Monthly Archives: December 2001

A Pack of Lies

A Pack of Lies


Malignant tumors are no laughing matter, but the gallows humor of the exhibit When ‘More Doctors Smoke Camels’ . . . A Century of Health Claims in Cigarettes prompts more than a few paradoxical giggles. Featured in the display on the third floor of the Lister Hill Library for the Health Sciences at UAB are 25 print advertisements, all shameless tobacco promotions, which make the diabolical claim that good health and the pleasures of smoking are intertwined. And who more reliable to reassure generations of smokers of the vitality of cigarettes than the family physician?

The tobacco industry’s brilliant 20th-century marketing ploys are the essence of the exhibition. In the 1930s, cigarettes were touted for being “less irritating” to the throat due to having been “toasted.” Post-World War II Camel ads acknowledged the benefit of war-time cigarette shortages that forced smokers to light up what they normally might not, implying that coerced smoking of other brands made smokers realize how good Camels really were. By the 1950s, filter tips were invented as a “safer” method of smoking, although at one time asbestos was used in the filters. Low tar cigarettes were the rage in the ’60s and ’70s, but a 2001 ad heralds the latest creation of the tobacco industry, Omni cigarettes, which boast the world’s “first reduced carcinogen cigarette.” In a letter of endorsement from the producers of Omni, the CEO of Vendor Tobacco admits that there are no safe cigarettes, but claims that Omni is “destined to change the future of cigarettes” as the “best alternative.”

Dr. Alan Blum, professor of family medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, home of the tobacco ad collection, labels reduced carcinogen cigarettes as the “latest fraudulent gimmick.” Dr. Blum founded the National Tobacco Archive at the center in 1977. The ad exhibit is presently on a tour of medical and public health schools across the nation.

A 1942 Philip Morris ad in Good Housekeeping takes aim at the

sensitivity of the “feminine throat.” Women were often depicted with children in cigarette ads, as in a 1946 advertisement for Camels touting increased life expectancy. A young child tells her pediatrician, “I’m going to grow a hundred years old” as her mom looks on proudly. Another features a mother cradling a newborn, promoting a new cigarette that is “born gentle, then refined to special gentleness in the making.”

Ads for Old Gold cigarettes show an American Indian proclaiming, “No heap big medicine talk. Old Gold cures one thing: the world’s best tobacco.” A Chesterfield ad declares, “Science discovered it, you can prove it” as a scientist peers into a microscope, a burning cigarette propped between two fingers. Actor Robert Young is portrayed during his “Father Knows Best” days, asserting that his “voice and throat were important factors” in his decision to switch to Camels. And a seductive nurse puffs the same brand, purring, “You like them fresh? So do I!”

Finally, a penguin dressed as a doctor talking on the telephone offers advice to a patient, a stethoscope around his neck as he smokes a cigarette: “Tell him to switch to Kools and he’ll be all right!”

City Hall — Demon rum treads an inconsistent path

City Hall

December 4, 2001Demon rum treads an inconsistent path

Food Fair Market’s application for an off-premise beer and wine license in the Fountain Heights community is a prime example of the City Council not wanting to appear insensitive to residential neighborhood desires, especially when it comes to selling booze. Attorney Ferris Ritchey, who has appeared before the council on several occasions (successfully defending the Lakeview District’s notorious Cueball Lounge), is representing the Food Fair Market. He dismisses as “suppositions” neighborhood fears that alcohol sales would increase the frequency of drug-related activity in the area. Referencing three other stores in the area that sell alcohol, Ritchey says his client is at a disadvantage in attracting store traffic. “There is no valid, legal reason that this man should not be allowed to sell beer and wine,” pleads the attorney.Neighborhood residents are appalled that “economic revitalization” is a primary reason some in the community favor alcohol sales. Irate citizens argue that more alcohol sales nullify gains made by the community to change its “drug-infested” image. But a store employee, who also lives in Fountain Heights, differs: “We don’t sell drugs. We’re just a convenience store.” Another resident says what she tries to “install [sic] in her children is a sense of fairness.” The woman believes that the store should be allowed to sell alcohol if other stores in the area are doing so. The council is ready to refuse the store’s request until Mayor Kincaid warns that neighborhood protests are not enough to forbid alcohol sales; an applicant can take the city to circuit court, forcing the city to pay legal fees. The council agrees to a delay so that the issue can be studied further after City Attorney Tamara Johnson recites the three scenarios whereby an alcohol license can be denied according to state code: if a nuisance is created, if the circumstances are clearly detrimental to adjacent residential neighborhoods, or if there is a violation of applicable zoning restrictions and regulations.

Montgomery frowns on neighborhood and city vehicles

Councilor Joel Montgomery addresses complaints from constituents that people are “running garages out of their homes” in the eastern area of Birmingham. Montgomery has personally witnessed “motors dropped out of cars in driveways,” and promises residents that he is taking care of the problem.

Montgomery later raises more automobile objections when the usage of the seven-vehicle fleet available to the council is brought up. “I was elected to be a ward of the taxpayers’ dollars,” explains Montgomery as he rails against “any one person [having] exclusive use of a vehicle that is not a moderate vehicle.” He is not pleased that an expensive vehicle such as the city’s Ford Expedition is driven exclusively by the current council administrator. (Previously, the council administrator and council president have had personal city vehicles, with five other vehicles available for the rest of the council to share.) Councilors Valerie Abbott and Gwen Sykes join Montgomery in voting no.


December 11, 2001

Teen parties create mayhem

Recent applications for alcohol licenses are quickly focusing the spotlight on public safety chairperson Councilor Sykes. L.R. Hall Auditorium, located near the Civil Rights District, is the latest battleground. Efforts are underway to renovate the building for community events, with representatives of the facility defending its cultural contributions and viable economic benefits to the local business district. Though alcohol is the legal issue before the council, it soon becomes apparent that “teenage parties” are the real problem. Councilor Carole Smitherman is concerned about traffic problems resulting from teen events as L.R. Hall representatives quickly respond that a moratorium has been placed on “youth parties” until recent complaints can be addressed. They acknowledge that college-age students have attempted to join the parties but were denied access due to their ages. They then often refused to leave the area when told. “Throughout the history of time, there’s always been dirty old men that want to look at little girls, and they’ll sit there and ride all night and won’t leave, and we can’t make them leave,” says one representative. Facility officials say the teens cannot afford to pay for security, so police have been asked to “donate” patrol time, which is impossible due to limited manpower, according to L.R. Hall representatives.Opposing teen parties at the facility is attorney Arthur Shores Lee, who complains that his nearby office building “has sustained damages of epic proportions due to the juvenile events.” Lee says that not only has a gun been waved in his face, but that he also had to call police after seeing a security guard being beaten up by several youths one evening. The attorney urges the council not to allow any alcohol at the facility, explaining that he currently has a collection of bullets gathered from his office roof. However, the council approves alcohol sales for special events at L.R. Hall, with Councilors Loder and Smitherman abstaining.

Train crossings

Residents of the Collegeville area are present to protest railroad trains blocking community streets, sometimes for as long as five hours. The neighborhood notes that 37 states have laws forbidding such blockage, and urge the council to adopt a resolution in accordance with an Alabama House of Representatives bill requiring trains to be moved in certain circumstances, placing a time limit on standing trains obstructing streets, and giving municipalities prosecution power, including setting penalties. School children are reportedly forced to crawl under standing trains to get to and from school.

Abbott forges lone path of dissent

Councilor Abbott is wasting little time inheriting predecessor Jimmy Blake’s position as a gauntlet-tossing insurgent, standing alone against the council on what she admits is an unpopular position. Raising eyebrows all around, Abbott stubbornly cautions that Mayor Kincaid’s recommendation providing $17,500 to each councilor to replenish last minute discretionary fund depletions by the previous council is nothing more than “pork.” Noting that she appreciates the Mayor working with the council to find more money, Abbott says she is “eminently qualified” to take the position, because only Councilor Sykes has less money than Abbott in remaining funds to be spent in respective councilors’ districts. “I know from the looks I’m getting up here, my comments are not popular,” laughs the councilor as she urges the passing of legislation that would forbid outgoing councilors from such action in the future. “I have a personal concern about our asking for, and receiving, additional ‘pork money’ to spend in our districts. I know ‘discretionary funds’ sounds better than ‘pork,’ but in reality, that is what this is,” argues Abbott. She urges the council to “suck it up and tough it out until the [new] budget comes in seven months, and then get the $30,000 that is allocated every year for us to spend.”

“I’ll do the heavy lifting on this one, since I was the one that recommended it,” says Mayor Kincaid as he prepares to defend his position, angrily denouncing recent press opinions, including a Birmingham News editorial, that the discretionary fund boost is “pork.” Referring to respective district projects as “worthy,” Kincaid explains: “These are taxpayer dollars, of which you are the stewards. But they provide an opportunity for you to address needs in your community, primarily. Sometimes council people give funds for city-wide projects, but it’s done at the discretion of the council. The whole $279 million budget is at your discretion. And the fact that you have dominion over $30,000, or any parts thereof, is part of the democratic process.” Those who label the funding as “pork” are “short-sighted,” concludes the Mayor.

“Any council person who wishes not to use theirs can give it to Roderick Royal in District Nine!” says Councilor Royal. The councilor regards the “small amount of money” as a vital asset to his community. Noting that there is no playground at South Hampton School, which he says will cost $5,000, Royal explains that such discretionary funding will enable children in his district to “enjoy a playground just like little kids in elementary schools in suburban areas.” Councilors take turns graciously thanking Kincaid, with Councilor Sykes saluting Abbott for “being courageous enough to deal with that.” Councilor Montgomery is appalled that the money has been called pork, and promises that neighborhood officers in his district will have the opportunity to vote on how the money will be spent. Noting that seven months is too long to make his constituents wait, Councilor Bert Miller, who has emerged as the council funnyman, tells the Mayor, “You can give me my check whenever you get ready!” As looks of uncomfortable amusement cross councilors’ faces, Miller hastily adds with a smile, “Nah, I’m just kidding.” &


Sky Boxes, Chitlins, and Committee Appointments

On Monday afternoon, December 3, the Birmingham City Council convened a “committee of the whole” meeting to discuss committee appointments, staff organization, and vehicle-use policy, among other issues. “How was y’all’s weekend?” Councilor Bert Miller asked as he greeted reporters seated at a table behind the council. Apparently, many on the council had a fine weekend at the SWAC championship game at Legion Field. Councilors laughed that they had to pilfer meatballs from the Mayor’s skybox at the stadium after running out of the delicacies in their own luxury box. A brief discussion about food resulted, prompting Councilor Valerie Abbott to admit that she had never had chitlins, pig ears, or pig’s feet. “There are some parts of an animal that I just will not eat,” noted Abbott as other councilors erupted in laughter.

Getting down to business, Councilor Joel Montgomery demanded to know why the council committee assignments have been scheduled for a vote at the December 4 council meeting since the council has not yet discussed the assignments as a group (Council President Lee Loder made committee assignments after the previous week’s meeting). Councilor Gwen Sykes, a middle-school assistant principal and vice-president of the Birmingham Education Association, reportedly had requested appointment to the Education Committee, which Loder had assigned to himself (Loder has headed the Education Committee for the past two years). “Why hire a plumber to do carpet work when building a house?” Sykes asked, noting that she has served “twenty years in the education arena.” City Attorney Tamara Johnson said that Sykes’ appointment to the Education Committee might appear to be a conflict of interest, so it is decided that the Ethics Commission should review the issue. Loder agreed to relinquish his position as chair of the Education Committee if the Ethics Commission rules in Sykes’ favor.

After requesting that she be removed from the Administration, Education, and Community Services Committee because the Birmingham Water Works falls under its purview, Councilor Carol Reynolds, a Water Works employee, swaps assignments with Councilor Montgomery, taking his place on the Planning and Zoning Committee. Worth noting is Council President Loder’s decision to separate Finance and Administration into two different committees. Four years earlier, former Council President William Bell created some controversy when he combined the two in a power grab that ensured him control of cash and legislative flow. Councilor Elias Hendricks has been appointed to head up the Finance Committee.

Councilor Montgomery was not pleased that upscale vehicles are part of the city’s seven-vehicle fleet available for council use, citing as an example the Ford Expedition currently used by Council Administrator Jarvis Patton. Councilor Hendricks disagreed. “It would be stupid to turn this [Ford Expedition] in to get a cheaper vehicle,” noted Hendricks, who sees nothing wrong with going “first class” when representing Birmingham in an official capacity. “We don’t have to drive Omnis,” said Hendricks. Refusing to budge on the issue, Montgomery voted against the present fleet, concluding that it’s unfair to taxpayers for the council to go “first class.”


City Hall — More money for Vulcan

City Hall

December 18, 2001 

More money for Vulcan

A request for $431,000 in improvements to Vulcan Trail on Red Mountain near Vulcan Park is before the council this morning. The refurbishment has been on the books a long time, says Engineering and Planning departmental chief Bill Gilchrist. The funds are federal transportation dollars earmarked to encourage “alternate modes of movement,” including bicycle and pedestrian trails. Councilor Valerie Abbott, in whose district the trail lies, says her neighborhood is excited. “We’ve been walking on the old mineral railway for years and years, and it’s a big mud hole. So it’ll be refreshing to be able to walk up there without stepping in mud puddles,” beams Abbott, urging the council to support the trail. Councilor Elias Hendricks salutes Abbott for the work she’s done on the project, warning councilors about her intense passion for the project: “If you don’t vote for this, we’re gonna see a new Valerie.” Abbott laughs that she’s bigger than she looks. It passes unanimously.Roderick says council acting prematurely

Increased allocations for each councilor for committee assistants spark intense debate as Councilor Roderick Royal stands alone against the others. Councilor Joel Montgomery emphasizes that the increase is coming from the current council budget, with no petition for additional funds. According to Montgomery, the creation of council satellite offices in districts is a major reason for the increase. Citizens frequently complained in the past that phone calls were not returned by previous councilors, underscoring the need for more assistants, he adds. Montgomery notes that many believe council satellite offices will be the “greatest thing since the wheel.”

Councilor Royal is staunchly opposed to the increase, which will give each councilor four aides, pointing out that appropriations for assistants were raised to $50,000 per councilor in October 2000. “We’ve been here three weeks. I think we’ve had three meetings. Now, you’re telling me that in three weeks you somehow need four folks?” asks Royal in astonishment. The councilor says that when he was a committee assistant under the previous council [he worked for former Council President William Bell], he was able to get 90 percent of the work done by himself. Royal notes that the previous council didn’t need the extra personnel, and neither does the present council. “I don’t care if the money is already in the budget or not,” he says, as he points out that the remainder of the city staff will not get additional employees, thus making it unfair for the council to have additional help. “What we will do is end up having all these folks running around doing nothing,” surmises Royal.

Councilor Hendricks objects to Royal’s comments, noting that it’s “a bit unfair to characterize it as wasteful” before discussion takes place in an administrative committee meeting. Hendricks says the previous council did not return phone calls, and therefore obviously needed more personnel. He stresses that the council is a part-time job, and competent people are needed to “give full-time service.” Suggesting that Royal’s comments might make the public “prejudiced” against the idea, Hendricks reassures the public that they will see improved representation as a result.

“We do not want to put a negative spin on this,” objects Councilor Gwen Sykes as she praises the allocation increase for creating jobs. Sykes says that a satellite office has already been set up in her district. Councilor Royal interjects that he has an opinion and will not hesitate to state it. Urging the council to wait until March to examine the issue when mid-budget review takes place, Royal concludes, “I think it is overkill.”

Council President Lee Loder requests that the item be returned to committee discussion before being voted on, but Councilor Montgomery objects vehemently. Montgomery demands to know in advance if items previously discussed in committee are to be tabled before being voted on. He then takes issue with use of the word “overkill” by Royal. “If we’re really concerned about ‘overkill,’ as the councilor has stated, we need to start within the current council budget — which I’m going to do — looking at the $800,000 plus in consultant contracts that the previous council adopted here on this dais!” Loder withdraws his proposal that the item be sent back to committee, and notes that a $50,000 cap will be placed on any assistant’s salary so that no one can accuse the council of giving pay raises.

Councilor Carol Reynolds says that the city is a business that provides services, and she promises that a satellite office will be in operation soon in her district because “District Two is the size of a small country.” Reynolds explains: “We are raising the bar on what we require our personnel to do,” arguing that “good customer service” is to be conducted with dignity and “smiles.” Councilor Abbott agrees with Royal that increases in both central staff and council assistants are indeed “overkill.” However, Abbott supports the increase in council assistant money but urges the reduction of the council’s central office staff in the process. Loder smiles and asks, “Are we all still together?” as everyone but Royal approves the appropriation increase.

Déja Vu

Council President Loder invites Reverend Abraham Woods to address the upcoming Unity Breakfast held in conjunction with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. Woods explains that he received the wrong information concerning the reason for his appearance this morning, because he wants to speak about the recent shooting of citizen Carlos Williams. Woods’ appearance prompts memories of former Council President William Bell’s frequently allowing Woods a forum to voice complaints at council meetings. Reverend Woods admits he is “a little behind on how you get before the council,” explaining that in recent times he had simply called the council president [Bell]. Woods complains that Loder did not return his phone calls, and the Council President insists he has been too busy. Loder finally concedes, “At any council meeting, like they [previous council] did, let me know that you want to address the council, and I’ll always allow you to do that.” Loder’s invitation to Woods prompts Mayor Kincaid to shake his head in anger.Woods begins, “I am not a police basher. Some people consider me to be that.” The reverend suddenly notes that it will take more than three minutes to address the issue of the police shooting, so Loder grants him extra time. The Mayor still is not amused. Woods readily admits that police work is dangerous but complains that citizens are “abused and brutalized” when police officers act less than professional. Woods says he has been to the shooting scene, and no evidence can be found that Williams fired a gun, invoking the name of Bonita Carter [shot and killed by police during a robbery, prompting the election of Richard Arrington in 1980] as he cites “miscarriages of justice” by police. Noting that the council respects the time needed by Kincaid to fully investigate the shooting, Loder tells the Mayor that the council “looks forward” to being briefed on the shooting as soon as Kincaid is ready. Kincaid is obviously not pleased as he exits the council chambers.

After the meeting, Kincaid declines to comment on Loder’s open invitation to Woods to speak any time, saying that this is the council’s issue. But Kincaid does say that he hopes other councilors will address Loder’s standing invitation to Woods with the council president.

December 26, 2001

Protecting the area’s water source

A $40,000 contract with the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham to provide technical information to study preservation of the Cahaba River watershed stimulates debate about the proper function of committee meetings. Councilor Hendricks, whose Finance Committee has examined the issue, says that Birmingham is the last municipality to commit to the watershed project. The city’s procrastination has reached “the point of embarrassment,” says Hendricks, quoting the city’s representative at watershed meetings. The purpose of the study is to develop a set of regulations that will balance land use and conservation within the watershed in an attempt to mitigate the harmful effects of development, according to Carol Clark of the mayor’s office. Councilor Montgomery asks if such a study has been undertaken before. Clark explains that this is the first opportunity for all surrounding municipalities to discuss the study in depth as a group. Montgomery says that he is not opposed to the watershed analysis but warns, “I think you can study anything to death.” Councilor Carol Reynolds interjects that watershed examinations have been conducted for years by the Cahaba River Coalition but that such studies must be acted upon. “This city is going to have to be very aggressive and very strong-armed in this policy of this watershed,” says Reynolds as she warns that other cities might try to circumvent watershed protection by exploring alternatives to conservation plans. The councilor suggests that the major participants not be limited to just developers, realtors, and bankers but include environmentalists as well.

The watershed analysis has been discussed at committee meetings, says Councilor Hendricks, and therefore the council is “doing double work” by hashing out issues in committee which are then argued in the council meetings. “I would like for all of us to be able to trust that what we’re doing in committee is in the best interest of the city,” requests Hendricks. “We’re being good stewards of the city’s resources.” The councilor says the $40,000 is justified based on the amount of land to be studied.

Councilor Royal says it’s important that issues be discussed on the dais for public consumption. But Councilor Montgomery defends committee discussions, adding that all committee meetings are open to the public. Montgomery argues that “to come up here and hash this out in this manner [at the council meeting] is not the appropriate place.” He adds that councilors should have attended the Finance Committee meeting, to which Royal replies that he did attend. Royal maintains that the watershed issue is important enough to be included in Tuesday’s council meeting. The council votes unanimously to pass the $40,000 contract. &

Holy Cow, It’s Good!

Holy Cow, It’s Good!


Promised Land Dairy in Floresville, Texas, is truly the land of milk and honey. On 1,300 acres of mesquite-covered countryside once occupied by honey bee hives, 1,100 Jersey cows graze in divine splendor, producing milk so hallowed that the dairy prints the words of Deuteronomy 26:9 on each bottle. Having sampled several flavors, we can attest to the fact that the milk is indeed richer and creamier than most brands. That’s because Promised Land milk flows from the supple, velvety teats of doe-eyed brown Jersey cows, rather than being jettisoned from the tough-nippled jugs of black-and-white spotted Holsteins, which are used by most dairies. Jersey cows produce milk with more calcium, protein, and nonfat milk solids.



Promised Land milk, a staple on Texas grocery shelves for 13 years and currently sold in 27 states, began appearing in Birmingham dairy cases at Super Target and Wal-Mart Super Centers a month ago. Glass quart bottles sell for about $2, and they are worth it. Homogenized white milk, 2 percent reduced fat, and fat-free milk are available, as are chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, banana, and peach flavors. The latter cries out for fresh peaches, vanilla ice cream, and a blender, ditto the strawberry flavor. As for the rich chocolate milk, Promised Land may have produced the current gold standard.

The Promised Land farm is an integrated independent dairy operation, an old-fashioned throwback to the days when a dairy controlled the herd and its diet, processed the milk, and supervised its distribution. “There are many dairies that have herds. But not many of them have cows and a creamery,” says Melody Campbell-Goeken, who handles public relations for the dairy. “It’s one of the last integrated independent dairies in Texas, and probably one of the few in the nation.”

The automation and biotechnology of the modern dairy industry has resulted in a bland product with little distinction between brands flavor-wise. Unlike its competitors, who inject cattle with artificial hormones to increase production, Promised Land refrains from the practice. “They tried using hormones with the product years ago, and the cows just would not produce the milk with the same flavor. So they decided not to use any more hormones,” explains Campbell-Goeken. The milk is available only in glass bottles, which add a nostalgic touch while keeping the product colder and fresher.

During the holiday season, the dairy offers its lavish egg nog, which tastes like melted ice cream. The egg nog is so distinctive that the label is adorned with its own Bible verse, Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the goat, and the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

City Hall — Blake warns against police state

City Hall

November 20, 2001

Blake warns against police state

In the street outside City Hall, the police department and fire and rescue service exhibit the city’s emergency-response fleet, featuring a mobile command center and other SWAT vehicles. Councilor Jimmy Blake proudly lauds the efforts of law enforcement over the years, but cautions against what he calls the current trend of increased militarization of police forces. He’s concerned that police might develop a military mindset “through osmosis” by participating in joint training exercises with the military, which he warns is “dangerous to the public health.” Blake frowns on the sight of “soldiers with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders” at the airport, noting that militarization of American society is a victory for terrorists. Councilor Aldrich Gunn agrees. “Mind over matter, Dr. Blake. Whenever you get so you turn that person’s mind, or change its mind or change its way of livin’, you’ve already lost.”

Friends in low places

Councilor Sandra Little, impeccably dressed as usual, offers a series of resolutions honoring Helen’s Cafe, the Powderly Shell service station, and JC’s Beauty Supply, respectively. Little also salutes Council President William Bell for his “Bell Plan,” which provided money for schools from the projected proceeds of the Birmingham Water Works assets. Councilor Leroy Bandy then offers a resolution honoring Bell’s wife Sharon for 20 years of service to the Birmingham school system.

Hell no, I ain’t fergettin’!

Councilor Lee Loder offers eight resolutions recognizing the outgoing councilors for service to their districts. Councilors Blake and Don MacDermott request that their salutations be changed to honor their assistants. Blake interrupts Loder as commendations begin. “To me, words mean something. And resolutions that reflect on political activity mean something in particular,” objects Blake. “I’m not a hypocrite, and I believe one has to be truthful.” Blake states that if he agreed with the resolutions, he would have worked to get those councilors re-elected (Blake reportedly labored for incoming councilors Carol Reynolds, Gwen Sykes, Joel Montgomery, and Valerie Abbott, Blake’s District Three replacement). Blake adds that Loder would have worked to get those honored in the resolutions re-elected had he really believed that they had actually served their respective districts well. Admitting that he’s “quite fond personally of these people [fellow councilors],” Blake abstains from voting on Loder’s resolutions. “Words and resolutions have meaning. Those with legal training certainly should know that,” Blake says in a parting shot at Loder, an attorney.

Councilors toss insults back at Blake

When the resolution honoring Councilor Gunn comes up, the elderly councilor refuses to accept the honor. “The privilege of commendin’ and doin’ whatever it is, some things you don’t have to do. Your actions speak. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate it,” Gunn says in typically cryptic fashion as he requests that his honor be withdrawn. Councilor Bill Johnson joins Blake in abstaining from the resolution honoring Johnson. Blake approves the
resolution commending MacDermott’s assistant. A second resolution honoring Little is offered by Bandy, which is approved. Bandy takes aim at Blake: “In contrary to what Dr. Blake just stated, who cares? Councilwoman Little has done a great job for her district.” Blake tries to respond but Loder also fires away. “I don’t think I would challenge the intellectual giants of today [a parting shot at Blake, who is a medical doctor by trade] and the folks with good ol’ common sense to deny that every person on this dais has made some positive contribution to this city, and they are worthy of recognition for their positive contribution.” Blake agrees, but notes that if Loder’s resolution were focused on Little’s contribution to dedication of parks and commitment to the arts, he would have approved the recognition [Councilor Little can be heard giggling in the background]. Councilor Johnson chimes in: “I’ve sat here for four years and I’ve noticed that Dr. Blake never misses an opportunity to rain on someone else’s parade [Little is almost collapsing in laughter].” Councilor MacDermott takes his turn: “It’s good to see that nothing changes, even until the last minute [audience laughs]. At least we’re consistent.” MacDermott defends Loder’s resolutions as worthy, noting, “Everyone up here is dedicated to what they think is the
decision they should have made. And I don’t judge people’s motives.” Councilor Little can barely stop laughing as she thanks Loder for the commendations. “I think this is one of the most unified councils the city of Birmingham has ever seen in a long time,” says Little.

Tears of joy

As president of the City Council, William Bell traditionally has the final word. In bittersweet tones, Bell reflects on his 22 years as a council member, but is suddenly unable to speak as he begins to sob. “[The crying] is not out of sadness, it’s out of joy, for the blessings I’ve received.” The Council President praises his children for maintaining fine character despite having to “grow up in a spotlight.” Bell continues, apparently reading from a prepared text. “Some people have said I was arrogant. I take pride in uplifting black people, but I do not do so to the detriment of white people.” Noting the importance of future generations working together, Bell defends his convictions, stating, “But that doesn’t mean that I have to bow down to someone simply because of the color of their skin. It doesn’t mean that I have to hold my tongue simply for being perceived as an uppity black.” Refusing to name names, he observes that current city politics have involved more character assassination than any council he’s worked with in his years of service. As the tears continue to flow, Bell savors the emotional goodbye as he tries to end his final council meeting with dramatic flair. But suddenly Gunn interrupts the downward motion of Bell’s gavel, much to the Council President’s exasperation, and leads the council in an off-key rendition of “God Bless America.” Refusing to be outdone, Bell ends the meeting with prayer as councilors join hands.

November 27, 2001

Mayor shares visions of the future

Mayor Bernard Kincaid can’t stop smiling this morning as the new Birmingham City Council is sworn in. Kincaid uses the occasion to present his vision for boosting the city’s viability as a major, progressive metropolis, focusing on mass transit, increased pay for police and fire fighters, retention and expansion of city automobile dealerships, and a “world-class” school system. Referencing the previous council’s habit of stripping funds designed to implement his goals, the Mayor proudly notes that his vision “comports very well” with the issues on which councilors campaigned. He then walks over to individually embrace each councilor.

Love is all around

As predicted, today’s meeting is indeed a lovefest. Newly elected council president Lee Loder, who received a standing ovation when he entered the packed council chambers, praises Kincaid for presenting plans to revitalize the city. The more the Mayor shares ideas, the easier the council’s job will be, says Loder. The rest of the meeting is relatively uneventful, with the council finally approving payment for the February 2001 referendum on the fate of the Water Works. The previous council had repeatedly refused to pay for the referendum.

Matthews continues to rant

During the citizens forum, local community activist and former District Two council candidate Frank Matthews criticizes the council for “tossing out the Sunshine Rule” during this morning’s pre-council meeting when the council convened in executive [private] session for an item on the agenda. The item in reference is the payment of up to $3,000 for an attorney to represent former Council President Bell. Bell’s deposition has been requested by parties in a lawsuit against the city over a $6.9 million contract with Johnson Controls that Bell signed while interim mayor in July 1999. Johnson Controls is suing the city for allegedly not paying for installation of heating and cooling equipment. During the pre-council meeting, Council President Loder admitted to misgivings about meeting in executive session, saying that he didn’t recall any participation in such meetings during his 18-month tenure on the council.

Matthews also complains about paying for the February 2001 Water Works referendum with salary surplus from Information Management Services. “Well, if you’re going to throw out the Sunshine Law, then I guess you would take money from the Information Management Service to further keep this city in the dark,” adds Matthews. Mayor Kincaid’s perpetual smile turns to laughter as Matthews continues. “I hope that this council — great intellectual minds, great debaters, some are even scholars — will not allow this mayor to become a dictator by using manipulation and deception to deceive you.” As members of the audience boo loudly, Matthews pledges to remain a vigilant watchdog, promising, “Frank Matthews will be here to keep you on your toes and in a row like dominoes.”

Smitherman gloats

The new councilors address the public at meeting’s end. Councilor Bert Miller says, “There are no problems, there will only be situations. And situations will be handled!” Miller then gives out his telephone number. Councilor Valerie Abbott, seated next to Miller on the dais, admits that it’s difficult to speak after him. “It’s Miller time all the time,” Abbott laughs. “I’m very thankful to the people who put me in, and the people who didn’t put me in, it’s O.K. I’m here now. And I’m here for everybody.” Councilor Roderick Royal says that someone told him outside the council chambers that he appears taller on his campaign literature. Councilor Carol Reynolds notes that she is proud to be an American, and is thrilled to “restore this city’s pride, this city’s integrity, this city’s dignity.” Councilor Joel Montgomery says he wants to see the city retain ownership of the Water Works, and calls the expenditure of money to council lobbyists “a disgrace.” Councilor Gwen Sykes quotes the late soul crooner Sam Cooke: “It’s been a long time comin’, but I do believe a change is goin’ to come.” Councilor Elias Hendricks notes that he is especially proud to be a councilor since his father ran for the council in 1977. Council President Pro Tem Carole Smitherman, apparently ruffled by Nation of Islam minister William Muhammad’s earlier references to the Koran during the citizens forum, tells Muhammad that the first thing given to councilors by the city was a Bible, and they intend to use it as a guideline to steer the city in the proper direction. Smitherman, whom many suspect will be a candidate for mayor in two years, bragged, “I like to serve people. And I’m glad to have been given that opportunity by the voters of District Six with an overwhelming victory, and having received the highest percentage of votes in the runoff election.” Council President Loder promises that the council will not be marked by its failures, but rather by how high it sets the bar for the city of Birmingham. &