With one week to go before the Birmingham School Board election, Councilor Gwen Sykes is eerily close to playing a vote-solicitation card prompted by the March 22 killing of 15-year-old April Lynn Jamerson at Bessie Estell Park. Lurking in the background is fear from the city’s Law Department regarding the ever-dreaded word liability.
Sykes proposed a resolution at the April 2 Birmingham City Council meeting to rename the Friday before spring break “April Lynn Jamerson Senior Future Day.” That day has traditionally been known as “skip day,” when high school students play hooky without fear of school administrators taking disciplinary action. Present at today’s name-change proposal is Jamerson’s mother, Shunda Milhouse, who noted that officials had “promised” recognition of a day remembering her daughter’s death. Noting that “there is no privacy when it comes to privacy,” Milhouse urged parents to inspect bedrooms and “observe what’s going on in your child’s room, because a lot of these males, they are carrying guns.” Milhouse called for adult supervision of future student gatherings, and Sykes’ resolution endorses police patrol for any events next spring honoring Jamerson. Some councilors are hesitant to recognize the skip day.
Acknowledging that he understood “where we want to go, at least, in trying to honor the young lady who was unfortunately killed by another one of our children,” Councilor Roderick Royal protested: “Skip day has never been sanctioned by the school system.” Royal argued that school officials’ authority is being usurped as to “what days will be school days, and which days will not.” Councilor Bert Miller agreed, and noted that police involvement might make the city responsible for any problems that arise. “If we sanction this day, we are giving the kids permission to skip school. And also, if the city is patrolling with police officers, the city would be held liable if something was to happen again.” The ears of Council President Loder, an attorney by trade, perk up at mention of the word liable. Loder told Shunda Milhouse that he was hesitant to “draw [her] into this,” and asked if she would approve the Council delaying the renaming until all questions could be addressed. The mother replied that was fine as long as her daughter’s death was not “swept up under the rug.”
Councilor Sykes immediately went on the defensive as she attempted to clear the air, explaining that the resolution was never intended to allow a skip day. Sykes protested, “Skip day has never been really authorized, but I’m in the system. And I know, for some reason or another, there hasn’t been what it takes in order to make sure that this didn’t happen!” The councilor’s voice began to rise in anger. “There are people who knew that this was going on, because it’s been going on for years. We’re not authorizing the children to skip on this day. We’re saying that they will no longer skip on this day! And we’re saying the Board of Education had to put some teeth into what they’re doing.” Sykes added that teachers need to contact parents when children are not attending school. “There are some things the Board of Education is going to have to do!” thundered Sykes, assistant principal at Green Acres Middle School and head of the Council’s Education Committee. Sykes led a teacher walk-out a year ago protesting a salary raise given by the Board to current superintendent Johnny Brown. Her clashes with the Board have been front-page news, and her council administrative assistant, Gwen Webb, is running for the Board in the April 9 election.
Councilor Royal was “more than greatly disturbed” to hear Sykes say that those in the school system “would know and tacitly approve of students being out of school.”
An audible sigh emerged from the direction of City Attorney Tamara Johnson as a look of horror crossed her face. “This is a very emotional situation,” said Johnson. “However, there may be legal ramifications in some of the things that people are saying. To know that something takes place does not translate into a ‘tacit approval’ of something taking place. Nor does it translate into an obligation to perform some kind of duty or to have some kind of responsibility.” Johnson warned against making a public record of comments “about an independent board such as the School Board and its operations” since the Council does not know the facts in the case.
Sykes immediately changed her tone after Johnson spoke. “By no mean [sic] did we mean to imply that [school officials had been responsible],” said Sykes. “Just based on what we’ve been hearing for a long time, that it’s been something that’s been going on traditionally.”
Montgomery fulfills pledge to slow airport expansion
While campaigning for election to the City Council, Councilor Joel Montgomery said he was “hounded” to stop airport expansion, and promised “to do everything in my power to stop the expansion of the Birmingham Airport.” After extensive research, Montgomery found documentation that East Lake Park was dedicated in 1931 and certified by City Clerk Paula Smith in 1999. If a park has been dedicated with proper notification, no use other than that relating to park activity can be made of the property in question without a vote of the public. An ordinance of permanent operation must be published in a paper of record before becoming law.
Montgomery is convinced that expansion of parallel runways through East Lake Park will not be allowed. “I don’t see a problem with the documents presented. I attached the legal description, and I also attached the [land] survey. That means the park’s dedicated.” Montgomery said he did not know if proper notification in a paper of record had been given. “If it was not put in the paper, people have been going to the park for how many years? They all know it’s a park,” surmised Montgomery. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s dedicated.” &