Parting Remarks

A Conversation with County Manager Tony Petelos Before Retirement

Describe growing up in the Ensley neighborhood. What was the area like back then? What interests did you have in civic and/or political topics? 

Both my parents immigrated from Greece. I was born here in the United States and grew up in Ensley. We lived about a mile from downtown, and we could ride bikes, go to movies — it was a great time to be young. My dad died at a young age from an infection. But the Boy Scouts had a huge impact on me and my brothers. We learned leadership; we were able to go camping and do things we weren't otherwise able to do. Later, I was interested in civics in high school, and I went to UAB and got a political science degree. I was also involved in Ronald Reagan's campaign. 

Besides becoming mayor of Hoover, what is your professional and educational background? 

I was elected three terms to the Alabama legislature — in 1986, then 1990 and 1994. I resigned in order to take a job with the Department of Human Resources, which handles welfare, food stamps, abuse of children — it’s a social services agency. I was appointed by the governor at the time, and I worked with DHR from 1997 to 2001. I left and ran for Mayor of Hoover and won in 2004 and then in 2008. I resigned from mayor to be the first county manager for Jefferson County. 

What are your thoughts on the condition of Jefferson County today compared to a decade ago? 

Once I took the job at the county, 40 days later we filed for the largest bankruptcy in the history of the United States. We had a reduction of more than 1,000 employees. We had over 22 people who went to prison from the county, including elected officials. It was a dysfunctional and corrupt government. 

As of today, the county has hired great people to run the departments. The directors are in place, reserves are in place, commissioners are working well together, and things are being run efficiently. We did not furlough or lay anyone off during the pandemic, and we could continue our services. I am very pleased with the progress we’ve made. We’ve worked hard with the commissioners to bring credibility back. The future is bright for economic development, and companies are looking to locate here. 

As a cancer survivor, how has your personal health journey influenced your role as county manager? 

I was diagnosed with bladder and prostate cancer in 2014, and I had to go through chemo and have three major surgeries. It was a sudden surprise when I was diagnosed, but I never lost my faith. We worked with the doctors, and here I am, seven years later. The commissioners were very helpful during that time, helping things to operate. My deputy county manager, Walter Jackson, took over in my absence. 

I found out I had cancer on a Tuesday, and on Thursday I announced it. I felt strongly that being a public figure, I needed to tell everyone what was going on. I had a lot of prayer from folks I didn’t even know. I think it's important for people to know there’s life after cancer. 

What are you looking forward to in retirement? What prompted the decision to retire? 

I am still in good health, and it’s a good time to retire. I’ve never stopped working. I went to college at night and worked my whole adult life. I’m sure I’ll do something else on a part-time basis. But I’m looking forward to relaxing. I love traveling and hiking. In 2011, I had the opportunity to hike to the base of Mount Everest. I love the outdoors, so any time I can be outdoors, I’m happy. 

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