Published: Friday, November 12, 2010, 6:30 AM
The newly elected president of the Jefferson County Commission will have to do without something his predecessors had -- responsibility for two of the most sought-after departments in county government.
When David Carrington was elected president by his colleagues this week, he was not handed oversight of the finance department and the general services department, two areas that previous commission presidents have always controlled.
In fact, it was Carrington's idea to construct the new commission so that the president is closer in authority to the other commissioners on the five-member board.
Under the resolution of organization approved by the commission on Wednesday, the president is chairman of only the administrative services committee, while the other four commissioners chair at least two committees each.
"A majority of the power in our new organization structure will not rest in the presidency," said Carrington, a Vestavia Hills Republican. "We have designed a much flatter organizational structure that equitably distributes the workload and responsibilities among all five commissioners."
Those who know Carrington say he is the consummate team builder, a leader whose concern is not credit, but results.
"He was very unselfish in what he did, as far as the duties and responsibilities that the president has," said Commissioner Jimmie Stephens, who has responsibility for the finance department. "It's a much more different and level playing field than it has been in the past."
Carrington's managerial style became apparent long before he won his three-way District 5 primary election in June with 66.4 percent of the vote. He ran unopposed in this month's general election.
Carrington, 62, is president of Racing USA Inc., a NASCAR memorabilia retailer, and a former vice president of merchandising at Parisian, where he was known to write notes to his staff in green ink. "Green represents growth," he said during an interview this week.
Former Parisian CEO Donald Hess said the company recruited Carrington from Houston because of his knowledge of the merchandise-information side of the business.
"David is very bright -- extremely bright -- and he's got great vision," said Hess, who attended this week's swearing-in ceremony for Jefferson County commissioners. "A lot of people who are bright, their egos get in the way of consensus building.
"David, in addition to being very bright, has a tremendous amount of self-confidence in his willingness to learn and be open to different ideas and different suggestions. He never believed his way was the only way to get something done."
Carrington has been married for almost 40 years and has two children and four grandchildren. His wife, Sonia, is principal of Rocky Ridge Elementary School.
Carrington arrived in Birmingham in 1978 and immediately went to work in his community.
He volunteered in various civic capacities in Vestavia Hills, including as a member of the city's economic development, finance and communications committees and the chamber of commerce. He was also a board member of Vestavia Voters with Vision -- V3 -- a residents' action group that helped install a new city government during the 2000 city elections.
Carrington got a scare in 1999 when doctors told him that he had cancer. He had surgery in May of that year and has fully recovered.
He was president of Leadership Vestavia in 2003-2004 and was elected to the Vestavia Hills City Council in 2004. He became president in 2006.
Mary Lee Rice, current president of the Vestavia Hills City Council, said Carrington came to decisions only after seeking opinions from other members.
"He felt it was important to hear each one of our individual positions, so he could take that into consideration, too, if he was trying to come up with a solution," Rice said. "One on one, you feel a respect from him when he sits and talks to you. He valued your input even if at the beginning you may not have been exactly on the same page."
Vestavia Hills Mayor Alberto "Butch" Zaragoza said he was always impressed by the way Carrington researched issues.
"He asks the questions and challenges you to look at different options that you have and not just be status quo," Zaragoza said. "And when you produce the information that he needed, whether it was pro or con, he was willing to adjust his thinking, just like we adjusted our thinking to some things."
Carrington, a member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills, said he enjoys spending his free time at sporting events, especially those where his grandchildren are playing.
He also has a Tahoe deck boat that he looks forward to when he travels to the lake in Guntersville. The grandchildren have named the boat "Lots of Fun," he said.
When he decided to make his first run for County Commission, Carrington won the Republican primary race to replace Jim Carns, who did not seek a second term on the commission.
Before being seated, Carrington and his colleagues faced criticism for a meeting he organized at the law offices of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, which over the past five years has been paid $5.5 million as an outside legal counsel for the county. In attendance were five commission candidates, including three who still had opponents in the general election.
Carrington said the meeting did not violate the Alabama open meetings law, and the sworn-in commission fully understands the law and will fully abide by it.
The focus now, commissioners say, is on the possible loss of the county's occupational tax, the pursuit of a solution to the $3.2 billion sewer debt crisis, and hiring by April a county manager who can tackle the myriad problems facing the government.
"I truly believe the best way to solve our problems is that all power is equally distributed as much as you can among all five commissioners, and I think we have developed a plan to do that," Carrington said. "You do not build consensus in debate. You build consensus in discussion."
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Commissioner David Carrington
Date of birth: April 24, 1948; age 62.
Residence: Vestavia Hills.
Family: Wife, Sonia; two sons.
Political experience: Elected to the Jefferson County Commission, 2010; Vestavia Hills City Council member, 2004-2010; council president, 2006-2010.
Professional experience: President of Racing USA, independently owned NASCAR memorabilia and collectibles store, 1997-present; president of WDC Systems, 1983-2001; vice president of merchandising at Parisian, 1978-83.
Education: University of Houston, master's degree, 1975; bachelor's degree, 1970.
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