Editor's Note — This story is part of an ongoing series of articles analyzing the 2018 general election in Scott County.
HUNTSVILLE — Until eight years ago, there had never been a woman elected to Scott County’s legislative body.
That changed in the 2010 general election, when the 2nd District sent Mountain View’s June Jeffers to Scott County Commission. And with that glass ceiling shattered, the makeup of the commission was altered significantly four years later. When the dust settled after the 2014 general election, women made up more than one-third of County Commission, holding five of the 14 seats.
With the 2018 general election looming close, the makeup of the county legislative body could be on the very of changing again, as a mass exodus of commissioners who opted against seeking re-election threatens to shake things up.
Jeffers, who is completing her eighth year on the county court, opted to step aside, as did two of the four women serving their first terms as commissioners — Winfield city recorder Robyn McBroom in the 5th District and school principal Robin Newman in the 6th District.
Speaking candidly about her decision to not seek re-election, Jeffers said Monday that she was fed up with the direction the legislative body has taken.
“My first four years were tough,” the retired postmaster said of stepping into the political arena as Scott County’s first woman to serve on County Commission. “Nobody would really talk to me and they had their own little groups. Then, in 2014, all the new commissioners came in and they were going to save Scott County. But . . .”
Prior to 2010, women scarcely sought the office of county commissioner in Scott County. But in a year that saw two incumbents in the 2nd District — Clyde Zachary and Leonard Bertram — opt against re-election, Jeffers made history. She finished with 315 votes to win a seat on the 14-member body, trailing only another political newcomer, retired U.S. Army colonel Sam Lyles. And, as fate would have it, history was in the making that August day regardless of Jeffers’ participation. Her neighbor, Linda Overton, finished third in the vote tally with 253 — meaning she would’ve been the first woman elected to County Commission if Jeffers hadn’t been on the ballot.
Jeffers quickly established herself as one of the legislative body’s feistiest members. Unafraid to speak her mind and unafraid to take initiative, Jeffers brought a policy approach to the table that was both blunt and even-handed. She developed a reputation for being able to put personal differences aside once the meetings started. That was illustrated most recently when Jeffers switched her vote at the last minute to become the decisive voice in killing a motion to oust Dr. Trent Cross as the county’s medical examiner — even though she openly feuded with Cross for nearly four years during his tenure on the commission.
“It just wasn’t done right,” Jeffers said Monday of her vote against the resolution to remove Cross from his post. “He should’ve been given a notice before it was brought to us. I just didn’t like the way it was done and I couldn’t vote for it.”
Upon her election in 2010, Jeffers pledged that she would not spend her salary — which is around $500 monthly — on herself. Instead, she said, she would donate it back to the community. She asked Jimmy D. Byrd, the county’s trustee, if she could place him on her bank account so that he could help direct the funds towards needed projects. He agreed, and has helped her in that capacity in the eight years since.
“I have not spent one brown cent on myself,” she said of her commission salary. “It’s all been given back to this community.”
Jeffers’ monthly income has gone to myriad projects in the community. When the Scott County Juvenile Detention Center needed a washer and dryer set and a television, Jeffers made the purchase happen. When a Winfield woman pleaded with County Commission to lower the speed limit on her road to keep ATVs in check, Jeffers personally purchased the signs.
“You can’t be a county commissioner and just sit on your butt,” she said. “If I’ve done anything, I’ve tried to help this community.”
Among her fellow commissioners, Jeffers is also the dessert provider. There’s never a first-Monday-of-the-month workshop at the Scott County Office Building that Jeffers hasn’t provided desserts. At Monday’s meeting, the third-to-last before her time in office draws to a close, it was banana pudding. There have been months when Jeffers has argued vehemently with fellow commissioners over policy matters, then served them dessert minutes later. “Come get you some cake,” is a familiar phrase once the meeting ends.
Jeffers acknowledges that her election in 2010 helped pave the way for a more diverse makeup of County Commission.
“I tell these women that I opened the door for them,” she said.
And when the 2014 election rolled around, she actively recruited others — like Huntsville resident Sheila Buttram, who was also retired from the U.S. Postal Service — to join her on the legislative body. Buttram won a seat in the 3rd District, joining the wave of women elected to the commission that year. Jeffers and Buttram have worked as allies on the commission, often spearheading issues in tandem — such as in 2015, when they led a compromise that saw water lines extended to a Huntsville Hill Road residence that was in a sort of no-man’s-land between the Oneida and Huntsville water districts.
As the 2018 election nears, it’s unclear what will happen to the make-up of County Commission. There could be nearly as many women on the commission on the September side of the election as there are now. In the 2nd District, where Jeffers’ son — Scott County Sheriff’s Department sergeant Jerried Jeffers — is running in her stead, Low Gap resident Jennifer Honeycutt Dishman is among the candidates. In the 4th District, former Scott County Mayor’s Office employee Shonda Gray is on the ballot.
But it’s almost guaranteed that there will be at least two women on the commission. Buttram and 6th District Commissioner Patti Brown do not have competition on the ballot.
Either way, the legislative body will reconvene in September without its straight-to-the-point pioneer, who paved the way to representative diversity at the county level eight years ago. Jeffers doesn’t mince words about where she thinks the county’s business currently stands — “We’re in a mess,” she said. But, she added, there’s a way forward for commissioners who are willing to put in the time and the effort. “You have to be willing to help the community,” she said.