Monthly Archives: April 2001

Space Voyager

Space Voyager

April 26, 2001 

Astronaut Jim Kelly escaped the confines of gravity for a couple of weeks in March as he embarked on a two week voyage that included the first crew transfer for space station Alpha. Kelly has been an astronaut since 1996, fulfilling a dream that began after his five-year-old imagination was captured by Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon in 1969. Kelly was the first University of Alabama graduate to fly in space.

Was flying in space everything you expected?

Everything and more. Like a trip you can’t imagine.

At what point did you realize that you had completely left Earth’s atmosphere?

The first place you realize it is when you have main engine cut-off. As soon as that happens, you just start floating out of your seat, everything starts floating up from where it is. And you realize you’re some place you’ve never been before. Of course, the ride up is pretty impressive, too. Something that you’ve never felt before; the different forces on your body, the shaking, and the visuals out the window.

Describe what you saw.

Well, when you’re going up, the first thing you see is the main engines of the solid rocket boosters. You see the light out the window in your peripheral vision. And as you go off the launch pad, the first thing we do is a roll program to get us pointed in the right direction, headed basically east, northeast. If you glance out the window, you can see the Earth rolling around as you go up. We launched right after sunrise and headed towards the east. It got brighter and brighter through the first part of ascent as we went towards the sun. But then you get this big blast of light when the solid rocket boosters come off. There are explosive charges that cut the connections between it and the external tank. And you can see the flash pretty much out your front window. As you keep going up, it slowly starts getting darker and darker until you’re in the black of space.

Is your brain or thought process affected at all by zero gravity?

Yeah, it is. It’s kind of funny. As you get more and more used to it, it becomes the natural way of things. If you need to grab something with both hands, and you’ve got something in one hand, say you’ve got a drink or pencil in one hand. Instead of trying to find some place to set it down, you just let go of it. It gives you a chance to do what you want, and you just come back and pick it up. When I got back on Earth, I dropped a fork. It’s one of those things you unconsciously start doing when you get back on the ground if you’re not thinking or if you’re tired because you’ve been up [in space] for a couple of weeks. You just forget, and you have the same habit patterns. That must be a stronger thing for the space station Alpha crew after being up there for four months. You go, “Hey, I don’t need this pencil right now,” and just let go of it and it falls to the ground. And you’re like, “Huh, why did that happen?”

The other thing it changes is your view of the world, in that down here on the ground it’s real easy to figure out what’s up and what’s down. Up in orbit the first couple of days, you have in your mind the Earth version of up and down, which isn’t necessarily the orbit version of up and down. So it takes a little while. You find your brain adjusting to what the new up and down is. And sometimes you’ll be looking at it, and you’ll be one way and three other people will be different ways. All of a sudden you’ll feel your brain shift to a new version of what’s up. And it’s kind of an interesting feeling.

When we spoke before your flight, you mentioned that the “fly around” (a shuttle maneuver allowing astronauts to eyeball the space station on all sides to check for any problems before returning to Earth) was a particularly big challenge for you as the pilot. Can you elaborate?

We undocked and did one and a quarter laps around the space station. We were on the “V-Bar,” which means we were on the front end as the space station flies through space. And we went from the front end to above it, so that the space station was directly between the Earth and us. We could see the space station and the whole Earth beneath it. And from there we did one complete revolution–we went all the way down until we were between the station and Earth, and then all the way back to the top. We did our separation burn from directly above the station.

How difficult is flying and landing the shuttle?

It’s different than any airplane [Kelly is a jet fighter pilot]. Most commercial airliners will come down on a flight path where it’s about a three degree angle off the ground. But for most of the final landing phase, the shuttle is coming down at an 18 degree glide path towards the ground. It’s six times as steep as what you’ll see in a commercial airliner, so obviously you’re coming towards the ground a lot quicker. Plus you’ve just spent two weeks in space. So you’ve gone two weeks at apparent zero G, and we pulled as much as 1.6 Gs coming back in. You’re readjusting to gravity at the same time as you’re flying a vehicle that–to use [shuttle commander] Jim Weatherbee’s words–is a “runaway freight train.” Your body is trying to catch up with gravity, your mind’s trying to catch up, ’cause all of a sudden your inner ear can sense gravity again, which it hasn’t done for two weeks. At the same time you’re flying this vehicle that’s slamming into the atmosphere and heading towards the ground at an 18 degree flight path. You have to stay ahead of it.

Would it be accurate to say that the landing is as disorienting as the launch?

Oh, yeah. But a big difference is that on the launch up, when we go into orbit, if all goes well, between the two of us we each throw one switch. And on our ascent we were fortunate that we didn’t have any anomalies at all. The launch phase is set up where the computer controls everything, and we pretty much just sit on our hands unless something goes wrong. Luckily nothing went wrong, so we basically sat on our hands for the first eight and a half minutes. We were cycling through displays and checking systems and ensuring that everything was going right, and except for one, we didn’t have to throw any switches or make any critical decisions. On entry, that’s not the case. Once you get below Mach 1, it’s a hand-flown vehicle and the commander flies it. The flight engineer is throwing some switches, and it’s a lot more of a hands-on experience coming in for entry than it is on ascent.

I guess you were aware that Discovery was the name of the spacecraft in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Yeah, we sure were. It’s kinda funny. We took DVDs and CDs for our spare time–which, it turns out, you have almost none of. Although we use the CD player and listen to music up there in space. I took some music that some friends gave me to take along. I think, amongst the whole crew, we flew eight or nine copies of 2001. We listened to a bunch of stuff–popular music, things from high school. A couple of others had CDs that friends had made of space-related tunes. We waived off for 90 minutes, which means we were supposed to come down on entry, but the weather wasn’t good enough for us [to land]. So we fired up the CD player with classical music and relaxed for a little while before getting ready to come down on the second landing revolution.

Shuttle missions include different nationalities, as well as both military personnel and civilians. Is there any type of military protocol, saluting, traditional things, followed on space missions?

Not the typical military protocol of “yes sir” and “no sir,” saluting and those kind of things. However, there’s a lot of military tradition that’s been put into the space station. The first change of command ceremony [on the space station] from the Expedition One crew to the Expedition Two crew involved reading out of the ship’s log book and words spoken by all three of the commanders. There was a bell-ringing ceremony, which is a long naval tradition, that is done. So there’s been several really nice military traditions, primarily naval traditions, that have been incorporated into the special events that happen onboard the space station. But as far as day-to-day protocol, there’s not any of that.

Is there any Russian protocol recognized?

Yeah, in Russian culture they’re really big on toasting, and that’s part of the ceremonies–toasting each other, toasting the ground. In this case, it wasn’t literally, obviously, with glasses or anything [laughs]. But they’re very gracious at doing that type of thing.

Any communication problems between the Russians and Americans?

No, as a shuttle crew member it wasn’t required that I know Russian. The three cosmonauts we flew with were all fluent to different degrees in English, and I had no problem communicating with any of them. But our Expedition crew members that go up there [to the space station] to live and work are also fluent in different levels of Russian.

Are you ready to go to Mars?

Oh, I’m ready [laughs]. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re ready yet. But hopefully sometime during my astronaut lifetime we’ll start heading back to the Moon and Mars. &

City Hall — April 10, 2001

City Hall

April 26, 2001

April 10, 2001

 Elections on the layaway plan

Councilor Sandra Little offers an amendment to a recently delayed resolution by Mayor Kincaid that seeks payment of the $175,518.12 bill generated by the February 27 Water Works referendum. Little’s amendment would pay only the $42,670 owed to poll workers. She continues to decry Kincaid’s reference to the referendum as a “pre-Council election warning” to councilors who oppose the Mayor. “There’s a lot of politics going on, and those poor people are stuck there,” says Blake as he compares the plight of unpaid poll workers to the spy plane crew recently detained in China. Blake supports Little’s proposal to pay poll workers, though he would like to see the entire debt paid. Councilor Johnson asks the Mayor to address the debt. “Here we go again, playing games,” Councilor Blake can be heard muttering off-mic. Mayor Kincaid demands that the Council approve payment for the entire debt as obligated by state law, noting, “We look petty by not paying it, or by trying to parcel out [payments].” Kincaid asks the bottom-line question that everyone has thus far ignored. “How reasonable is it to believe that the voting machines we used in the special election, which are [needed] for the City Council election 182 days from today–how can you believe that you can go back to the county to get those machines for the Council election when we have a debt?”

Who else is counting?

Councilor Aldrich Gunn refuses to put up with the Mayor’s weekly countdown reminder any longer. “Countdown 182 days before the Council election? And I welcome it. I welcome it! He’s [Kincaid] got men out there with muscles big as mine holding up a picket sign. They need to have a job! They need to be working!” Gunn bellows in reference to Kincaid supporters who gather daily in front of City Hall with signs urging the defeat of all councilors seeking re-election but one–purportedly to be Councilor Lee Wendell Loder. “It’s 730 days before another election–the Mayor’s election!” Gunn notes, appalled that the Mayor insists on paying off the entire $175,000 referendum debt. “You come to a place of reconciliation, and then you scoot out on these jive things,” Gunn says disgustedly as he urges that poll workers be paid. The councilor then readjusts his previous arithmetic and declares, “It’s 912 days ’til the Mayor’s election!”

Councilor Blake requests an itemized list of election services not included in the poll worker payments. Blake wants the list so that the public can know who is not being paid. He urges the Mayor to put the item back on the Council agenda. As Council President Bell asks the Council to move on to the next issue, Blake again can be heard off-mic, offering a quiet “Hallelujah!”

An elected Birmingham school board

Councilor Bill Johnson continues his push for an advisory referendum allowing Birmingham voters to decide if they want to elect the school board rather than have it appointed by the City Council. The State Legislature earlier voted to hold an election addressing an elected school board in 2003 rather than October 2001. Councilor Loder commends Johnson for placing the item on the agenda, but is disturbed that the aforementioned February referendum on the Water Works has not been paid for. Loder supports the advisory referendum because the public would be directly included in the future of Birmingham schools, but Councilor Bandy argues that anyone has the opportunity to send in a resume for school board vacancies. “This proves that the public is not left out,” says Bandy. Councilor Blake also supports Johnson, and notes that Republican State Senator Steve French amended the bill introduced by Democratic State Senator Carolyn Smitherman to delay the elected school board issue until 2003. “If Steve French represents anybody in the city of Birmingham, it’s minuscule,” says Blake, who calls the Democratic and Republican team effort to delay the vote “a beautiful example of how we have nonpartisanship when it comes to screwing the public.” Councilor MacDermott says he cannot support the financing of a referendum as long as people in his district continue to have flooding problems. Councilor Johnson interrupts MacDermott to explain that his referendum proposal would be held during the October Council election, and would not be a special election.

Councilor Gunn suddenly launches a personal attack on Johnson. “Everybody wants to help our children. And that guy [Johnson] down on the end there, he’s good at it,” says Gunn. Gunn recites a frequently referenced Gunn parable about “getting the rat out of the barn instead of burning the barn down,” insinuating that Johnson is the”rat,” one supposes. Gunn glares at Johnson and notes, “Yeah, I said that.” Councilor Gunn concludes with praises for the new Carver High School, calling it a “testimony” to providing a good learning environment. He labels the old school “a swamp.”

Council President Bell says that Johnson’s motivation for proposing the referendum is “to create another issue for the upcoming Council election.” Bell continues: “If he had good motivations, he’d be down in Montgomery with the legislators right now instead of grandstanding on this particular issue.” He dismisses Johnson’s referendum proposal as nothing more than a “sham of an election.” Johnson requests that the resolution be amended to be held in conjunction with the October Council elections, but the amendment and resolution fail on a four to four tie. Councilors Loder, Johnson, MacDermott, and Blake endorse the referendum. Bell, Little, Bandy, and Gunn oppose it. Councilor Pat Alexander is absent.

Blake crunches redistricting numbers

According to Blake’s redistricting plan, Councilor Gunn’s district would be one of the more significantly affected. Blake offers Gunn advice on the safest way to confront the dilemma of getting re-elected in an altered Council district. “I’d be happy to furnish a parachute, Mr. Gunn, if I had one. I think that the way you parachute is don’t run for re-election in October–or at least that’s my way of parachuting,” says a grinning Blake as he prefaces a presentation of his redrawing of Birmingham’s nine council districts [which is required by law after each census]. The presentation of Blake’s plan is not on the agenda for a vote; the councilor is simply fulfilling an earlier promise to show that the city had resources to do its own redistricting as opposed to spending money on outside consultants. Blake explains that his goal is not “to establish the district plan, obviously,” but rather to “provide a framework, where the Council and the Mayor can work out a district plan.” But Councilor Gunn promptly takes issue with Blake’s parachute comments. “You say you hope I wouldn’t run. I been running ever since I’ve been here. And I’m still running.” Blake denies that he said he hoped Gunn wouldn’t run, but Gunn continues to accuse Blake of trying to take away his district. “The only thing he’s [Blake] doing is cutting out District Five, and sending me way up into District One.” Gunn tells Blake that he “ought to see the [redistricting plan] that I’m working on.” Blake offers to move the lines for Gunn “as long as they meet the criteria.” Gunn explains that he would lose Woodlawn, Avondale, 16 churches, seven schools, and two community development centers if Blake’s plan were adopted. “Now I can deal with numbers. You don’t play me short on that,” says Gunn in reference to Blake’s plan. Gunn claims his own plan includes “fair participation,” as well as inclusion of the city’s Southside in his district [Blake's current district is comprised of most of Southside]. Blake reminds Gunn that District Four [Gunn's district] has lost considerable population, and notes that minority districts must be taken into consideration, according to law. Blake admonishes Gunn for interrupting him, to which Gunn apologizes profusely: “I know you admire me.” The Council breaks up in laughter. “Well, ‘admire’ is not necessarily the word I would use,” Blake replies to Gunn. “But I am rather fond of you, Aldrich, I will say that. You have provided considerable entertainment over the past seven and a half years.”

April 17, 2001

Was Bell duped or devious?

The Council receives word this morning that the city of Birmingham is suing itself. Recently, the city’s Law Department discovered that the ordinance signed by Council President William Bell transferring Water Works assets back to the Water Works Board differs from the ordinance passed by the Council in July 2000. “This is a very, very serious issue,” says Blake to Bell. “Basically, you were hoodwinked. They [attorneys for the Water Works Board] gave you documents that were much less favorable to the city than the actual documents that the majority of the Council had when we drafted the ordinance.” Bell remains stoic, staring ahead as Blake continues, “It just boils down to fraud! I hope they just handed you the wrong documents, and you signed the wrong documents because the city attorney, the clerk . . . nobody had a chance to review those.” Blake notes that millions of dollars have been transferred away due to Bell’s action. City Attorney Tamara Johnson responds to Blake’s charges: “The city is not alleging fraud in any situation. Basically, what the city is trying to do is to protect the integrity of the Council’s actions. Whether the transfer was good, bad, or indifferent is not an issue for me at this point.” Blake angrily replies, “This is an incredible scam that has happened here!” says Blake. “The Water Works Board attorney, or the Water Works Board in its entirety, are responsible for ‘bait and switch.’”

When Blake asks what the city intends to do regarding the lawsuit, Mayor Kincaid notes that he is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, and doesn’t know how the complaint should be addressed. Kincaid, however, does agree with City Attorney Johnson that a declaratory judgement is needed. Council President Bell stops Blake’s response in order to forbid any “long, drawn-out discussion” on the matter. Interrupting Bell, Blake replies, “I can see why you might be a little sensitive on that point, Mr. President.” Bell tells Blake that the judge not Blake would determine what the facts are. Bell questions City Clerk Paula Smith’s failure to sign the document on February 23 at his request, suggesting that Smith did not sign the document because she was either against the transfer or instructed by the Mayor not to sign. Bell also notes that the relevant issue is whether or not the alleged changes to the Water Works document were “substantial,” which Bell defines as a “vague term.” The Council President says only the court can decide if the signed documents are legal or not, as he stands by his actions relating to the transaction and the “surrounding circumstances.”

Councilor Gunn defends the function of the court system as he agrees with Bell that the court will ultimately decide the controversy. “If you don’t like the way I cross a ‘T’ or the way I ‘split a verb’ and you carry me to court to settle it, that’s good! That’s what the courts are for.”

Blake asks, “Is the Council on the side of the city, or is the Council on the side of the Water Works Board?” Blake finally asks Bell if he bothered to read what he was signing on February 23. Blake continues to challenge Bell on whether he’d take “the city’s side or Charlie Waldrep’s’ side” on the Water Works assets issue.

Water Works referendum payment continues to be stalled

Back on the agenda is an ordinance to appropriate $175,518.12 to cover expenses for the February 27 referendum. After City Attorney Tamara Johnson explains that the Council has no authority to amend the ordinance, Councilor Little withdraws her ealier proposed amendment to pay only the $42,670 needed to cover poll worker expenses. Little thanks Johnson for “defining the situation,” and concludes that the poll workers’ payment lies in the hands of the Mayor’s office.

Councilor Loder doesn’t understand how the Council can shun payment for an election that the citizens petitioned for, and still continue to praise the civil rights movement and the “right to vote.” Loder notes that the democratic process was allowed to work. The councilor adds that he has always been one “to respect the public’s opinion even when it’s adverse to my personal opinions.” Loder is philosophical about the fickle nature of public opinion. “At some point in time, the public’s gonna be mad at everybody. And I’ve got sense enough to know that,” he concludes as he urges his “colleagues” on the Council to pay the election expense. Councilor Little says that her constituents “did not send me down here to play games with people’s minds.” Little notes that in the February referendum “there were a lot of things out there to confuse the minds of the people.” She addresses the poor turnout for the referendum: “The super majority of the people said ‘no’ because they stayed home. They did not go and vote.” The councilor continues her weekly tirade against Mayor Kincaid’s frequent characterization of the referendum as “a pre-Council election, an advisory referendum on who’s gonna be on the Council come October!” Little reminds the Council that Judge Hanes refused to make the city pay for the referendum in a recent ruling, and continues her demand that the city focus on paying poll workers instead of being preoccupied with other expenses such as ballots and voting machines. “Those were bodies that got up that morning [to work the voting places],” says Little. “Those other things were machines !” &


The Silencing of Jimmy Blake

No precedent is available to justify the turning off of Councilor Jimmy Blake’s microphone during the April 17 meeting of the Birmingham City Council. A heated debate had developed between Blake and Council President William Bell over Blake’s remarks during discussion of a lawsuit filed by businesses along Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard. The lawsuit against the city charges improper procedure by the Council in changing the name of 21st Street to honor former Mayor Arrington, which has apparently inconvenienced mail service to the respective businesses. Councilor Sandra Little called the lawsuit a “slap in the face.” Alluding to racism as the motive behind the lawsuit–which coincides with jury selection in the trial of Thomas Blanton, one of two men accused in the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four children–Little labeled the timing of the lawsuit “suspicious.”

Councilor Blake immediately called Little’s charges “outrageous,” explaining that the businesses were only standing up for property rights. Blake suggested that the Council meet in executive session to confer with attorneys over what action to take. Councilor Little protested Blake’s “executive session” reference, but Bell suddenly interrupted Little to attack Blake. “Dr. Blake made all kind of accusations of fraud, made all kind of accusations of illegality, made assumptions of opinions into facts,” charged Bell, “and now he wants to allow the judge to make a decision before we start . . . ” Blake promptly interrupted Bell and angrily responded, “William, as usual you are lying and mischaracterizing what I’m saying. It’s the same racist [unintelligible] that goes on here everyday!” Blake denied having made any reference to “the judge,” but Bell disagreed. “You said that this matter was in court and we should let the system work,” said Bell. “But in the other case [presumably the lawsuit by the city attorney on behalf of the city which charges that the transfer agreements for the Water Works assets signed by Bell are different than the ordinance passed by the Council last July], you want to get the information, and then you want to be the judge, the jury, the executioner, and everything. I’m just pointing out the disparity of which you speak.” As Blake began to respond, his microphone went dead. For the next minute-and-a-half Blake could not be heard in the council chambers (or on the Tuesday evening recorded telecast). But Bell could be heard as he condemned Blake for alleging fraud against him, and for “slamming” Councilor Little for her conclusions. Blake apparently remained unaware of the situation and continued to debate Bell. Eventually Blake walked over to Council Administrator Jarvis Patton to pose a question as Councilor Gunn began to address the lawsuit. Patton appeared to respond indifferently to Blake, who immediately returned to his microphone, which was now working, to shout at Bell, “Point of personal privilege.” Bell allowed Blake to speak: “My point is that during the last debate, my microphone was apparently cut off,” Blake bellowed loudly to Bell as he grabbed the Council President’s microphone and asked, “Where does that come from? So we’re getting censorship from the president of the Council?” Bell explained that he had no knowledge of what Blake’s was talking about. Blake responded that Patton told him that Bell ordered Blake’s microphone turned off. Blake asked Bell if this was true, but Bell ignored the question. During the next minute Blake continually interrupted Councilor Gunn by blowing into his own microphone to see if it was working again.

Councilor Blake later said that he observed a set of controls in front of Jarvis Patton’s chair on the council dais that he had not previously noticed. Blake said that he thought the only control switches for microphones were the ones in front of each councilor’s dais seat. The bewildered councilor surmised, “That was all very strange.”

William Bell did not return phone calls requesting clarification of his side of the story. When asked for comment regarding Blake’s accusation of Patton’s involvement in the microphone controversy, Jarvis Patton replied, “I don’t do interviews.”

City Hall — April 12, 2001

City Hall

April 12, 2001
March 27, 2001 

In honor of Women’s History Month, Councilor Aldrich Gunn salutes outstanding women from District Four. Mayor Kincaid and Council President Bell hand out roses to those honored, each taking a turn praising the importance of women, especially mothers. “We in Birmingham know from whence we’ve come,” acknowledges Kincaid. “And we know that those hands that used to pick cotton now pick presidents and mayors and city council people.” With a straight face, Bell takes his turn: “When it comes down to raising a young male, it takes a man to make a man out of a boy. But it takes a woman to make a gentleman out of a boy. And were it not for women, we would not have any history, because Adam would not have known what to do!” Those being honored laugh as Bell continues to pour on the charm. “When us men found out that we could go into a cave, it was a woman [who] said, ‘Nah, you got to put some paintings on the wall, you got to fix it up!’ And for that, women truly have been the motivator for civilization to move forward.”Domed stadium talk dominates the first half of the Council meeting. Councilor Lee Wendell Loder wants to know the source of funds before he’ll commit to a resolution that endorses State Representative John Rogers’ tax plan to fund part of the construction for the all-purpose facility. Noting that Birmingham made financial contributions to Mercedes and Honda though their plants were located in other cities, Loder urges financial support from surrounding cities and counties, who will also benefit due to the “regional attraction” nature of the domed facility and its ostensible positive economic impact. He also wants to “tie all the exhibition space we have in the city, including the Fairgrounds, to the multi-purpose facility, and have some funding to renovate the Fairgrounds and make it what it really should be.” [The Fairgrounds are located in Loder's council district.] Loder also expresses support for the “light rail system” that is scheduled to be discussed later in this morning’s meeting. He notes that the rail system would “be a supplement to the exhibition facility, to Rickwood [Field], to the Fairgrounds,” which would pour money into the western area of town. Loder fails to explain why the rail transit would make a stop at Rickwood Field, but does toss in Visionland as another reason to justify bringing such a transit system to Birmingham. Councilor Gunn endorses Loder’s light rail notions, adding that the airport, whose expansion plans he has angrily questioned, would also be included on the transit route. Councilor Blake reminds Loder that Birmingham citizens voted down a tax-funded domed stadium two years ago. Calling Birmingham the “highest-priced city government in the state of Alabama,” Blake warns that the proposed funding of the domed stadium will “compound the sins of city government in requiring the taxpayers of Birmingham to pay for amenities for the entire community. And it’ll do nothing to stimulate economic growth in the city of Birmingham.”

Although he supports expansion of the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center complex, Councilor Don MacDermott objects to what he terms a “pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey” approach to expansion, which he defines as “[spending] a little money here, a little money there, building here, building there, and we’ll have a great facility.” He notes that Birmingham is not a “destination city,” such as Chicago, New Orleans, Orlando, and other cities to which Birmingham aspires. Council President Bell responds that the multi-use facility issue before the Council does not include any financial support. Rather, it will simply “clear up that ambiguity as to whether or not we [the Council] have the authority to move forward and even discuss [the dome issue], look at the options, [and] see where the revenues are to fund such an event or activity.” To this Councilor Blake replies, “If I lived in ‘Never Never Land,’ and I could get a domed stadium in Birmingham without the trade-offs and costs, I’d be for it.” Councilor Little notes the “golden opportunities” Birmingham has missed, citing “the airport [and] MAPS” as examples. Little bemoans the “national events” bypassing Birmingham because “we don’t have the facilities nor do we have the rooms and board to put people up.” She explains that the influx of new business and revitalization of existing businesses will result. “Who knows? We surely would probably attract some ‘big team’ to the city of Birmingham.” She urges the Council to send a message of support for a multi-purpose facility to the state legislature. While he supports the “concept” of a multi-purpose facility, Councilor Loder emphasizes, “I don’t buy half-built cars, and I’m not going to take a position on the issue until we get a final product before us. A lot of times we can’t negotiate because we show our hands on issues too early.” The Council votes in favor of the resolution, with Blake and MacDermott casting “no” votes. Loder and Johnson abstain. In closing, Bell adds that he has discussed forming a committee to study the funding of a domed stadium with the Mayor. City Finance Director Mac Underwood and Council Administrator Jarvis Patton are chosen to head up the committee.

Mayor Kincaid requests that Larry Reddick’s mother be allowed to address the Council before he has to leave the council chambers early this morning. Reddick was shot and killed by Birmingham police officer George Montgomery in November 2000 after a scuffle in which Reddick allegedly struck Montgomery with the officer’s baton. Leslie Weaver, Reddick’s mother, remains puzzled as to why her son was shot four times, including a bullet that she believes was fired into his back. An internal investigation concluded that Reddick was not shot in the back. Weaver says she kept her part of the bargain over the past several months by withholding comments while the investigation was going on, but refuses to be quiet any longer, demanding “justice.” She condemns the police department for allowing Montgomery to remain on patrol in the area where the incident occurred. She accuses Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber, who concluded that Officer Montgomery was in the right, of insensitivity. “David Barber tells me I look at TV too much. I don’t look at TV! I look at what he [Barber] gave me on that report. Y’all disrespected me. And you have to live before God, because God said, ‘Vengeance is Mine!’” Weaver says that she expects to be informed of the truth if indeed her son was in the wrong. But if Officer Montgomery is to blame, she wants him punished.

Councilor Little agrees with Weaver that Montgomery should not be patrolling the community where the incident occurred. Little also remains steadfast in her support for a police review board, currently being addressed in the state legislature. She also admits that she believes that “some police officers get on police forces to be bullies, and to bully people!” Councilor Loder also expresses support for the police review board, noting that he personally has not taken a stand on who was to blame in the shooting. Councilor Gunn praises Weaver for addressing the Council, endorsing the police review board, too. “Now that don’t mean the whole police force is wrong,” notes Gunn. “If you got a rat in the barn, you don’t burn the barn down. You get the rat out. And there’s some rats, and you need to get ‘em!”

Councilor Blake also extends sympathy to Weaver, but quickly adds, “We charge about a thousand men and women with the responsibility of upholding the law in the city of Birmingham. We give them a badge, and we give them a gun.” Blake notes that the Mayor, Council, and police chief all “establish policies as to how [police] are to do their duty.” He also adds that police officers put their lives on the line every day. If an officer acts outside the law, he will face the proper consequences, says Blake. But he further notes that there is “no better test of our integrity than whether or not we support their actions” when police act responsibly. Blake explains, “When [police] act according to law and work according to policy, I believe that the Mayor has a moral responsibility. I believe that each member of this Council has a moral responsibility to make a judgement, and everybody has ducked judgement on this one but me, unfortunately, when it comes to public comments.” Councilors Little and Gunn vehemently protest when Blake tells Weaver that her son was to blame in the incident. Blake shakes his head and yells back that the Council is acting “irresponsibly.” He protests Gunn’s labeling of Montgomery as a “rat,” shouting,
“We’ve got a man who followed the law, who did his job and put his life at risk, and you moral cowards won’t back him up because it’s an issue of race! And I am tired of it! Why don’t we just have a policy that white officers can’t go into black districts!”

April 3, 2001

Councilor Little requests that a memorandum from Council President Bell to all councilors regarding “budgetary shortfall” be read into the minutes this morning. In the memo, Bell blames the city’s loss of $20 million in revenues from the Birmingham Water Works Board on Mayor Kincaid for his “failure to execute his duties as administrator, and the ongoing litigation involving the Water Works Board.” Kincaid announces he’ll respond to Bell’s memo next week. The Mayor explains that “the situation in which we find ourselves is a result of a confluence of activities. Neither of us put ourselves in it. [But] we could point fingers.” The Mayor explains in what direction some of the fingers point: “Had the Law Department and the Finance Department been contacted once the judge made his ruling, and we had gone through the proper process, the $20 million would have been transferred before the documents were signed.”Councilor Sandra Little’s main concern is the Roosevelt City fire station budgeted for her district. Kincaid notes his intent to work with the Council, but issues a warning: “Everything has to be on the table. We can not cherry-pick those items that are politically expedient,” pointing out that the Council has almost $600,000 in its consulting budget, a potential area to make up for the financial shortfall. “Probably neither one of us is going to like the final product totally, but at least it will be a joint effort. I think the citizens of Birmingham deserve nothing less,” the Mayor tells Councilor Little. Promptly condemning Kincaid for going on vacation last week while the city was facing news of budget deficits, Little reads from a list, compiled by the Finance Department, of possible budget cuts, including summer youth jobs, the Solid Waste Authority, and the Central Alabama African-American Chamber of Commerce. “And surely the Roosevelt City fire station is on here,” Little notes as she quickly scans the list.

Councilor Jimmy Blake explains that the councilors who “voted to give away the golden goose, the Water Works, got caught with their pants down” for budgeting the unreceived millions once expected from Water Works Board revenue. Blake concedes that
“at one level, the Mayor could have probably been more effective in terms of grabbing that money before it was stolen, given away, however you want to describe it.” The resulting deficit “implies that we are in proration in the city of Birmingham,” notes Blake. “Giving away the Water Works of the city of Birmingham costs the taxpayers of this city $27 million minimum each year, starting at a deficit of $16 million this fiscal year,” argues Blake, who urges the public to elect councilors who will “appoint people to the Water Works Board who will commit to giving us back that most valuable asset.” Blake stresses that such a council pledge must be an “absolute in-blood commitment” that includes the “firing of Charlie Waldrep [attorney representing Water Works Board interests] and all the other people who are pulling strings of the puppets down here on this Council!”

Following unanimous approval by the Council of his resolution for a substantial pay raise for Birmingham policemen and fire fighters, Councilor Blake introduces a resolution proposing phasing out the city’s occupational tax over a 10-year period. Blake calls the tax the “greatest economic stimulus for growth in the rest of Jefferson County that doesn’t have the occupational tax.” Mayor Kincaid addresses Blake’s proposal first, spurring a round of knee-slapping comments. “This borders on being schizophrenic,” says Kincaid as Councilor Gunn giggles uncontrollably. “Just a second ago we had an issue before us where we were talking about increasing the pay of fire and police,” says the Mayor, noting that the pay increase would be “quite a hit on the city’s budget.” Kincaid explains that the occupational tax represents 20 percent of the city’s general fund budget. He notes that “tens of thousands of people converge on the city of Birmingham,” expecting and receiving police and fire protection and “relatively smooth streets” to drive on. “You can’t assault the general fund budget with pay raises on one hand, and on the other hand, start sending out 20 percent of it,” concludes Kincaid.

Requesting that television cameras in the council chambers focus on him, Council President Bell offers the Mayor a wink and big “thumbs up” in agreement. Councilor Little also endorses the Mayor’s comments, laughing, “I think the councilor [Blake] is not schizophrenic. He’s gone crazy now. Just plain ole crazy. And I think he probably pulled his own pants down on this one!” Councilors collapse in fits of laughter. “I don’t know if he’s trying to kill the city of Birmingham or build the city of Birmingham,” says Little as she tries to suppress her own giggles.

Councilor Blake, who also has a resolution on today’s agenda calling for phasing out sales tax on food and groceries over a six-year period, says that he put the proposals regarding the occupational tax, food tax, and pay raises on the agenda to prove a point: “If you give away the Water Works Board, if you give $10 million a year to an ‘upside down fruit bowl [domed stadium],’ and if you give millions to Mercedes, to Honda, you can’t run city government.” Blake pulls his resolution regarding phasing out food and grocery taxes from the agenda.

Councilor Gunn gets the last word on political game playing, noting that Blake is “not the only one who wants to kill this city.” Frowning on the sale of Quinlan Castle this morning for $450,000, Gunn admits that he agreed with the sale only because he had promised to go along with the sale earlier. “That’s a very historical place over there [Quinlan Castle]. And if somebody could get $4.3 million for a hut [presumably a swipe at Blake for the high price he got for selling his mansion in the past year], and we can’t get a million dollars for a castle in Birmingham? And that’s no lie. That’s a castle up there,” scolds Gunn. “It’s not whose head you scratch, but where you itch.” &