Monthly Archives: May 2001

Art in the Park

Art in the Park



May 24, 2001

It sounds pretty fancy for Caldwell Park, but on Friday, June 1, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra premiers Sounds for the Summer: The Highland Avenue Series. Featured with the symphony will be Art Garfunkel, the most famous “counter-tenor” in the world. Garfunkel’s memorable style of singing counter-melody to one-time partner Paul Simon’s gorgeous melodies defined the duo’s phenomenal contributions to 1960s radio.

Art Garfunkel’s original stage name was Tom Graph, the “Tom” being one half of the “Tom and Jerry” cartoon moniker he and Simon first adapted. Garfunkel was a dedicated mathematics teacher when he launched his musical career, so the “Graph” bit was a nod to arithmetic.

Garfunkel has been cursed by a lifetime of acute stage fright, and the June 1 performance will be a rare opportunity to hear him with an orchestra. So intense is the fear of performing, the singer often refers to his onstage style as “quivery.” He readily admits that Paul Simon had a “feel for the stage, while I had more of a feel for the notes themselves.”

The show begins at 8 p.m., with the park opening at 6 p.m. Pre-concert entertainment will be provided by a DJ spinning ’60s hits while conducting trivia contests and passing out prizes. Garfunkel will be the first of eight June performers scheduled for Caldwell Park, including Banu Gibson & the New Orleans Hot Jazz, New York cabaret-style vocalist Julie Budd, and cowboy singers Riders in the Sky. Reserved table seats are $29, unreserved table seats are $19, and lawn seating is $9 for adults, $5 for children ages three and up. Call 251-7727 for details.

City Hall — May 22, 2001

City Hall

May 22, 2001 

There was no City Council meeting.May 29, 2001


The reconfiguration of Birmingham’s nine City Council districts rules the morning agenda. “Don’t move lines unnecessarily,” is Councilor Jimmy Blake’s rallying cry as he draws his own lines in the sand and pushes for two overwhelmingly white majority districts and seven majority black districts. Blake opposes maintaining three white council districts, as his District Three is actually the only overall majority white district (the other two districts are majority white only in the number of voting age residents living there, with overall white populations of approximately 49 percent in each district). Blake and his constituents warn that a lawsuit will be filed.Shifting racial tides

The Citizens Commission on Redistricting, formed to educate the public and to accept input about the current redistricting process, files its report on the redrawing of district lines. The commission has no power to make decisions and has abstained from making formal recommendations about the redistricting plan. But a majority of the commission agrees that maintaining six majority black seats and three majority white seats (the present black-to-white ratio on the council) is a
“logical and amicable redistricting approach that ensures no rich aggression has occurred in terms of the level of minority representation on the city council,” according to Gloria Gilmore, Powderly neighborhood president and secretary of the redistricting commission. She notes that a portion of each commission meeting was set aside for citizen input.The Citizens Commission is made of representatives appointed by each councilor. Jerry Wilson of Reapportionment Group 2000, L.L.C. served as facilitator of the commission’s May 3 meeting at the Aldrich Gunn Cultural Arts Center when the three redistricting proposals were presented. The city council eventually whittled the list down to one, known as the 2B plan. Council members had a couple of months to offer opinions in the redistricting process. Noting that “an extended public hearing” was held during the May 3 meeting, a Citizen Commission member reports this morning that “the three proposed plans were reviewed in painstalking [sic] detail.”

The current population of Birmingham is 242,820, with an ideal council district population of 26,980. The districts of Councilors Blake, Johnson, and MacDermott are too large (10,000 must be moved from these three majority white districts), while districts of Councilors Bell and Gunn are significantly too small. The districts of Councilors Bandy, Little, and Alexander will require little change. In the past decade, slightly more than 37,000 whites have left Birmingham, while the number of black residents has increased by just over 10,000. Under Plan 2B before the Council this morning, whites will be transferred out of Blake’s and MacDermott’s districts, while Johnson and Bell would have white residents added to their districts. Blacks would be removed from Bell’s, MacDermott’s, and Johnson’s districts, with black resident additions to the districts of Gunn and Blake.

Cris Correia, a voting-rights lawyer representing Reapportionment Group 2000 in Birmingham’s redistricting, fields questions and explains district changes. Supreme Court rulings previously determined that differences among districts for a city council level of government must not deviate beyond 10 percent. Reapportionment Group 2000 recommends that the deviation be kept below five percent “because the Census was just released,” according to Correia. She says the Voting Rights Act must be complied with, noting the short time frame involved considering that Council elections are only a little over four months away. The Justice Department has 60 days to approve or reject the plan.

Voting blind

Under Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, redistricting “cannot have changes that will leave the racial minority in the jurisdiction worse off than it was before,” explains Correia. She says that the plan is “very much a compromise plan. Nobody [councilors] got everything they wanted out of it.” Correia confirms that council input was taken into consideration. Redistricting proceedings turn comical when it’s discovered that some information regarding District Nine is missing from the maps Correia has given to Mayor Kincaid and the council. (For the record, Reapportionment Group 2000 was paid approximately $250,000, reduced from the $500,000 fee requested. Councilor Blake had earlier offered to do the job for $1,000.) Correia apologizes for the printing error, noting that Districts Six through Nine do not change significantly. She then reads District Nine’s new configuration numbers to assuage fears over the missing district. Correia also keeps referring to councilors as “commissioners.” [At this point, the map before the Council repeatedly falls off the easel on which it is precariously perched, and Correia begins to show signs of nervousness.] Adding to the disorder of the presentation, Correia discovers that she doesn’t have actual figures when Councilor Lee Wendell Loder asks about changes to District Eight. Correia insists, nonetheless, that the alterations to Loder’s district are insignificant. When the councilor asks if the missing information pertaining to the number of residents to be removed from his district could be obtained before the end of the council meeting, Correia says no. But she does promise to e-mail the numbers when she returns to Atlanta that evening. Loder goes ahead and votes with the council majority to approve the new district alignment even though he doesn’t have the actual population changes in his district before him.

Have constituents, will travel

Addressing a boundary shift involving his District Four, Councilor Gunn notes, “That’s a tremendous move. I have no objection to it, ’cause I’m gonna represent the people wherever I go. But I want you to know that I want to have the right information which I’m votin’ on here, and I do not have it.” Sounding like the track announcer at Churchill Downs, Gunn suddenly reels off a list of street names as he recites the new boundaries of his district. “I’ll work with whatever card hand is dealt me,” promises Gunn. Commenting on how boundaries of one district affect another, the elder councilor says, “If you took a cup of water, and had it standin’ still, and you took a pea and dropped in it, the ripple effect would affect every district.” He reiterates his complaint about having to vote on the incomplete map set before him, but like Loder, Gunn votes with the majority approving the redistricting plan anyway.

Plan nine from outer space

Councilor Blake, who’s not running for reelection, has three additional redistricting plans he wants the council to consider. The councilor notes that all of the neighborhood presidents in his district oppose Plan 2A. The proposal being voted on by the council today is actually Plan 2B, but Blake explains that Plan 2A is almost the same as the 2B plan. Plan 2A differs from Plan 2B only by a few discrepancies between MacDermott’s and Johnson’s districts, notes Blake, which he says has been discussed by the two councilors. Blake complains that current redistricting proposals dilute white voting strength. The councilor notes that though many councilors are to be commended for wanting to avoid racial issues, racial concerns are a reality. “Unfortunately, redistricting under the Voting Rights Act is very much about racial issues. And I’m going to talk about racial issues this morning. I don’t know any way to handle it but straight up and straight forward, because it is essential to what we’re talking about.” Blake begins in cryptic fashion: “The first one [plan] is what I call Wilson Plan 2A Mod 2. I guess the B plan would be Mod 1.” Blake points to the Plan 2B map presented by Cris Correia, but explains again that his comparisons are actually to Plan 2A. Councilor Loder asks for clarification of Blake’s Plan 2A references. Blake explains that he did not get the 2B Plan until late, so his presentation to neighborhood leaders in his district was actually the 2A plan.

Blake further addresses white voting power: “The plan [presumably 2B] does not meet the objectives of not diluting the minority–let me call it what it is–the white voting strength.” Blake asks why overwhelmingly black areas are being put into majority white District Three. “That’s not rational, based on our criteria here,” says Blake. “We decimated Glen Iris Park with this plan. We took in, essentially, black voters, and gave up white voters to dilute out District Three. That’s not rational.” He points out that if a voting age majority is substantial reason for white majority designation, that will soon change as constituents reach voting age. According to Blake, the Reapportionment Group 2000 Plan 2A calls for 33,245 people to be moved to other districts, while his plan would require only 20,000 people put in new districts. Blake further warns that Plan 2B will not meet criteria defined by the Voting Rights Act. Addressing the reality of white flight, Blake deadpans “Let’s talk turkey for a minute,” as he notes that “white folks are moving out of Birmingham.” The councilor is concerned that the topic is “too sensitive” for some to discuss, but says this will not stop him from engaging in debate over white voting rights.

Pointing out there are not enough whites to actually have three majority white districts, Blake notes, “What we do to protect voting rights of white folks–and that’s what we’re talking about, and I’m not going to be squeamish about it–is that we change our approach and try to go to two majority districts that are substantially majority white. And there are enough white folks in Birmingham to do that.” District Two would no longer be a majority white district under Blake’s plan. “In terms of protecting and allowing white people to feel like they do have some word in the future of Birmingham, this is the proper way to do it.” Blake adds that he thinks his plan also improves Bell’s and Gunn’s districts.

Councilor Blake also has another plan that would pit MacDermott and Johnson against one another in the same overwhelmingly majority white district. Blake also speaks of “Plan Four,” though it is not immediately clear to which plan he is referring. He stresses that two predominantly white districts are vital to the future of Birmingham. Gunn replies that Blake’s original redistricting plan “ran me on a dog trail all the way up to Jeff State and across to [Highway] 79.” Gunn says that instead of trusting Blake’s plan, he’d prefer to be “pulled out of the ditch with a rope around my neck.”

Reapportionment Group 2000 representative Cris Correia argues with Blake that reduction to two majority white districts would violate the Voting Rights Act and its protection of minorities. Correia explains that since it’s possible to draw three white districts based on voting age population, the Justice Department will have no problem with that criteria. She also notes that registration rates of white voters are higher than black registration rates, which also plays into Justice Department criteria for determining majority districts. Blake disagrees, explaining that “traditionally, the Voting Rights Act has determined that black districts are considered majority when they are 65 percent or more black.” Blake says Correia is
“playing games” by using voting age and “what you don’t know about registration” as criteria for minority district determination.

Neighborhoods divided

Studying a laptop computer screen, Council President Bell proposes an amendment to Plan 2B that address concerns of Five Points South Neighborhood president Mike Higginbotham. Residents are perturbed about drastic changes in their district. Bell says that Blake told the “demographers” that he [Blake] “would not stand for any white neighborhood to be represented by any black council member.” Blake responds, “That’s insane!” Bell immediately smiles and replies, “That is insane, Dr. Blake, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell people about you for some time now.” As Bell continues to study the computer screen in front of him, he tells Blake, who is peering over Bell’s shoulder at the screen, “You know, Dr. Blake, I could concentrate if you weren’t breathing on me.” Blake replies, “It’s ironic that the only two people who are going to understand the district are you and Mike Higginbotham, because nobody else has seen it.” Bell says that he thought he was doing a favor for the neighborhood based on Blake’s request. Blake responds that he favors delaying the process until all have had the opportunity to view the final redistricting plan. Mike Higginbotham addresses the Council to clarify his role in the neighborhood protests. “Councilman Blake did talk with the neighborhood presidents, and expressed to us that he thought that we should express our concerns about the plan.” Higginbotham says that he has made an effort to stay out of the redistricting process, instead letting his neighborhood association decide what to do. The neighborhood’s protest centers around inclusion of voters from Bell’s district, because traditional voters in the district were being removed in favor of new voters.

Councilor Johnson finally interrupts the morning debates to urge that a vote be taken on the 2B redistricting plan. Johnson notes that there has been “plenty of opportunity for input.” As Blake begins to argue with him on that point, Johnson responds that he has the floor and immediately asks, “Mr. President [Bell], can you get Dr. Blake under control?” &

Dave Alvin


May 11, 2001

A founding member of the immortal roots-rock band The Blasters, Dave Alvin has built a stellar solo career around impeccable guitar playing and timeless songwriting. The garrulous Alvin paused from packing for relocation to a more pine tree-friendly section of Los Angeles to address the mysteries of American music, electricity, and life in a California home guarded by cartoon heroes Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil.

Have any rolling blackouts hit you yet?

No, in L.A. we have a different power company, and they actually planned ahead [laughs]. So while Bakersfield or Fresno or San Francisco lose power, we’re fine. It’s the one thing in L.A that works [laughs].

Besides reliable electricity, what’s the attraction of living in L.A.?

A few things. Silly things. Mexican food’s the best. And when you grow up out here, that becomes real important. I haven’t found better Mexican food anywhere else. My Texas friends and I always debate that. And the weather. And also the fact that within half an hour I can be in the mountains, or within an hour I can be in the middle of the desert. It’s good for a writer.

What was the coolest thing about radio for a kid in California in the ’60s?

Well, the greatest thing was the border radio stations, because you could hear 50,000 watts, clear channel, just across the border in Tijuana. At night it would be r&b. You could hear everything from Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bobby Blue Bland, doo wop, whatever.

Were you going to shows as a kid?

Oh, yeah. My brother Phil and I–when I was about 12, I guess–we started sneaking into bars. We found out that one of the great things about California is that every type of music was here. When I was a kid, I saw Lightnin’ Hopkins 45 or 50 times. People like T-Bone Walker and Big Joe Turner became actual family friends because we were these little white kids that pestered them. So that was my education.

At what age did you and Phil begin playing in bands?

Well, he started a band pretty early on, and I was never good enough to be in it. So I was always in bad bands [laughs]. It wasn’t until we started The Blasters that we finally played together. I mean, not even around the house. There was a hierarchy. There were a lot of great musicians in our hometown. There were guys who could play exactly like Jimmy Reed or exactly like T-Bone Walker or exactly like Eric Clapton. And they’d come over and play guitar, and we always had guitars in the house. They’d play, leave, and then I’d pick up the guitar and imitate what they did.

What year did The Blasters begin?

We started in March of 1979 but didn’t really come up with a name until, like, July [laughs]. Our first regular gig was playing for free beer in a biker bar in Long Beach. It took us about eight months to just get a gig, because Downey was so far from L.A., a different world, you know? It’s on the east side, and the east side is more or less the blue-collar area. L.A. “proper” is the west side.

Would you tell me a Ramblin’ Jack Elliot story [Alvin did a stint as Elliot's guitar player]?

My favorite Jack story that’s printable was when just he and I were riding one night on the interstate that runs by the Mississippi down by St. Louis, and it was raining. Tornado weather. Hot and raining, thunder and lightning. Just a vicious, stormy night. I asked him if he knew a good Billy the Kid song. He knew a lot of Jesse James songs. And he did a half hour, a capella, of Billy the Kid songs. A private concert.

I’ve always been impressed by performers that keep playing regardless of their age.

Well, there’s no reason not to keep doing it. If there’s one thing I learned from Lightnin’ Hopkins, is that those old guys played for love. You play because it’s your sanity. Without getting too psycho-babble on you, when you’re on stage and it’s a good gig, and the musicians are all connecting nonverbally, nonvisually, there’s no feeling like it, because–and here’s the psycho-babble part–time kinda stands still. There’s no past, there’s no future. It’s just the present. And there’s people that you love that have passed away that are still alive for a few minutes. I’ve talked to people that have run 26-mile marathons and all that. It’s kinda like a runner’s high. I think that’s why so many musicians wind up getting involved in drugs and heavy alcohol use and all that. Because the feeling you get playing is so amazing, that when it’s over, it’s like, “Let’s go play another gig,” you know [laughs]? As long as you’re playing, you’re alive. And as long as you’re playing, you’re working. You’re not sitting around resting on your laurels. You’re not a non-contributing member of society. You’re sharing. It’s hard to let that go and just sit around the house.

[At this point, Alvin excuses himself to address a distant female voice asking where he hid the door key. He can be heard saying, "Yeah, I put the key under Yosemite Sam, there. Oh, I'm sorry, I meant the Tasmanian Devil." The woman finally locates the key, and Alvin returns.]

I read a quote where you said that you heard the song “Shenandoah” [one of the songs on Alvin’s latest release, Public Domain, a collection of traditional American music] before you were born, and you’ll still be hearing it after you die.

Yeah, that song and maybe one or two others out of our folk tradition are genetically encoded. And that’s a good thing and a bad thing. The bad thing is that people take it for granted, they think it’s corny or sappy. So every now and then you have to put the picture in a new frame and go, “Wow!”

I’d like to toss out a few names and get your reaction. Let’s start with Buck Owens.

I interviewed Buck about two years ago for a magazine called Mix, which is for producers and engineers. Buck Owens is one of the architects of contemporary rock ‘n’ roll. To me, the great thing about California country is that it’s willing to take chances. Buck Owens is a paradox, in that he’s a guy that believes in art for art’s sake, and yet he’s also a businessman. He’s a rebel, and he’s also a conformist. I think he’s amazing.

He told me during the interview that one thing he could never, ever say during the ’50s and ’60s was that his two biggest heroes were Bob Wills and Little Richard. Those were the two guys he modeled himself after.

Johnny Cash.

Alvin: An icon. My favorite stuff of his is what he did at Sun Records. I don’t think people realize that he created that sound that we all take for granted–that Johnny Cash sound. Those records, to me, still sound like they came out of the mud. They weren’t made in a recording studio. They just kind of grew organically.

Any thoughts on Carole King?

[Surprised] Carole King? Wow! I wish I had her songwriting skills. I’m a true sort of folk-blues songwriter, so I write when I’m moved to write. And I really admire people like Carole King, the whole Brill Building gang, that could get up every day and go into the office and write on demand.

Jonathan Richman.

My drummer and keyboard player did a couple of albums and tours with Jonathan a few years ago. He gave me, not a lecture [laughs], but advice about a problem I have, because half my audience wants to hear the lyrics and the quiet songs, and the other half wants to hear the rock ‘n’ roll stuff. The rock ‘n’ roll people usually outnumber the quiet people. And Jonathan goes [imitating Richman with a New Jersey accent], “No, you make ‘em listen. And if they don’t listen, to hell with ‘em.” Jonathan hates loud music [laughs].

I’d be remiss if I didn’t get some thoughts on Joey Ramone.

Oh man . . . I met him once in New York about 15 years ago. He was a real sweetheart. We have a lot of mutual friends. To me, the Ramones were one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands ever. When I heard the first Ramones record, that was like hearing Chuck Berry for the first time when I was a kid. They were the real deal. They had the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. The Ramones invented the Sex Pistols [laughs].

My first exposure to “American Music” (an old Blasters hit) was as the opening theme for “New Wave Theater” (early ’80s cult cable television program that featured live performances). The host, Peter Ivers, was a strange man.

Yeah, we did that show two or three times. I never could figure Peter Ivers out. He was a nice guy. You know, he got murdered. I think he was a little crazy to leave his door unlocked, living in downtown L.A. I remember seeing him on social occasions–in a bar a couple of times. And he was always talking about what a great harmonica player he was, and how he wanted to sit in with us [the Blasters].

Did y’all ever let him sit in?

Alvin: No [much laughter].

City Hall — May 24, 2001

City Hall

May 24, 2001
May 8, 2001


“Let’s talk about George McMillan,” suggests smiling Councilor Jimmy Blake as McMillan walks down the aisle of the council chambers, replying, “Let’s don’t.” The City Stages president briefly plugs his looming City Stages 2001 event, touting this year’s talent as the best ever. It’s the lone highlight of a morning abbreviated by Council President William Bell so that councilors can join a motorcade protesting a lawsuit by businesses along Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard, formerly known as 21st Street. The businesses have filed a lawsuit recently over address-change expenses and other inconveniences, including disruption of some mail service.

Bell announces that the meeting will resume at 1:30 p.m, though it never does. The vanishing Council meeting is the latest questionable action by Bell regarding Council meeting procedures. Two weeks ago Councilor Blake said that Council Administrator Jarvis Patton told him that Bell ordered Patton to shut off Blake’s microphone for a good two minutes while Blake was debating Bell on an issue.

In other city business, an irate citizen being levied a fee for the removal of suspected weeds on his property claims that the city mowed down his kiwi crop. The Council also approves UAB’s request for the removal of 15th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues South so that the street can become campus property.

May 15, 2001

Slashbuster added to city’s flood-fighting roster

Street and Sanitation Department head Stephen Fancher addresses Councilor Sandra Little’s queries about the newest trouble-shooter residing at City Hall, the much ballyhooed “slashbuster,” a phenomenal 21st Century machine that purportedly clears creeks of “debris and clothing and things,” according to Little. Fancher confirms the machine’s incredible powers, including a “25 to 30-foot” range of motion. “It can crunch up a tree or limbs or any kind of vegetative growth on the creek,” explains Fancher as he obligingly details the slashbuster’s current itinerary: It has been in operation for two weeks on Shades Creek. Next stop is Five Mile Creek, then Village Creek, and on to Valley Creek. Councilor Little snickers when told that Shades Creek, the first stop, is in Councilor Johnson’s area. “I don’t know why you didn’t start out in District Seven [Little's district], because we have quite a bit of flooding,” says a miffed Councilor Little. “Is there a reason why we started in that area? Did you study what you were doing?” Mayor Kincaid quickly answers, “Yes, ma’am. It [creek water] flows east to west. So we started on the eastern side of town.” Little admits to suspicions that Kincaid was “biased” towards Johnson’s district because of Johnson’s support of the Mayor’s policies. She alludes to possibilities of a class action lawsuit from residents in her area affected by flooding. She asks when the slashbuster will be in her district. Fancher responds that it all depends on how long it takes to clear Five Mile Creek, pointing out that foreseeable problems include exit from the creek each time the machine encounters a bridge. The slashbuster then must find another suitable point for re-entry into the water.

Councilor Blake, noting that “water is very non-partisan in the way it runs from upstream to downstream,” disagrees with the procedure, explaining that if the downstream is not cleared and rate of flow increases upstream, then downstream will be worse. Fancher explains that the clearing of Shades Creek started downstream, then worked back upstream. The Street and Sanitation Department head also explains that Shades Creek was a good training area for practice with the new clearing contraption.

Gunn urges cosmetology students to open hair “saloons”

Councilor Sandra Little salutes Wenonah High School cosmetology students for their recent second place finish in a state business skills competition. Little promises that she’ll “be coming up there to get a new hair style!” Councilor Loder notes the current increased interest in cosmetology. “Any profession where you can get $30 or $40 just to wash somebody’s hair is a pretty good profession to be in,” notes Loder. “And not only that, they have to be chemists now, and know a lot about math in order to make sure they mix that material [hair dye chemicals, etc.] properly so their folks don’t have to come see me [Loder is an attorney],” he adds, laughing. Councilor Gunn bemoans the fact that “trades have been thrown away.” Gunn urges the students to look at opening their own business. “You can be the owner of your own enterprise, saloon and all!” encourages Gunn. The councilor boasts that he knows how to braid hair.

Budget wars begin

Mayor Kincaid delivers his Fiscal Year 2001 budget and capital improvement address, noting that economic and political circumstances presently at play in the city of Birmingham have created some “unique and formidable challenges for the coming fiscal year.” Kincaid says those challenges, however, will not hamper plans to move the city forward. Kincaid then surprises the audience by announcing that, according to a fax he received 45 minutes before the Council meeting, bond rating agency Fitch IBCA had downgraded the city’s bond rating from AA to AA minus. The New York bond agency’s adjustment of the rating was “triggered by the disclosure of significant political discord over a long period of time, and conflicting legislative and judicial actions concerning ownership of the Water Works,” according to the Mayor. Kincaid also announces a three percent cost of living pay raise and absorption by the city of increased health care premiums for city employees.Battle lines immediately take shape as Councilor Bill Johnson takes issue with the proposed budget for not including a separate pay raise for police and firefighters that had earlier been approved unanimously by the Council. Johnson also suggests that a uniform allowance be given to public safety officers. He notes that the city is understaffed by approximately 100 officers [10 percent of the police force] as he wonders aloud who will staff the proposed $550,000 police precinct Kincaid outlined in his address [the precinct, the city's fifth, will be located in the western area]. Johnson urges the Council to go on record approving significant pay raises for safety personnel, forcing the Jefferson County Personnel Board to explain why they won’t approve the raise. Kincaid explains that the Jefferson County Personnel Board is simply acting in accordance to law. The Mayor also notes that HUD questioned city proposals detailing compensation for police and fire fighters through housing programs.

Councilor Blake urges Kincaid to look at withdrawing from the personnel board if association means further migration of law enforcement officers to higher-paying suburbs. Blake notes that Hoover, which is luring many city police officers, is not part of the county personnel board system. He also points out that the city has twice as many employees as it did 20 years ago, when the population was significantly larger. Back then, pay raises were competitive, says Blake. The councilor suggests a hiring freeze in some city departments so that salaries can be boosted to competitive levels. Kincaid says that the city plans to ask the Jefferson County Personnel Board to closely examine substantial pay raises for safety personnel in line with what surrounding municipalities pay during the comprehensive salary review process that is scheduled for 2002.

They don’t build ‘em like they used to

Mayor Kincaid withdraws a request for $625,000 to be transferred from Boutwell Auditorium cosmetic repairs to Legion Field structural repairs. Director of Engineering, Planning, and Permits Bill Gilchrist explains that further inspection of the structure shows that repair needs are not quite as extensive as once feared. Gilchrist notes, “I’m going to give thanks to God that we had an engineer in the early 1900s that over-engineered that structure [Legion Field].” He adds that many early public works were over-engineered, citing the Brooklyn Bridge as an example, explaining that the bridge is seven times stronger than necessary. “When people were doing these structures early, they had higher levels of caution and safety factors than what we would consider.”

See no evil

Only one week after the oddly suspended Council meeting, Council President William Bell sternly orders camera operators recording the meeting for Tuesday evening’s cable channel 4 broadcast to “leave the cameras off!” during an argument with Councilor Aldrich Gunn. Bell instructs camera operators to resume videotaping when he gives the command, which he does after telling Councilor Gunn to confine his comments to the subject at hand. &

City Hall

City Hall

May 10, 2001

May 1, 2001

Finance Director defection heats up Water Works imbroglio

City Finance Director Mac Underwood’s recent jump to the Water Works adds intrigue to the ongoing drama between the city and the Water Works Board for control of the water system assets. Underwood recently gave notice that he would relinquish his position as head of the city’s Department of Finance on May 31. But Mayor Kincaid decided to replace Underwood April 30 due to possible conflicts of interest surrounding the continuing assets battle. Mayor Kincaid names Michael Johnson as acting Finance Director. Underwood’s new title will be assistant general finance director for the Birmingham Water Works, reportedly earning approximately $22,000 more than the $103,000 a year he made at the city’s Finance Department.

Councilor Bill Johnson says it seems inappropriate that Underwood could go work at the Water Works since he “was intimately involved in finance issues on our side of the lawsuit [litigation by the city against the Water Works, seeking control of Water Works assets].” Kincaid notes that the failure of Underwood to call the Water Works Board prior to the asset transfer was part of the reason the city did not receive a $20 million payment previously due. Kincaid points out that the job Underwood took has been vacant since December 1999, prompting concern about how long Underwood has had association with the Water Works Board. Also of concern to the Mayor is Council President William Bell’s trip to New York yesterday to visit rating agencies with “the Water Works people,” according to Kincaid. The Mayor notes that he has the power under the Mayor-Council Act to launch an investigation, which Councilor Johnson encourages. Johnson notes that Underwood has “a lot of very valuable knowledge about the city’s side of the situation [asset controversy] that will now be transferred over to the Water Works situation.” In a press conference following the Council meeting, Kincaid says he’ll proceed with caution for fear that an investigation into Underwood’s job swap might appear to be “sour grapes.”

Kincaid names coordinator of

Environmental Court

Mayor Kincaid announces the appointment of Ronald Jackson as neighborhood deputies coordinator to institute the long-awaited environmental court and neighborhood deputies program. Councilor Aldrich Gunn thanks the Mayor for acting on behalf of the environmental court as he urges the destruction of unsightly, hazardous rental houses of ill repute that cause city officials to “get the lockjaw,” according to Gunn. The councilor says that the dilapidated houses are nothing more than fronts for illegal activity. Another safety issue on Gunn’s front burner is children playing basketball in the streets. Gunn urges Birmingham police to inform children “that the street is not a playground,” warning that it’s only a matter of time before someone is hit by a car.

Preachers threaten Arrington

Boulevard businesses

A delegation of Birmingham ministers are present this morning to protest the recent lawsuit filed by some businesses along Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard seeking to change the street (which technically doesn’t qualify as a boulevard) back to its original name of 21st Street. A Reverend Hagler expresses curiosity about the timing of the lawsuit in light of the recent Thomas Blanton trial and the visit of Tiger Woods. “It appears that racism is involved,” notes Hagler. “We regret having to deal with racism in the 21st Century!” He points out that no other lawsuits or complaints have been filed regarding other thoroughfare name changes, which he says were handled in the same manner as the Arrington Boulevard change. “We’re not going to sit back and let anyone erase the great accomplishments of our leader, Dr. Richard Arrington Jr.,” notes Hagler, calling Arrington “our Daniel, our prince, a modern statesman.”

Reverend T.L. Lewis echoes Hagler’s sentiments, promising that continuation of the lawsuit will result in protests in front of the businesses involved. Lewis says all one has to do is look at the contrasts in Birmingham before and after Arrington was mayor. “Start at City Hall, from the basement to the top floor, and you’ll find the spirit of Richard Arrington Jr.” He requests and receives a chorus of “Amen” from the dozen or so preachers on hand. Lewis says that there is “better than $10 million of our money down in these folks’ banks [in downtown Birmingham],” suggesting that “it might be time for a withdrawal!” Counting himself among the enlightened few, Lewis says, “We know what the real deal is with that. There are some of us who understand about this issue of the Water Board.” Regarding recent declarations of budget deficits, Lewis surmises, “Birmingham ain’t broke.” Pointing out the city’s high credit rating, Lewis says the city has more money than it ever has. “Let’s put the money on the table, get the ticks out of the policies, and let’s do business,” urges Reverend Lewis. He warns those picketing in front of City Hall for a sweeping change in the October Council elections that they will be tossed out if they try to picket at the pastors’ respective churches. Councilor Little proclaims the ministerial aggregate as “great men of God who have taken a stand for what’s right.” Little notes that she has one other issue she wants the ministers to investigate. “The airway is causing a lot of divisions in this city, giving out false information,” she says of local radio talk shows. Little encourages a boycott on doing business with those radio stations responsible for what she terms “miseducating of our people.” Councilor Alexander agrees with Little, urging the ministers to listen to area talk shows because the pastors are being called “pimps.”

No voting machines if referendum debt not paid

The Council again refuses to approve expenditures for the February 2001 referendum vote on the fate of the Water Works assets. Councilor Don MacDermott leaves the room before the vote. Mayor Kincaid reveals that a county commissioner told him over the weekend that unless the bills were paid, the voting machines would not be available to the city for the October 2001 Council elections. Noting the awkwardness in urging poll workers to file claims against the city to get their money, the Mayor says that it’s one way to get the referendum debt paid. Councilor Blake notes that he believes that Kincaid has the authority to pay the bill rather than going through the expense of litigation. Blake thinks the Mayor would probably win any challenge filed by a councilor over the payment. [After the meeting, Kincaid says any violation of the Mayor-Council Act on his part in paying the debt would be a misdemeanor, resulting in possible removal from office.] He urges Kincaid to put the vote on the agenda each week. “I noticed today that Mr. MacDermott left the room when the vote came up. Maybe next week two people will leave the room, and we might get this thing turned around,” says Blake. “I don’t blame them for leaving the room, because I’d be damn ashamed to not be willing to pay for a legally required referendum.” &