining records of deeds, election results, mortgages, and oversees the probate court that handles everything from adoptions to marriage licenses. At some point in nearly everyone’s life, you will have to conduct business with the probate court, business that by its nature is tremendously important.

The county commission chair and the probate judge: two crucially important jobs, but right now we have only one person, Judge Hardy McCollum, splitting his time between those two responsibilities. Judge McCollum is an honorable man, and an able servant. But not even a man with the wisdom of Ronald Reagan and the energy of Teddy Roosevelt could handle the voluminous workload these two jobs now require.

Therefore, the time has come for Tuscaloosa County to separate the offices of probate judge and county commission chair. For Tuscaloosa County to be a leading American city in the 21st century, we need focused, driven individuals with the character of Judge McCollum to serve in these two offices.

That is why I have proposed legislation in the Alabama Senate that will split the positions of probate judge and county commission chair. If my bill becomes law, the county commission chair will no longer have to spend two or three days per week overseeing complex legal negotiations as the probate judge. The county commission chair can focus like a laser on economic growth, 24/7. Similarly, our county will be better served when we have an accomplished leader serving as probate judge, singularly focused on presiding over election results, marriage licenses, and wills in our probate court.

Now the Tuscaloosa News recently took the novel approach of attacking my bill while agreeing with my basic premise that the offices of probate judge and county commission chair should be split. The News objects that my bill is designed to benefit Judge McCollum, who currently serves as probate judge and county commission chair. That is curious, because my bill proposes splitting the two offices, and Judge McCollum will no longer be able to serve in both offices once his current term expires. Judge McCollum will be eligible to serve as county commission chair once his current term expires, but only if he wins a countywide election.

The bottom line is this: for our county to thrive in the 21st century, we need two talented and principled individuals to serve the people, one as probate judge, the other as county commission chair. Two jobs with massive responsibilities as these require the full-time dedication of our best leaders.

Senator Gerald Allen represents District 21 in the Alabama State Senate, which is comprised of all or parts of Tuscaloosa, Pickens, and Lamar Counties. He is chairman of the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee. Follow him on Twitter for the latest legislative updates: @SenGeraldAllen