A job near the county manager's heart - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

A job near the county manager's heart

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BIRMINGHAM - AL -

It's an offer many people would have refused. But one year ago, Hoover's Mayor at the time took the job of Jefferson County's county manager. Tony Petelos went to Ensley where he grew up on his anniversary to explain why he would take on such a task.

Ensley Park brings a smile to Tony Petelos' face.

"Many a days riding bikes to Ensley Park, playing ball and going to downtown Ensley to shop," he said.

Petelos drove to the family house on Avenue D that was built by his father. It's where he says his Greek family was living the American dream.

His father died when he was nine years old. He was the youngest of eight children raised by a single mother.

"She spoke little English. She had no job skills outside the home, so we had to go to work cutting grass, throwing newspapers. This used to be our territory throwing the Birmingham News," he said gesturing to the street.

His family even participated in a new, unheard of food assistance program at the time.

"I remember dropping out of school one day, riding the bus to pensions and security with my mom to sign up for food stamps," he said.

To get off food stamps, he worked...

"I went to work full time and haven't stopped from the day I graduated high school," he said.

After graduating from what was then Ensley High School, Petelos started his own construction company and attended UAB at night. That eventually led to a political career as a state representative for his childhood community then several terms as Hoover mayor and now the first Jefferson County manager.

"I'm a lifelong resident of this city and you need to remember where you come from," he said.

Petelos considers the implementation of the county manager form of government his biggest accomplishment. But he says his roots make Cooper Green Hospital a priority for the new year.

"I know people are put in hardships in their lives and Cooper Green Hospital is a safety net and we want to make that safety net better. It's not going to be different but better," said the county manager. "I was at the hospital a few weeks ago. I asked a lady, 'how long have you been here?' She said, 'I've been waiting nine hours to see a doctor.' I told her that's unacceptable and it is unacceptable. We want to make sure they can see a doctor and they can get treatment. The model is broken."

He says mistakes will be made but make no mistake, he'll fight for Cooper Green.

"This is my old neighborhood, and I know a lot of folks in their neighborhood use Cooper Green. We're going to take care of them," he said.

Petelos is currently working with a healthcare consultant and deputy county manager on a new Cooper Green model.

Another one of his priorities is to get the county out of bankruptcy. When that's over, he hopes to create a new county slogan about Jefferson County being open for business.

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