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No More Fifth Term for Jefferson County’s Commissioner

By Sally Maison
Published: Monday, January 11th, 2010

Jefferson County Commission’s President Bettye Fine Collins announced this week that she no longer has any plan to seek a fifth term this year, saying it is time to pass the torch. Collins was target of many criticisms this year after the county massed up huge debts and saw its credit rating drop from Caa1 to B3—the third-lowest non-investment grade by JP Morgan.

No More Fifth Term for Jefferson County’s Commissioner Collins told Birmingham news this week that she is still eager to serve her county, but believes that it is now time for Jefferson County to have a new commissioner. The 75-year old commissioner is also placing her Trussville home up for sale and may leave District 4 which she has represented for nearly 16 years.

Political analysts predict that Collins’ departure could drastically change how officials would run Jefferson County and how the commission would deal with financial troubles that caused the county to suffer numerous downgrades on its credit rating and has nearly pushed it to bankruptcy.

Jefferson County’s financial struggles made Collins a target of severe criticisms from radio talk shows, blogs, and even from her own party. However, she does not view those criticisms favorably, saying they only undo the work of people in the government. “It has less to do now with actual accomplishments than accusations,” she commented.

When asked about her plans to give up the home she has been living in for 18 years, she said her decision was influenced by her children, who told her that she does not need a 2,666-square foot house with a swimming pool and regular maintenance.

Experts recall that Collins’ term has not been easy since she assumed the commission presidency November of 2006. Former commissioner and Birmingham mayor Larry Langford, who was convicted this year of 60 counts of corruption, left the county in a financial mess and with a very precarious credit rating. When she faced arguments on whether the county should seek protection by filing for government bankruptcy—which would have been the largest in United States history—Collins broke rank with fellow Republicans and joined two Democrats to form a majority coalition.

However, her problems were not primarily political, it was more of a financial struggle as the county tried, but unfortunately failed to repay the $3.2 billion debt to expand its sewer system. Jefferson County also saw its credit rating decline to the junk status of B3, which is equivalent to a subprime credit score.

After leaving politics, Collins plans to support other causes such as domestic violence prevention. She also plans to continue being a proponent of education, which she has been since her children were in elementary school.

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