Monthly Archives: July 2001

City Hall — July 31, 2001

City Hall


July 31, 2001

Airport Authority budget faces more scrutiny before approval

Controversy rages around accusations of “secret” Airport Authority board meetings centering on budgets and future plans of the Birmingham International Airport. Today is the final showdown. Councilor Bill Johnson wants $3 million of the airport’s operating budget profit to be partly designated for noise mitigation and neighborhood improvements. Johnson praises the removal from the capital budget of a $10 million line item for a controversial parallel runway, but asks why the runway remains in the airport master plan.

Airport Authority executive director Al Denson says immediate plans focus on development other than the parallel runway construction, but admits that the new runway, which would wipe out East Lake neighborhoods, is still a long-range consideration. Alternatives to the parallel runway must be examined, urges Johnson, as East Lake Park and 1,100 homes would be leveled in the construction of the runway. Johnson asks that the parallel east-west runway be removed from the master plan, explaining that airport consultants had earlier noted there was plenty of time to study other options. When asked why the air carrier apron [the area around the terminal where planes are parked] rehabilitation jumped $5 million while the proposed extension of Runway 24 skyrocketed $13 millon in two months, Denson explains that earlier cost estimates for the air carrier apron increased after bids were received. As for extension of Runway 24, early figures were “very, very preliminary numbers” that have since been updated, according to Denson. Johnson is concerned at the high percentage of cost underestimates by consultants. “I know y’all know what the land looks like,” notes Johnson, still baffled by the cost surge. “But we’re just basically talking about pouring concrete [in] some places.” The councilor asks that further budgets include line items addressing what the airport will do to abate noise problems.

Councilor Lee Wendell Loder requests that the council be allowed to monitor any future talk of the parallel runway since the council approves airport budgets anyway. Loder asks what to expect if air traffic capacity is reached without additional runway space. Denson says that options must always be available, then offers this contradictory statement: “I would hope that we start putting more emphasis over the next 10 years on projects that can truly be a major benefit to this city rather than bargain and put a lot of synergies and energies into something that’s 10 or 20 years out.”

Gunn flip flops as he skips across East Lake Park

Insisting that his initial concern was the well-being of East Lake residents, Councilor Aldrich Gunn says that he never intended to “tear up the Airport Authority’s program for expansion.” Gunn applauds the Authority for its cooperation, noting, “I think you met me more than halfway.” The senior councilor’s recent enlightenment on the airport’s future came to him on a trek north to study Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. “I saw a presentation that gave me a whole, complete, new revelation about what we are doing,” reveals Gunn. The councilor suddenly focuses his attention on photos of past city leaders covering the back wall of the council chambers as he searches for the perfect metaphor. “If I’m looking at those pictures on that wall, and my vision stops at those pictures, I’ve missed the purpose of the airport,” Gunn philosophizes. The councilor explains that one day flights from Birmingham to Tokyo will take no longer than flights from Birmingham to Los Angeles. “We can not wait until that technology is here to start planning for it,” he warns, adding that adequate runways will be needed to land aircraft of the future. Gunn says that what finally changed his mind on airport expansion was the need for nonstop flights from Germany to Birmingham because of the Mercedes plant near Tuscaloosa. “Now I have a broader horizon of what is happening,” Gunn concludes.

Councilor Sandra Little says her main concern in the airport hoopla is the neighborhoods. “You all have degrees in aviation, so I look for your recommendations,” Little says admiringly as she addresses Al Denson. “You have people that do studies, and you pay a large amount of dollars for these studies.”

Expressing confusion about “how the Airport Authority does business,” Councilor Jimmy Blake pursues ongoing concern that budget changes were made in secret. Denson can not give Blake the dates of public meetings where budget increases were discussed, but insists that he acted promptly and responsibly in reporting escalating costs to the Airport Authority board. Blake continues to call the Authority’s action illegal, referring to the budget as an “abortion of the law.” The councilor is alarmed that “quasi-governmental bodies too often feel like their job is to scam the public.” Blake says that anyone who understands the Authority’s intent on the controversial parallel runway is “a mind-reader.” Blake condemns the Authority and those on the council who are ready to “rubber-stamp” the airport budget, chiding them for not holding proper public debate and therefore rendering the public “irrelevant.” He accuses the Airport Authority of keeping runway plans secret in order to drive down property values so that the properties could be later purchased at depreciated prices. The “ambiguity” of the plans is just like putting guns to the heads of residents, says Blake as he explains that selling homes is impossible when no one knows the fate of neighborhoods threatened by possible expansion. “Look, I’m not going to be here after October, thank goodness,” notes Blake angrily. “But folks, this is what [kind of] leadership the city of Birmingham has. A council, an airport authority, a school board . . . every organization thinks that the public should not know what they’re doing. And that’s going on daily!” Councilor Pat Alexander, who serves on the Airport Authority board, refuses Blake’s request that neighborhood residents be allowed to speak, noting that this is not a public hearing. The Airport Authority budget is approved over objections from Loder, Blake, and Johnson. Councilor Don MacDermott is absent.

August 7, 2001

Racial stereotypes

The city’s Park and Recreation swim team, made up of swim teams from across the city, is recognized for medals won in recent competition. Council President William Bell calls the team’s success a “miracle” considering the lack of swim training available to inner-city children. Team officials praise the swimmers for “competing effectively against over-the-mountain teams.” Mildred Kidd, team statistician, says it’s time swimmers got the recognition basketball players get. Kidd praises the children for medals won competing against year-round programs with indoor pools. “Everybody knows we exist. We don’t come in last in anything,” Kidd notes proudly. “A lot of people don’t know that black children swim. I’m gonna go ahead and be honest about it.” [For the record, the team includes a few white children.] Bell presents a check to the program so that the swimming coach can secure adequate instructional training to properly prepare the team for next season. “Come on up here, Ms. Kidd. You weren’t shy in my office when you were asking [for financial help],” laughs Bell as he hands her the money.

The other Birmingham

Councilor Don MacDermott salutes a pair of British business students from Birmingham, England, visiting the city to research a retail business project they’re studying back home. The Summitt, of course, was included on the research spree, as was the Galleria and Bruno’s food stores, which one of the pair calls a “forward-thinking supermarket.” The council is amused by the students’ enunciation of the word “Birmingham.” The Brits note their surprise at the city’s warmth considering that their New York hosts warned them about the dangers of the South. The welcome mat rolled out by the city upon the students’ arrival at the bus station across the street from City Hall was greatly appreciated after their 22-hour bus ride, the students note. They are presented with keys to the city.

God’s Gangster rides again

“The Frank Matthews Show,” the city’s latest summer political charade, fizzles and pops dramatically as the controversial Matthews, a Birmingham radio personality, reels off a list of perceived local enemies at meeting’s end. Presented as a pit bull prelude to October council elections purportedly in an effort to gain support for Jefferson County Citizens Coalition candidates [including his own possible bid for Bill Johnson's seat], Matthews has created furor with recent newspaper and radio ads bearing his name that lash out at the Cahaba River Society. Known as “God’s Gangster,” Matthews, who has personally asked that he be quoted in this space because of “all that stuff I say” when addressing the council at the end of each meeting, attacks those who question his methods and motivations. Matthews defends the validity of his urban projects, some of which have been approved to receive city funds. The community and political rabble rouser berates Mayor Kincaid for comments made on local talk radio, accusing Kincaid of spending too much time running for selective offices. “I am highly offended!” thunders Matthews, addressing councilors who question the validity of his allegedly offering GED programs through his crusade to aid inner-city youth. “When I did take the GED program, I took it in Colorado, and I made one of the highest scores of anybody who ever took the test in Colorado!” Matthews also notes that he graduated from a ministerial school in San Diego. “I’ve read the Oxford Dictionary, numerous encyclopedias, New American Standard dictionaries, and I can word-play just like our illustrious ‘wanna-be.’” He does not clarify who he is referring to as a “wanna-be.” Matthews takes issue with suggestions by some councilors that he was using city money to finance recent anti-Cahaba River Society ads, and denies that he is the pawn for political shenanigans, as suggested in this publication’s previous issue. “[Black & White] is used for outhouse toilet paper,” bellows Matthews angrily. “They got my name all in it! It could be used for the wall dressing for an outhouse. That’s the appropriate place for the Black & White !” &


Apocalypse Now

Jaws dropped and heads shook in disbelief as a helicopter carrying District Two City Council candidate Frank Matthews descended to a crowd of approximately 150. Sunday, August 12 was the official kick-off of Matthews’ campaign at his Oporto-Madrid headquarters in East Lake, and the candidate known
as “God’s Gangster” made an entrance few will forget.

The event was a thinly-disguised Jefferson County Citizens Coalition rally, with former Mayor Richard Arrington and councilors Sandra Faye Little, Aldrich Gunn, Leroy Bandy, and Pat Alexander basking in the political glow. Little praised Matthews for “continuously putting his life on the line,” while Arrington bemoaned the poor leadership that has “everything bogged down at city hall.” Teenaged campaign workers circulated through the audience soliciting donations as the faithful dined on ribs, chicken, and watermelon.

Candidate Matthews finally emerged, shouting “Que pasa, amigos!” Behind him two youths held aloft a huge sign laminated with newspaper headlines touting Matthews’ community activism. A Spanish interpreter to his left tried in vain to keep up with Matthews’ evangelical fervor.

“I like being in the air. That way I’m closer to God!” Matthews bragged about his entrance to shouts of “Amen!” from the crowd, half its original size now that food had been eaten. Over the next 20 minutes Matthews praised the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition for “electing more officials in Alabama than
any other organization,” pledged to “take the door off the hinges” in his council office at city hall if elected, and promised a designer clothing outlet in District Two so “you ladies won’t have to go to Cullman and Boaz!”

As a dilapidated wagon harnessed to a Clydesdale waited to whisk Matthews from the rally, the candidate shook hands with rabid supporters, whose numbers had dwindled to less than 50. A zealous devotee who had commandeered the microphone shouted, “People say Frank Matthews is crazy! Frank, if you’re crazy, stay crazy!”

Soul Man


Soul singer Clarence Carter appears Thursday, July 12 at Spanky’s on Valley.

Southern rhythm and blues strutted with mischievous swagger on backroads between Memphis and Muscle Shoals in the ’60s and early ’70s. Frequently touted as “soul music” before disco steered the term soul straight into a mirror ball-lit ditch, rhythm and blues slowly lost its sense of direction along those feel-good blacktops once the neon was shut off outside sleazy motels, chitlin’ shacks, and juke joints. Clarence Carter, however, has never detoured from those little-known backroads. He continues to entertain hidden nightspots with his resonant baritone, lecherous chuckle, and sweet, bare-bones guitar picking. Lewd as ever, Carter still sings of loving other men’s wives, relishing his bawdy role as the Devil tempting women beyond all restraints of self-control.

In the mid-’60s, Clarence Carter hooked up with Rick Hall at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, where renowned soul producer Jerry Wexler signed Carter to Atlantic Records’ stable of R&B acts. Carter jumped onto the Top Ten charts with “Slip Away” in 1968, followed by “Patches” in 1970, his biggest pop hit. Blind since birth, Carter built a career narrating “cheatin’ and sneakin’” songs laced with sexual obsession and lascivious infidelity. Titles such as “Dark End of the Street,” “Back Door Santa,” “Doin’ Our Thing,” and “Take It Off Him and Put It On Me” suggest a lifetime of romantic pleasures. He scored his last major hit in 1993 with the overtly nasty “Strokin’.”

It’s been said that the beginning of the end for soul music began when Otis Redding’s plane crashed in 1967. While Redding’s death was a blow R&B never quite shook off, soul singers hung in the ring many more years with champs like Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, Arthur Alexander, and Joe Tex belting out timeless R&B in obscure clubs across America. Bruised and aging, soul music is still a powerful and beautiful thing to behold. And Clarence Carter is still standing.

 Clarence Carter will perform at Spanky’s on Valley on Thursday, July 12. Tickets are $25. Call 945-1414 for details.

Voting place confusion — July 17, 2001

City Hall

July 17, 2001

Voting place confusion

Mayor Kincaid announces a special meeting of the Election Commission to examine the designation of polling places in conjunction with the new council redistricting plan. The commission had added 19 additional polling places, but Jerry Wilson, consultant for Reapportionment Group 2000, the organization which drew new council district boundaries, was concerned that new polling places might cause confusion among voters. Wilson suggests that former polling places be kept intact, but the Mayor notes two “abhorrent things” regarding his request: Some polling places are outside the jurisdiction of Birmingham, which means city police could not be dispatched if needed. The other problem is that some polling places are now split boxes, holding two districts ballots.

Council President William Bell condemns the “rumor mill” as he denies responsibility for sending voters across the city to new polling places, creating enough confusion to discourage voting [Local political observers note that the Jefferson County Citizen's Coalition, which has endorsed Bell in the past, desires low turnout, confident that they can get their supporters to the polls.] Bell stresses that only the Election Commission makes such decisions. He also notes that past elections have included both polling places outside of Birmingham and split boxes.

Councilor Little says it is her understanding that the county is responsible for security problems at polling places. However, City Clerk Paula Smith explains that county law enforcement is only involved when city and county elections are held jointly.

Airport Authority compliance with “sunshine laws” questioned

Councilor Pat Alexander delays a resolution adopting the 2001-2002 capital and operating budgets of the Birmingham Airport Authority for two weeks. Councilor Johnson praises removal of the controversial $10 million that had been left in the revised version of the airport budget for a new runway. [The proposed parallel runway was the centerpiece of controversial future plans for airport expansion. It has been widely reported that representatives of the Airport Authority had indefinitely suspended immediate plans for the new runway, which called into question why $10 million was retained in the budget for expansion.] Johnson questions why other items in the budget rose “rather substantially” in the past three months, including a $5.5 million increase for the air carrier apron rehabilitation and $13 million increase for extension of Runway 24 [east-west runway]. Councilor Alexander, who serves on the Airport Authority, does not respond to Johnson’s queries about reasons for the increases. Councilor Blake protests that budget changes by the Airport Authority were not discussed in public. “It makes me wonder if they’re [Airport Authority] having secret meetings, which would be illegal,” says Blake. Alexander immediately snaps back, “We don’t have ‘secret meetings,’ Mr. Blake!” When Blake asks how the budget changes were approved, Alexander explains that the changes came from council finance committee meetings, which she says were all open to the public. Blake does not budge. “I’m gonna be very hesitant to support any budget that’s done behind closed doors and not in the public view,” he insists, as the audience in the council chambers applauds. “We’ve got too many signs of arrogance among boards and agencies in the city of Birmingham . . . and we need to stop that.”

Johnson questions why the council does not have power to amend the Airport Authority budget since the council does have the power to approve or disapprove the budget. City Attorney Tamara Johnson explains that the lease assignment and operating agreement between the city and Airport Authority states that only the Airport Authority can make budget changes. Councilor Johnson questions the city attorney’s interpretation, but the city attorney explains that the council is limited to only making budget suggestions. Councilor Blake ends the discussion when he notes that the Airport Authority has no budget without council approval.

Mosquito patrol ready for action

Councilor Blake addresses the severity of mosquitoes in the Birmingham area this summer. Street and Sanitation Department head Stephen Fancher says that the city has been spraying since early spring, both in regularly highly-infested neighborhoods and upon request. Fancher notes, however, that neighborhoods will not be sprayed when residents with health problems and “bee-keepers” ask the city to refrain. Councilor Don MacDermott praises Street and Sanitation for spraying the same day that his district’s residents made requests. Councilor Blake asks what type of insecticide the city currently uses, but Fancher explains that a new chemical is being used this summer, and he is not sure what the pesticide actually is.

Voting machine, ballot vendors continue to demand payment

The saga rages on regarding payment for providers of voting machines and ballots in the February 2001 referendum in which voters decided to give the public a voice in who should control Water Works assets. [Judge Art Hanes, Jr. ruled in the council's favor returning the assets to the Water Works Board, a decision Mayor Kincaid has challenged in court.] Kincaid notes that the Election Commission [which then included Kincaid, Council President Bell, and City Attorney Johnson] unanimously approved the referendum, making it legal. Councilor Little continues to call the referendum a “political game,” condemning Kincaid for past references to the referendum as a “pre-council election.” She says that it’s up to the Mayor to find the money to pay the bills. Kincaid replies that his referral to the referendum as a precursor to the October council elections does not mean the council can ignore the costs in holding such a referendum. Reiterating that the Election Commission approved the referendum, Kincaid notes, “Even though you didn’t like the outcome, you still have to pay it. Just as you’ll have to pay the bill for the October 9 [council election] whether you like the outcome or not.” Kincaid supporters in the audience voice loud approval.

An angry Councilor Johnson rebukes comments that the council should avoid paying the referendum’s costs out of fear that legal positions regarding Kincaid’s court challenge would be jeopardized. “The legal position that the city is jeopardizing is whether or not we live in a Banana Republic!” Johnson notes with obvious disgust. He admonishes councilors for ignoring “initiatives and referendum” as provided by state law that allows such referendums to take place when 10 percent of registered voter’s signatures are collected via petition.

July 24, 2001

Bobby Frank Cherry

Mayor Kincaid praises the peaceful tone of protests currently being held each morning in front of the Criminal Justice Building in downtown Birmingham. The protests focus on Judge James Garrett’s recent ruling that 16th Street Baptist Church bombing suspect Bobby Frank Cherry is incompetent to stand trial for murder. Kincaid is dismayed that “a Rule 11 technicality has shifted the burden of proof about the competency [of Cherry] onto the state.” The Mayor expresses hope that other opinions will be heard regarding Cherry’s mental faculties at the August hearing.

A coalition of local pastors and community leaders addresses the Cherry issue. “All of us got a virus, and it’s the Cherry virus. If you love justice, then you ought to have it to!” says Reverend Hagler. Local Nation of Islam representative William Mohammed calls the judge’s ruling “the irony of ironies,” and condemns the Justice Department because it “kept murderers from justice for 38 years,” and now calls Cherry incompetent.

Irate resident calls mobile home park “undesirable”

Birmingham resident Ethyl Hollaway complains to the city council about the “25 mobile homes of undesirable tenants” in the mobile home park where she resides. Hollaway says she is plagued with “five major illnesses” which make the loud music played in mobile home yards there intolerable. The elderly resident also complains about beer drinking in front of some homes. “It’s a shame and a disgrace where I have to live, and I’m too old to move,” says Hollaway. She adds that her undesirable neighbors “have no respect for me or my country!” Police Chief Mike Coppage says the residents in question are not violating noise ordinances, and confine beer drinking to their own yards. Coppage notes that the complaints have been checked out at all hours, day and night. He adds that the community is largely Hispanic, and says no one else has complained.

Persistent mosquitoes

Councilor Aldrich Gunn requests that the Street and Sanitation Department spray for mosquitoes in his district. Gunn is especially concerned about dead birds recently discovered in Collegeville, fearing possibilities that the West Nile virus that recently found in Georgia has invaded Birmingham. [The virus is transmitted from birds to humans via mosquitoes.] Gunn says it appears the birds “just fell over” and died. The councilor explains that the birds have been properly refrigerated until further examination for the virus by experts. Councilor Lee Loder warns that he heard such birds should not be touched, but Gunn says proper protection was taken in retrieving the dead birds. Councilor Blake urges the city to secure outside help if needed to combat the excessive number of mosquitoes infesting Birmingham this summer. “It’s a serious public health issue, not to mention just a hell of a nuisance,” says Blake. Street and Sanitation head Stephen Fancher says city-wide spraying is currently being employed, noting that it takes two weeks to spray the entire city with the four trucks available. Councilor Pat Alexander urges all citizens to simply stay indoors. &

The Original Tree-Huggers

By Ed Reynolds

Franklin D. Roosevelt touring the South in 1932.

The next time you’re hiking a winding trail in the Appalachians, sunning yourself on Florida beaches, or casting for bream in crystal lakes surrounded by giant oak trees in Alabama state parks, take a moment to reflect on the 3,463,766 men who planted 2.5 billion trees, restocked 972 million fish, improved 3,462 beaches, and forged 13,100 trails across America between 1933 and 1942.

Two days after his presidential inauguration, Franklin D. Roosevelt started a program called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the most popular experiment to emerge from his New Deal. Designed to counter rampant unemployment and economic despair that had resulted from the Great Depression, the CCC was born out of Roosevelt’s Emergency Conservation Work Act. With 13,600,000 unemployed in America in 1933, fear of losing a generation of idle young men to the ravages of poverty instigated nationwide approval of the program. The program was supported by 67 percent of the Republicans, 95 percent of California, and even the Soviet Union, which praised the CCC for its “socialistic” leanings. Roosevelt’s original goal had been the enlistment of 500,000 men ages 18 to 25 to save America’s wilderness from two centuries of apathy and neglect. That number increased six-fold before the program ended during World War II.

Roosevelt did not want to establish new bureaucracies, but to utilize existing governmental departments. The departments of Interior and Agriculture were responsible for work projects, while the Labor Department was in charge of selection of CCC applicants. Logistics were an immediate problem; most of the work projects were out west despite unemployment being highest in the eastern United States. Roosevelt chose the U.S. Army to oversee training and transport of workers from induction centers to the 4,500 camps that functioned as living quarters. Camps existed in every state, including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Camps were run like Army barracks, with World War I veterans in charge of each work platoon. Workers (dubbed grunts) earned $30 a month, $25 of which was automatically sent home as part of the effort to revitalize the country. By 1939, the monthly rate jumped to $50, $42 of which was garnished. One CCC veteran laughs now at the hard times. “Our assistant leader [of the platoon] was a loan shark. He’d advance you 25 cents, but you had to pay him back 50 cents on payday,” the elderly fellow laughs. “Times were lean, though, and corners had to be cut. When you went to the dentist, you only got painkillers when they were extracting teeth. Got nothing when they drilled for fillings. It was horrible,” he smiles.

The numbers tell the story. The CCC saved 814,000 acres of grazing land, built 125,000 miles of roads, created 52,000 acres of campground and 800 state parks, constructed 32,149 wildlife shelters, and erected 1,865 drinking fountains.

There will be a reunion for CCC veterans beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, July 28, at Desoto State Park near Fort Payne. According to park officials, fewer show up each summer for the gathering, as CCC vets are a vanishing breed. The reunion is free. It should be a wonderful way to spend a Saturday, eavesdropping on post-Depression memories of tall tales spun and friendships forged while a generation introduced America to conservation. Call 256-845-0051 for details.

City Hall — July 3, 2001

City Hall

July 3, 2001 

Real men invest in pink 

Alabama State Representative John Rogers snags first place in Councilor Pat Alexander’s “Real Men Can Cook” contest. “Let me tell you ’bout my sauce!” brags Rogers. “It comes from a Hindu monk in the Himalaya Mountains [councilors laugh loudly]. It’s been marinatin’ for 365 days. . . . It’s a time-honored recipe, so it’s the best you ever tasted in your whole life!” howls Rogers as he thanks the council for the award. Mayor Bernard Kincaid quips, “With some of these tall fish stories, this should have been a weigh-in.” Kincaid seizes the moment to herald men in the kitchen as positive male role models for Birmingham youth. “Can I have the Pepto Bismol franchise?” Council President William Bell asks Councilor Alexander. “You know, somebody got to make a little money outta this deal!” The council again erupts in laughter.

Peace on Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard

Reverend Abraham Woods says that recent attempts to remove former mayor Richard Arrington’s name from the one-way thoroughfare previously known as 21st Street
“would certainly have made all of us poorer.” Calling the legal challenge by businesses along Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard “the essence of disrespect,” Woods proudly announces that a peace accord has been struck. [The businesses filed suit over the name change because of difficulty receiving mail and inordinate expenses incurred in reprinting letterheads, envelopes, etc.] An agreement was approved by postal officials, according to Woods, who says that businesses will receive mail regardless of whether the new or old street address is used. “The document was signed by business leaders of the white community which had this lawsuit in court!” declares Woods, noting the lawsuit will be stopped according to the recent agreement. Woods can’t resist the opportunity to “take a crack” at Councilor Jimmy Blake, a frequent nemesis. The reverend condemns Blake for accusing Woods of “always playing the race card,” which Woods denies ever doing. “Not only can good men cook, but good men can go to the meeting room. And they can sit down and they can discuss in a positive way their differences!” Woods rants with religious fervor. Calling Blake his favorite councilor, Woods remarks, “It is always better to work things out in the suite than to work ‘em out in the street!”

Jesus, prostitutes, and truckstop etiquette

A request by Mount Moriah Baptist Church for the re-zoning of land it owns on the Bankhead Highway (Highway 78) meets a barrage of protests from the Smithfield Estates Neighborhood Association. The property was formerly the site of Burgess Nursing Home, which is presently unoccupied. The re-zoning would allow construction of what has been called a convenience store by those in favor. But neighborhood residents argue that the 5.2 acre plot would be a truckstop. [The controversial site lies in the midst of commercial development on Highway 78.] Donald Blankenship, counsel for D & D Oil Company, which operates as Cowboy’s stores in parts of Alabama and Georgia, says that the store would be a “10 to 12 gasoline pump” station. Blankenship notes that the stretch of road in proximity to the proposed site on Highway 78 between Pratt Highway and Cherry Avenue carries approximately 46,000 vehicles per day, according to the Birmingham Regional Planning Commission. “So it will be some type of commercial or industrial development [in the future],” explains Blankenship, who denies that the convenience store will be a truckstop. He cites the locale as “the perfect place for a gasoline station.”

A contingent of neighborhood residents protests crime and the loss of property values that accompany truckstops, including the “loss of family flavor of the neighborhood.” One resident, whose property is adjacent to the proposed site, says her home has already been the target of crimes four times. “Historically, convenience stores have been a mecca for [prostitution and drugs],” she says while reeling off a list of recently failed businesses in the area.

Neighborhood resident Billy Baldwin echoes others’ gripes about the disturbing sound of “air-brakes” as he voices traffic concerns. “This is the main route for the 18-wheeler traffic from Memphis to Birmingham to Atlanta. We’re already listening to the screeching of the wheels and everything!” Baldwin says as he points to the plethora of convenience stores in close proximity. “If there was a need for this, we wouldn’t squawk!”

Highway 78 business owner Doug Reid of Doug Reid Autoplex explains how much pride he has in the local community where he conducts business. Noting that he’s a Christian, Reid says he’s proud of today’s council meeting. “I heard God mentioned here more than I do at church!” The auto dealer points out that traffic in the area is a problem. “I’ve seen seven people killed at that red light [intersection of Cherry Avenue and Pratt Highway] in the 15 years I’ve been there,” says Reid, who says that most of the carnage is caused by trucks running the intersection’s traffic light. He also condemns prostitution as a “terrible, terrible problem in the area,” admitting that he calls the police every day to report hookers. “Yesterday there was a prostitute in the middle of the highway flagging down trucks! Sometimes I’m ashamed to tell people where my business is located,” bemoans Reid as he recalls television stations doing stories on prostitution near his autoplex. He quickly blames truckstops for the surge in prostitution and drugs. “I pick up needles and condoms off my lot nearly everyday.” Reid warns that when police respond to robberies, the suspects will seek refuge in the homes of neighborhood residents. Reverend Tommy Lewis joins the truckstop opposition, recalling the excitement in the community when it was first reported that a church was to be built on the nursing home site. The delirium quickly turned to disappointment when Lewis discovered that “we want to trade Christ for a cowboy!” He gravely warns, “It’s our neighborhood today; it could be your neighborhood tomorrow.” The council votes against the re-zoning.


July 10, 2001Roosevelt City fire station continues to smolder at city hall

Councilor Sandra Little requests that Roosevelt City residents be allowed to address the Mayor this morning regarding the continued delay in construction on the controversial Roosevelt City fire station that was included in the council’s amended budget. Mayor Kincaid says he must leave early this morning to attend a funeral but will be glad to meet with the group in his office at a later date. Council President Bell grants Little a “point of personal privilege” and allows Roosevelt City residents to address the council. The Mayor promptly leaves the council chambers as resident Brenda Jennings speaks first. Jennings tells of an elderly, wheelchair-confined woman who recently died in a house fire in Roosevelt City. The woman’s home was secured by burglar bars, so neighbors were unable to help her as they called 911. According to Jennings, by the time the fire department arrived 20 minutes later, the woman’s cries for help had ceased. “The only thing [the fire department] could do was to put out the fire and remove her charred body,” explains Jennings. She says if Mayor Kincaid is not concerned for the welfare of all citizens, “maybe he should not have that seat he’s sitting in.” Jennings adds, “That fire station has been a dream of our grandparents, our great-grandparents, and our parents.”

Roosevelt City community leader Eddie Turner threatens to sue the Mayor for failure to build the station, condemning Kincaid for ignoring the council’s veto that provides for funds for the station’s construction. “Kincaid is not a dictator. This is America; this is a democracy!” Turner protests angrily. Councilor Sandra Little gives the history of the proposed fire station: $1 million for the station was put in place by former Mayor Richard Arrington, and the land was secured under interim-Mayor Bell’s brief tenure. Little urges the neighborhood to pursue the issue in court, noting that litigation is frequently Kincaid’s method of operation.

Church continues to protest $2,500 lawn care bill

Representatives from Mercy Seat Baptist Church in Ensley, Councilor Leroy Bandy’s district, claim they received no notice from the city regarding a $2,500 fee paid to a contractor to cut the grass on church property in Wylam. Three certified letters warning the church to clean up the property were sent in the fall of 1999, according to a representative of the Street and Sanitation Department. Three bids of $2,500, $3,000, and $3,500 were also received. Defending the church, Councilor Bandy says that sometimes notes on doors are removed by passersby. Councilor Aldrich Gunn, a former letter carrier, argues that postal carriers always place mail in mailboxes, sparking a brief flare of tempers between the two councilors. A church representative explains that the church was billed for $175 by the city in 1994 for having the grass cut, and is baffled at the sudden cost escalation for lawn care. Councilor Don MacDermott is mystified at the church’s failure to pick up its mail. MacDermott notes the dangerous precedent that will be set if the church is not forced to pay. “If we tell everybody in this city that they can ignore certified mail, and we forgive [the church] on this payment, then we’re going to have to do it for everybody . . . We’re going to have overgrown lots [everywhere]. The city’s going to become the lawn boy for everybody in cutting lots,” MacDermott warns. Bandy argues that other items of similar nature are treated differently, appalled at the exorbitant price of cutting grass. “The church has no reason to lie [about not receiving the notices],” says Bandy. Councilor Lee Loder examines photos of the property, noting extensive growth. Councilor Gunn admits there are hardships on churches, but reminds that rules and regulations still exist. Gunn remains adamant that the church should have heeded the notices. He suggests letting the church pay the debt off in installments. Finance Department interim head Michael Johnson says payment plans are rare at city hall. Councilor Bandy wants to “knock the price down.” Gunn laughs and tells Bandy he’ll have to talk to the contractor about that. The council votes the church must pay, with Gunn, MacDermott, Loder, and Johnson leading the majority. [Bell left before the vote, so four votes were enough for a majority.]

July job freeze


Citizen Adolphus Johnson condemns Mayor Kincaid’s plan to freeze city hiring due to recent budget deficits. “We freeze meat and non-perishable [sic] items,” says Johnson. “We do not freeze people’s abilities to take care of their homes!” Johnson says that if there is a freeze, all the relatives, friends, and church members affiliated with Kincaid should be examined for the positions for which they were hired, as many are unqualified, according to Johnson. &