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Monday, May 15, 2017

Long defends animal control hire By Evan Belanger Staff Writer May 14, 2017 Updated May 14, 2017

Blogger Comments:  Why is it so hard within Morgan County for the elected officials to promote from within?  Even if nothing nefarious is going on the appearance is there for all to see in the Darren Tucker hire.  The County Commission has sat back and watched Sheriff Ana Franklin hire less than qualified employees over long-term highly qualified employees.  Franklin hired relatives, relatives of relative who are first-line supervisors over their granddaughter, common law sons-in-law, a daughter, and the list goes on.  So! Why do public officials bypass highly qualified employees over those who have absolutely no experience in the job they have been hired to perform? 

Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long said the county may need to update its job description for animal control director in the future, but he does not feel it impacted the search that resulted in the hiring of his longtime associate Darren Tucker.
Tucker, who serves as Somerville’s part-time mayor and has a background in auto-parts sales, took over the county’s Animal Control Department on May 1, following the resignation of former Director Mark Palmer.
Minimum qualifications for the position, according to the job description, include “two to five years of experience in animal control or a related field.”
Tucker listed no animal control experience on his application.
In hiring Tucker, Long passed over seven current county employees who sought the job, including two from within the Animal Control Department — one with 15 years of animal-control experience, the other with two years.
Long said the internal candidates were all either ineligible or lacked the desired managerial experience for the job.
“When we’re interviewing, we have to measure out their experience in the full job, not just the animal aspect of it,” he said.
But Long acknowledged the job description may need to be amended in the future to say animal-control experience is “preferred.”
"We probably need to look at it ... because we will never get a veterinarian to put in for it," he said.
Noting Palmer also lacked animal control experience when he was hired, Long said the job simply doesn’t pay enough to attract candidates with significant animal control experience.
“Anybody who is really experienced in this field is already making a better living than we can give them here,” he said.
Long has said he has known Tucker at least 25 years.
The two served together in Somerville when Long was mayor and Tucker was on the town council. Tucker replaced Long when he left the mayor’s office in 2010 to take his seat on the County Commission.
Long’s wife, Regina, serves as town clerk of Somerville. Long has said there is no conflict of interest because the clerk is hired by the full council, not the mayor alone.
Long denied his relationship with Tucker played a role in the selection, saying Tucker was simply the most qualified of the 12 applicants.
“If I was hiring him just because he was my friend, I would have started him out at the top of the chart, and I would have paid him all I could have paid him,” he said.
Instead, Long started Tucker at a salary of $49,800 annually, the fifth step on a 19-step pay scale that ranges from $46,925 to $61,277.
The city of Decatur’s last Animal Control director, Carol Wicks, who had extensive experience, was earning $79,000 annually when she was terminated in 2014. The department later reorganized as part of the Decatur Police Department.
While prior salary information was blacked out from Tucker's application obtained through a public records request, Tucker said Friday he did not get a raise by taking the county job.
Long said it was primarily Tucker’s leadership experience as manager of O’Reilly Auto Parts in Hartselle since 2003, his service as the part-time mayor of Somerville since 2010, and his interpersonal skills that made him stand out.
He pointed out that Tucker managed 18 workers at O’Reilly, compared to three at animal control, and that he uses the same budgeting system as the county to draft Somerville’s more than $540,000 annual budget.
The job description lists supervisory training or experience as “desired.” It further allows for any “equivalent combination” of experience, training and education that provides the necessary skills to perform the job.
While he said Tucker’s management experience set him apart, Long also said he had some measure of animal experience because he worked transporting livestock for McCulloch Farms in 1989-90, he has two dogs and multiple cats at home, and because Somerville Town Hall often gets animal control complaints.
“That’s who people are going to call, the mayor,” he said. “Most people don’t even know there is a Morgan County Animal Control.”
Those qualifications were not listed on Tucker’s application.
District 2 Commissioner Randy Vest, who was part of the interview committee that consisted of Vest, Long and County Administrator Belinda Ealey, said Tucker was his first choice after interviewing the 12 applicants.
The committee vote for Tucker was unanimous, he said.
Under the city’s personnel policy, hiring officials only had to interview the top five candidates selected by the Personnel Department.
Alana Beard, an attorney for Sewell, Sewell McMillan law firm in Jasper, said the county could avoid the appearance of favoritism in the future by establishing a civil service board.
Such a board would score job applicants on the basis of qualifications and testing, submitting only the top candidates for consideration by the commission.
Typically, the county is required to hire the highest-scoring candidate, she said.
“There are only a handful of counties in the state of Alabama that don’t have one, and the ones that don’t have one, the reason is because it takes all control away from the county commissioners,” she said. “Once you put that in place, the ability to reward your friends and buddies and contributors and people who benefit you in some way has disappeared.”
A civil service commission can only be formed by a local act sponsored by the Morgan County legislative delegation. Beard’s firm represents the Walker County Civil Service Commission.


  1. Why do all other county employees have to start at grade 1 and this guy starts at grade 5????

    1. Dang, grade 5 with zero experience, you'd think Ray would be more than happy to pay experienced deputies more than grade 1.