October 24, 2000
Announcing that “the Mayor is in poor voice this evening,” Birmingham Public Information Officer Mark Kelly reads Mayor Kincaid’s weekly report at tonight’s city council meeting at the Hawkins Center in Roebuck.
Councilor Jimmy Blake asks Mayor Kincaid about the status of the controversial petition allowing a referendum to determine ownership of the Birmingham Water Works assets. In a raspy whisper, Kincaid replies that the Justice Department will have to clear the issue because “it comports with the Voting Rights Act.” Blake promises to make the Mayor talk no more than necessary but admits he likes the sound of Kincaid’s hoarse voice. “It has kind of a jazz quality to it,” quips Blake.
At issue this evening is a new cab company moving into the Birmingham market that plans to buy out Yellow Cab and Homewood Cab companies. [Councilors readily point to the lack of taxi availability]. City attorney Rowena Teague offers a brief history of the taxi industry in Birmingham: A quarter-century ago, Yellow Cab was the top cab company in town, with more than 125 vehicles. As Yellow Cab downsized, Veteran Cab [a part of Yellow Cab] did also, but Homewood Cab and other smaller taxi companies grew. Councilor Lee Loder voices concern about how independent taxi operators will be affected. Teague explains that the cab system is not a closed operation and that independent operations are still welcomed [three cabs and a dispatch service are required to start a taxi service]. Representatives of the new taxi company explain that the independent taxi service will benefit from the overflow of demand that will result from new life being pumped into the Birmingham taxi industry. Councilor Aldrich Gunn asks the name of the new company. The company’s representative explains that his company is actually three different corporations: Jefferson County Yellow Cab, Birmingham Yellow Checker Cab Inc., and Jefferson County Transportation, LLC. “Who’s your lawyer?” Blake asks off-microphone. No discernable reply is heard. The issuance of new licenses, as well as the revocation of Yellow Cab and Homewood Cab operating licenses upon purchase by Jefferson County Yellow Cab, is approved unanimously.
Voluntary drug testing of the nine councilors and the Mayor as proposed by Councilor Don MacDermott is back on the agenda after a request for a one-week delay. MacDermott says he wants the drug testing so that the Mayor and the council can set a “good example” for the Birmingham community. The motion is approved, with the tests scheduled to be held in two weeks.
Councilor Blake, however, disagrees with MacDermott’s motive. Blake asks MacDermott what drugs are included in the city’s policy of screening city employees for illegal substances. “Marijuana, cocaine, PCP, and heroin, as far as I know,” replies MacDermott. Blake then asks what situations determine which city employees are required to be tested. MacDermott replies that it includes jobs involving safety, such as firemen, policemen, and anyone who operates a motor vehicle or other equipment. Secretaries and clerks are excluded. Blake says he thought all city employees are required to be drug-tested. Blake presses MacDermott further, inquiring about any other circumstances that might force a city employee to be tested, especially city councilors. An irate MacDermott tells Blake, “If you have a problem with that, then state your problem!” Blake assures the councilor that he is about to do that, answering his own question by explaining that “aberrant behavior such as wrecking a truck” is one such circumstance. Blake then asks MacDermott what sort of “aberrant behavior” by the council would result in drug testing. MacDermott smiles and admits that he hasn’t watched any videotapes of council meetings lately. Stressing that drug testing is important when public safety is at issue, Councilor Blake wants to know who determines “aberrant behavior” when a councilor is involved, and who directs that they take a drug test and lose their job. MacDermott replies that termination would not follow if a councilor refused to take a drug test. He explains that his resolution simply says that all nine councilors should volunteer to submit themselves to drug tests and “then let the chips fall where they may, apparently.” When asked by Blake if he had ever submitted to a drug test, MacDermott replies that he and Kincaid [before Kincaid was mayor] showed up for a previous test at the same time. Blake asks, “Well, who had the purest [urine] between you?” as the audience howls with laughter.
Blake again states that drug testing should be taken seriously and not be administered for “political purposes, which is what I think is going on here.” Blake further suggests that perhaps “aberrant behavior” could be defined as when “a member of this council, who called a public institution universally corrupt, and asked for each of its members to resign, i.e., the Water Works Board, then a year later changes his mind and wants to hand all the assets of the Birmingham Water Works Board back to that organization, I call that ‘aberrant,’ Mr. MacDermott!” [Blake is referring to MacDermott's present position on the assets issue.] MacDermott counters that it was Blake who called for resignation of the Water Works Board, not him. Blake quickly disputes that claim.
MacDermott holds up a copy of a news story dated May 12, 1994, and reads quotes in which Blake indicated he had once urged drug testing of all city employees. When Blake asks MacDermott why he brought the news article to tonight’s meeting, MacDermott replies, “A little bird told me you might object to taking the test.” Admitting that he had taken drug tests before, Blake again emphasizes the political nature of the issue, declaring, “I’m not voting for this silly thing!” The issue passes. Blake leaves the dais to take one of his frequent walks through the council chambers. As he walks by this daydreaming reporter, he administers a friendly punch to my arm, threatening, “Boy, we’re gonna drug-screen you if you don’t wake up!”
October 31, 2000
Council President Pro Tem Aldrich Gunn presides in the absence of Council President Bell this morning. From an issues standpoint, it’s a rather short, dull meeting. Among council business is a vote to increase taxi fees held over from last week’s meeting and the denied request of a liquor license for the Cozy Corner lounge, which reportedly had been selling liquor for years without a license. Councilor Sandra Faye Little’s hot orange suit, replete with rhinestone-studded wide collars and open neckline reminiscent of an Elvis Presley stage getup, is the only salute to Halloween by Council members.
The speaker’s forum, reserved for citizens to address the council for three minutes at the end of each meeting, is where all the action is this morning. Jimmy Corley is back in the council chambers, having been banished several months earlier after an incident in which police wrestled him to the ground before carrying him out of the council chambers. Corley is a self-professed prophet of doom who takes credit for Village Creek floods, tornadoes, and other natural disasters. Council President Pro Tem Aldrich Gunn, who was challenged to a fistfight several years ago by Corley, tells Corley it’s good to see him again.
According to Corley, he was arrested by the Birmingham Police Department five years earlier on charges that he continually maintains were false. Today, Corley reiterates that he was denied medication while incarcerated, which caused him to suffer a seizure. Claiming $14,000 worth of debt and hospital bills to treat an injury he blames on the police department, Corley again demands a financial settlement from the city. He gives the city two weeks to settle.
If nothing has been done at that time, Corley forecasts “cancer, strokes, heart attacks, tumors, body failures to all persons who conspired against me.” Among his dire predictions is a curse he puts on Mayor Kincaid [the same curse he placed on former Mayor Arrington]. He warns that the “curse on Village Creek shall not be lifted,” and that his curse on preachers [Corley singles out Reverend Abraham Woods] who preach on behalf of the city council, the Mayor, and the Jefferson County Citizens’ Coalition will remain in effect. He also predicts that “City Stages shall continue to be rained upon and to lose money.” Corley concludes: “I got the curse on Lake Purdy. There will be no lake like it was before. It shall be cursed 53 years, and the lake level shall drop another four feet.”
Another vocal citizen, Carolyn Corbet, is back after a noticeable absence. Corbet’s resume includes running for president of the United States, mayor of Birmingham, and city councilor. Her past grievances have ranged from accusations of rape in the Birmingham jail to protesting the legality of promotional contests sponsored by various fast-food restaurants.
Today Corbet complains that her “bad tooth” cannot be removed “because of the law.” She also gripes about a broken leg suffered several years ago while walking on a pebble-covered sidewalk in East Lake. Corbet suddenly pulls out a cellular phone, holding it close to the microphone so that her dialing of 911 can be heard in the council chambers. She tells the responding police dispatcher to send “several police cars up here, because I would like to have the Birmingham City Council, along with the Mayor, arrested and charged . . . with attempted manslaughter.” She admits to the dispatcher that she is not an attorney but has been damaged by laws passed by the council. A laughing Councilor Gunn, sounding much like an automated telephone operator, tells Corbet that her three minutes are up.
Radio talk-show host Frank Matthews finishes the speaker’s forum, snickering through his observation that the Council moved so rapidly through the agenda this morning that “we got more treats than tricks, so I’ll just hold my comments until . . . [his sentence breaks off into irrepressible laughter, his conclusion erupting into unbridled giggles].” As usual, Matthews makes little sense. &