Monthly Archives: June 2002

Just Like a Woman

Just Like a Woman

Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn is coming to Birmingham to sign copies of her new autobiography, Still Woman Enough, an entertaining but brutally honest account of Lynn’s life as one of America’s greatest country music performers.

An afternoon telephone conversation with country legend Loretta Lynn reveals a woman completely unaffected by notoriety. Lynn sounds as though she were still a Butcher Holler farm girl, speaking in a rural dialect that contradicts her stardom. The singer doesn’t pull any punches. Hit her once and she’ll hit back twice. Her husband Doolittle’s (Doo) philandering and chronic alcoholism provoked more than a few violent episodes during their 48-year marriage. She knocked two of his front teeth out one night, pleased as she could be that his cheating was put to rest until he could get new teeth. Their marriage is tumultuously detailed in her second autobiography Still Woman Enough, an entertaining but brutally honest account of Lynn’s fascinating life as one of America’s greatest country music performers.

Loretta Lynn literally defines country. The names of her children read like a hillbilly sitcom: Betty Sue, Ernest Ray, Patsy, Cissie, Jack Benny. Married at age 13 in Kentucky coal-mining country, Lynn and her husband moved to Washington State a year later so Doo could pan for gold and Loretta could pick strawberries. Though noting that there were anecdotes in her autobiography that she couldn’t have written if her husband were still alive, Lynn is unwavering in her devotion to the man directly responsible for her success. Doo convinced Loretta to sing in Northwest honky tonks despite her severe stage fright. Lynn began to build a following in Canada but noticed that her most loyal fans were suddenly absent for a couple of months. When she finally confronted them about where they’d been, they explained that they had given up Loretta for Lent. The singer said the only “Lent” she was familiar with was the kind that gets on your clothes. Doo later chauffeured her on a blitz tour of radio stations around the country to convince disc jockeys to play her first single “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” And it was her husband who got her on the Grand Ole Opry after her first record entered the charts, by convincing Opry officials to let his wife audition. She was invited to sing on the Opry for the next 17 weeks, receiving $18 per night (with three additional bucks if she sang an extra song).

Being an Opry star didn’t change Lynn much. She continued to slaughter her barnyard chickens for dinner and shop for material at the Salvation Army thrift store to make her own stage outfits. She was once chastised by a ranking Opry official who saw her coming out of the store. He told her it “cast a bad light on the Opry when local folks saw the show’s singers acting like poor people.” She didn’t know how to use a credit card until Conway Twitty instructed her in the late 1970s.

Influenced by nothing more than Saturday night Grand Ole Opry broadcasts and her delight in rhyming words with siblings as a child, Lynn displayed a remarkable ability for writing songs. “Doo got me a book that showed how you wrote ‘em. It was called Country Roundup, I think. I just looked at the songs and I said, ‘Anybody can do this.’ The first spanking Doo ever give me was because I rhymed a word. And it rhymed with door — you know what it was — and I didn’t know what it meant. It was raining and cold and he let the door open and I said, ‘Shut the door you little. . . .’ And I got a whippin’ for that. And he’d promised Daddy he’d never put a hand on me. And that was the next day after he’d married me. He throwed me over his knee and busted my butt.”

In 1963, the singer was asked by childhood idol Ernest Tubb to record a series of duets. “I never dreamed I’d ever sing with him, ’cause when Daddy had that little radio, we’d listen to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night and the news, ’cause the war was goin’ on. But I’d start to cry when Ernest Tubb started to sing. And Mama would say, ‘I’m gonna turn the radio off if you don’t quit cryin.’” Tubb was instrumental in establishing Lynn as a country institution. “When I come to Nashville, MCA Records, which was Decca at the time, they asked Ernest to record with a girl. And he said he wanted to record with me. He did so much for me. The last time I sang with him, it was like standin’ up by a big monument. I even went to Billy Bob’s [famed Fort Worth bar, the largest honky tonk in the world] and did a show for him to buy medicine with, ’cause he had run out of money. He helped everybody in Nashville but no one would go help him.”

But it was her series of duets with Conway Twitty that placed Lynn on the same “classic duo” pedestal occupied by George Jones and Tammy Wynette. “Yeah, I loved Conway. He was like a brother, and he would give me advice. If he thought I wasn’t doing things right, he’d tell me, ‘This is how you do it,’ and I’d say, ‘No, that’s how you do it. This is how I’d do it,’” she laughs. Their string of soap-opera-style hits included “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” and “Backstreet Affair.” In a strange twist of fate, Conway Twitty unexpectedly died with Lynn at his bedside in a Missouri hospital in 1991 after Twitty was overcome with a stomach aneurysm while touring the Midwest. He was rushed to the nearest hospital, where Lynn was waiting as Doo recovered from open-heart surgery. She thought that Twitty had decided to drop by to visit her husband. “I watched Conway’s bus come off the exit. I run downstairs to let him know what room Doo was in, and they come draggin’ him in. Blood’s comin’ out of his mouth and his eyes was tryin’ to focus on me and he couldn’t. I almost fell out right there. The chaplain came in and told me that Conway would not live through the night, so he told me if I wanted to see him I should go on back there. I went in his room and patted him on the arm and said, ‘Conway, you love to sing, honey, don’t you leave me.’”

Staunchly defiant, Lynn was a fly in the conservative ointment of the Nashville music industry. She was the first to write and sing about women’s issues. “The Pill” was the first of several of her songs to be banned, but Lynn was smart enough to recognize a marketing opportunity as women flocked to her side. “It’s all because I’d get down and talk to the women. All of ‘em were taking the pill and they weren’t wearin’ bras [pronounced 'braws']. Everybody was taking the pill, why not talk about it. Everybody was havin’ kids just like I was, why not say, ‘One’s on the way.’ I couldn’t understand why the public was worried about my songs. And when ‘Rated X’ come out, just the title of it, they started banning the record. And they didn’t listen to it. It was about a divorced woman. Nothin’ in it was bad. When ‘Don’t Come Home a-Drinkin” come out, the big 50-watt [sic] station in Chicago didn’t play it, ’cause they thought it was dirty. It went number one, they started playin’ it.”

Loretta Lynn’s music was a stark contrast to Tammy Wynette’s songs about sticking with men, regardless. Ironically, Wynette went through five husbands, while Lynn’s only husband was Doo. “Tammy Wynette was outspoken about standing by her man, and I’d done hit mine over the head with a rollin’ pin,” Lynn laughs. “Tammy said, ‘I’d be afraid to sing that, afraid they wouldn’t play my record.’ But it didn’t hurt me. They’d ban ‘em and they’d go number one.” Lynn took Wynette under her wing when she arrived in Nashville, just as Patsy Cline had done for her when Lynn first moved to town as an unknown. “Oh, Tammy was my best girlfriend. First girlfriend I had, except Patsy. I never did get that close to all the artists. All of ‘em have their own way of doin’ things, and I think they kinda stayed away from me because of the songs I wrote. They shoulda liked ‘em, they might’ve rubbed off on ‘em. They could’ve wrote their own.”

Lynn also didn’t think twice about crossing racial divides. “When Charlie Pride won Singer of the Year, I was the one that was supposed to give the award. So they said, ‘Loretta, if Charlie wins, step back one foot and don’t touch him.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearin’ ’cause I’d been livin’ on the West Coast for 13 or 14 years,” Lynn remembers, still appalled. “Charlie is just another singer to me. When it comes to color, I’m colorblind, ’cause I’m part Cherokee. So when Charlie won, I stepped up and hugged him and kissed him. They got a little upset about it. I thought, ‘Well, Charlie shouldn’t even sing for ‘em if that’s the way they feel about him.’”

One of her champions in Nashville was the Carter Family, who at one time asked her to join the group. Lynn refused because she felt she couldn’t sing their harmonies properly. She remembers trying to get a sulking Johnny Cash on stage. “Poor little ol’ Johnny. They couldn’t get him out on stage. Johnny Cash has always been good to me. He was the first one that took me out of Nashville on a tour. Him and the Carter Family, we went to Toronto and Ontario [sic]. He was not having too good a night. Mother Maybelle, June . . . they were all mad at him. I said, ‘Come on, baby, it’s time for you to go on.’ He jerked his coat down and there was a bottle of pills — a hundred-aspirin bottle of pills, but it wasn’t aspirin. I didn’t know what they was ’cause I’d never seen a diet pill in my life. And they went all over the floor and they was all different colors. And Johnny said, ‘Don’t leave any,’ and I sat down on that floor and picked up every pill and put them back.”

Refusing to sway from her convictions, Loretta Lynn has remained her own woman. Her forthright honesty provoked a showdown with Frank Sinatra, who invited Lynn to duet on what had been his first hit, “All or Nothing at All.” She told Sinatra it was the worst song she’d ever heard and suggested they sing “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” Sinatra told her when she had her own television show she could sing whatever she wanted.

Her simple approach to life and refusal to bow to showbiz expectations also left a lasting impression on Dean Martin. Martin had been so taken with the Carter Family’s performance on his show that he asked them to recommend another Nashville artist. They suggested Lynn, who refused to sit in Martin’s lap, as was customary when he sang duets with female performers. Instead of being offended, Martin decided her spunk was the perfect ingredient to spice up the Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roast featuring Jack Lemmon. Lynn picks up the story in her autobiography: “Well, I’d never heard of a ‘roast.’ I thought Dean Martin was inviting me to dinner with his Hollywood friends. So I dressed up real nice. They made a special dress for me out of material flown from Paris, France. I couldn’t understand why they wanted me to eat in that fancy dress. They made me read from a Teleprompter and I told Dean I was scared to death and didn’t read so good. But I didn’t have a choice. I was stuck. Making me feel worse, I started in saying the most awful things about Jack Lemmon. I didn’t know they was jokes. So each time I said something, I turned to Jack and said, ‘I didn’t mean that, honey. I don’t even know you. I’m just saying what’s on that there card.’” &

Loretta Lynn will be signing copies of her latest autobiography Still Woman Enough at Books & Company on Tuesday, June 25, at 6 p.m. Call 870-0212 for details.

She will also be performing at Looney’s Tavern on Saturday, July 13, in Double Springs. Tickets are $17-$30 for the 7:30 p.m. show. Call 205-489-5000 for details.

BBC to Beam Country Boy Eddy to the World

BBC to Beam Country Boy Eddy to the World

Ringing a cowbell, playing a fiddle, and braying his famous “mule call,” Country Boy Eddy (aka Eddy Burns) was more reliable than a barnyard rooster as his daily 5 a.m. television show woke up households across the Southeast. For some WBRC Channel 6 viewers, the day couldn’t begin without coffee and the purest country music ever heard. For others, it was the perfect way to end an all-nighter.



Sunrise was never the same after “The Country Boy Eddy Show” was canceled in 1994. Burns was as proficient doing advertisements and delivering one-liners as he was strumming a guitar while reading funeral announcements. He advertised everything from mobile homes to Eagle Seven Rat Bait (“If you love your rats, neighbors, don’t give ‘em this stuff, ’cause it kills the ol’ rat dead!”). He continually poked fun at his regular cast of sidekicks with a devious grin. While interviewing a chimney sweep who had arrived at the television station to plug his expertise at “reaming out chimneys,” Country Boy turned to one of his ever-revolving cohosts and asked, “Bobby T, you ever been reamed out?”

In the mid-1960s, a blond hairdresser named Wynette Pugh, barely out of her teens, shyly walked into WBRC studios and asked Burns for an audition. “She looked over at me after she finished that song and asked, ‘Do you think I’m good enough to be on your show?’” Burns laughed and said, “Yeah, you can be on anytime you want to.” Pugh became a regular, eventually moving to Nashville and changing her name to Tammy Wynette.

The British Broadcasting Corporation recently paid Burns a visit at Fox 6 studios to interview him for a BBC special on Wynette. The program is scheduled to air in January 2003. “They wanted to see the studio we performed in. They wanted to do a little story about it,” said Burns, who added that he had never been to Britain, nor had he ever seen any BBC programming.

These days, Burns still makes occasional commercials and performs at churches, nursing homes, restaurants, and mobile home centers. “One guy up in Cullman pays me $500 to come sit on the porch with my guitar and greet people when they come in to buy a mobile home. I say, ‘Come on in folks!’ and give ‘em a mule call and a cowbell ring. We sell the heck out of ‘em!”

City Hall — A Political Education

A Political Education

At the June 11 council meeting, as Mayor Kincaid ignored her and studied the material before him, Councilor Carol Reynolds offered apologies to District Two constituents and fellow councilors for the controversy surrounding her attempt to cut a deal with the Mayor. Weeks earlier, Reynolds had offered to swap her vote in exchange for an appointment to the Birmingham Airport Authority Board. The vote would have been to approve an ordinance that would raise the amount the Mayor could spend without approval from the Council to $50,000. At the June 4 council meeting, Reynolds made a motion to delay the ordinance because the council had not yet finalized the Fiscal Year 2002-2003 budget. After that meeting, Kincaid played a voice-mail recording that Reynolds had left for him weeks earlier in which she offered the trade. The rift made headlines the following day.

At the June 11 meeting, Reynolds expressed regret that the issue had become public and worried about the public misreading her “lobbying” efforts. “Lobby [sic] has been acceptable procedure. . . . I just failed the course, I guess,” said Reynolds. The councilor said that the representative of the council’s Transportation and Communication Committee has traditionally served on the board. She added that it is a nonpaying position for which she is qualified, due to her work to save homes in East Lake Park from airport expansion plans. Asking forgiveness from fellow councilors, Reynolds pledged, “I will serve this city. I will serve this mayor or any other mayor while I’m here.” Reynolds concluded, “I’m a rookie, I’m not a politician. I don’t understand that you don’t have friends anymore when you do this. And I don’t want to come out cynical at the end of my next three and a half years, and I’m going to work really hard not to become a cynical person. I love you Birmingham.”

Expressing surprise at the fall-out from the controversy, Councilor Roderick Royal said he voted for the delay because the proposed ordinance increased the Mayor’s spending limit from $10,000 to $50,000 without a cap (an unlimited number of contracts, in other words). Royal emphasized that he was not using Reynolds’ rationale for delaying the measure. “I make my own decisions,” said Royal. “Let’s move this city forward and drop the petty politics, no matter what.” The councilor added, “I’m sorry that Ms. Reynolds’ feels that her trust, somehow or another, was violated. . . . I think I would have felt the same way. But unlike Ms. Reynolds, I certainly would have dealt with it.”

Disturbed that decisions are being made at City Hall that are not beneficial to communities, Councilor Gwen Sykes balked at excusing controversial civic involvement as simply political. “It’s just not politics. We have a responsibility to treat one another right. And we can name it anything that we want to name it.” As usual, her line of reasoning is difficult to follow. Criticizing those who behave as if they have no life outside the political ring, Sykes said, “We act like we don’t have nothing else or nowhere to go once this life is over with. And doing the work and the business of this city should not be worth losing our lives!” She then profusely thanked the Birmingham Airport Authority for hosting valedictorians and salutatorians at a recent luncheon. In her next breath, though, she condemned the blight and devastation that has resulted from airport expansion. Sykes urged the airport to be more sensitive to the needs of its surrounding neighborhoods.

Councilor Elias Hendricks thanked Sykes for addressing the necessity for cooperation with the airport and offered Reynolds his support. “It would be a heck of a lot easier if we had a sitting council member on the board. It would really facilitate our work getting done, and we have a lot of work to do out there.” Hendrick’s wife presently serves on the Airport Authority Board.

After the July 11 council meeting, Mayor Kincaid at first refused comment on the matter, but did offer a final word: “The Council was led to believe that there were genuine concerns for the budgeting process as to why a request to put this off for six weeks was requested and passed. My intent solely was to show that there were ulterior motives to that, not the sanguine motives of checking with the budget.” Kincaid added that the council “backhandedly admitted that they had been misled as to the reasons for [the delay].”

As for Reynolds’ response to Kincaid’s assessment that councilors were misled, her reply was direct. “He can’t speak for the whole council,” said Reynolds, adding that Kincaid had been discussing the Airport Authority Board appointment with her since she took office in November 2001. &

George Jones

George Jones


Having relinquished his reputation for being too drunk to appear on stage, George Jones had gotten as predictable as April rain over the past 20 years. However, Jones’ performance at Oak Mountain May 25 was anything but predictable. Though still relegating his best hits to medley-status, the 70-year-old singer abandoned his uptight sing-and-get-the-hell-off-the-stage philosophy for a more relaxed approach, as though he were entertaining at a backyard barbecue. Stylishly attired in white boots and a western-stitched powder blue suit, Jones bears a striking resemblance to the late Charlie Rich. His silver hair remains considerably long, meticulously brushed into place, as if manicured rather than sprayed.

In the past, Jones’ voice has been as precise as Pavarotti’s. The classic nasal whine and resonating bottom tones are strong as ever, but on this night, Jones struggled with high notes, often singing flat through entire phrases. Instead of detracting, the loss of vocal control added an intriguing accessible element that complemented the singer’s admittedly simple approach to performing: “We don’t need anybody flyin’ around on a rope. We’re just a plain, ol’ country music show.”

A plain, ol’ country music show, indeed. Before Jones came on stage, a video screen behind the band’s instruments hawked a recent George Jones recording, urging fans to simply raise their hands and the latest CD would be delivered to their seats for 10 bucks. During the show Jones bantered with the crowd, bemoaning the current state of country music, “Ya’ll notice that they don’t write songs about drinkin’ and cheatin’ any more?” he asked at one point. The crowd vocally shared his dismay. Moments later, a young, obviously intoxicated fan leaped onto the stage to hug Jones and tell the singer how much he loved him. Jones replied, “Well. I love you, too, son.” As security personnel dragged the besotted fellow from the stage, Jones asked them to take it easy on the kid. “He’s a good boy. I remember those days,” he laughed.

Proudly admitting that he was drinking “spring water, though I don’t know how much spring it has in it,” Jones acknowledged several birthdays in the audience. With surreal abandon, he sang “Happy Birthday” to a couple of people instead of squeezing all the names into one version. An American flag was brought out toward the show’s conclusion, as Jones introduced a husband and wife duo that had opened the concert. “They’re gonna sing ‘God Bless the USA’ by Lee Greenwood or Ray Stevens or whatever his name is,” Jones said flippantly. “I get ‘em mixed up. All I know is, one’s funny and the other one isn’t.”

Dog Day Afternoons

Dog Day Afternoons

A crowd gathers for the opening day at one of the first Dairy Queens. This year, DQ celebrates 62 years of Dilly Bars and dip cones.

Every time the mercury hovered near the 100-degree mark on the thermometer outside the kitchen window, a three-block trek to Dairy Queen to relieve the relentless heat was our summer ritual. Life in Selma was pretty uneventful, so the Dairy Queen was our Taj Mahal — an oasis that added a flurry of exhilaration to pointless afternoons. Times were different then, and during the 1960s, there weren’t too many black folks venturing into white territory for an ice cream cone. The serving window marked “Colored Only” was consequently rarely occupied, which only fueled my impatience as an eight-year-old waiting in line with a dozen other white people.

Dairy Queen ice cream was more fun to eat than “store-bought” because it was much softer; no bending of stainless steel spoons (or breaking your mom’s antique silver) while attempting to scoop from a carton, or crumbling a cone while trying to load it with supermarket ice cream. DQ vanilla or chocolate dispensed into a cone or Dixie Cup and crowned with a trademark curly-cue (often resembling a pig’s tail) made long walks on hot days worthwhile. Even more amazing than the soft texture was the hard shell created when the cone was dipped into chocolate. (This treat was eventually put on a stick and called a Dilly Bar.) The menu at the Dairy Queen was too good to be true: hot fudge sundaes, peanut butter parfaits, banana splits, foot-long hot dogs laden with an avalanche of onions and kraut, and a strange, brain-freezing drink called a slush.

In 1940, J.F. “Grandpa” McCullough introduced soft serve ice milk in his fast-food restaurant in Joliet, Illinois, a dairy joint that he guaranteed would be the “queen of the dairy business.” When the United States entered World War II, there were 10 Dairy Queens in the country. By war’s end there were 100, which grew to 2,600 a decade later. Today, there are 5,900 restaurants worldwide.

Everybody in Selma, including our dog Timothy, swore by Dairy Queen ice cream. It was common for Timothy to climb the backyard’s four-foot chain link fence during summer’s hottest days and disappear for the afternoon, though we usually knew where to find him: three blocks away, lounging around the cement tables outside the Dairy Queen, watching people eat ice cream with the hope that someone would buy him a cone. Sometimes they did, and Timothy didn’t even care if it came from the counter marked “Colored Only.”

Once Upon a Bargain

Once Upon a Bargain


Najjar’s Discount Bargain Center was a landmark Birmingham oddity for 41 years. Originally located on 20th Street on Southside before UAB expansion forced a move downtown, the store remained a stubborn curiosity over the next 23 years, selling “out-dated but new” merchandise from as far back as the 1950s. The proprietor, a balding older man of few words, appropriately referred to his odd-ball inventory as “an old-fashioned general store.”

Mr. Najjar passed away three months ago at age 95. The bargain store stands empty now, its high ceiling and hardwood floors full of nothing but dust. In its day, however, Najjar’s Discount Bargain Center was a time-traveler’s dream and a place where bargain-hunters went to find items they forgot they needed: Sylvania Blue Dot flash bulbs, disco-style leisure suits with original price tags, a 98-cent set of stainless steel measuring spoons, Lloyd Bridges “Seahunt” snorkels, zodiac medallions, and unbreakable Hercules pocket combs (guaranteed for life) that sold for 25 cents apiece. If it was your lucky day, he might sell the entire box of black combs for a quarter. Najjar never used a calculator; instead he licked a pencil as he tallied purchases on paper.

The son of a Lebanese immigrant peddler, Najjar dropped out of school after the third grade to work in his father’s store in Marietta, Georgia, and the “working man” ethic came to define his life. Najjar diligently labored for his father until the morning he picked up a newspaper while returning from his honeymoon to read that downtown Marietta and the family store had burned to the ground. “They didn’t believe in insurance,” remembers Najjar’s son, retired Circuit Judge Charles Najjar. “From relatively successful people, [suddenly] they were broke again.”

Najjar sought any work available. After establishing a successful ice cream sales route in rural north Georgia, he moved to Birmingham, where he became president of the 7-Up Bottling Company. He eventually opened a successful bargain store in Fairfield, which he sold before moving to downtown Birmingham. “He ran his store literally until he died . . . ate at John’s [Restaurant] everyday,” says his son. “He worked awfully hard. They were not people of means, but they were people of discipline.”

City Hall — Bills Due

Bills Due

It was bound to happen. Council President Lee Loder, whose patience with his Council colleagues has been tested in recent months, blew his top at Mayor Bernard Kincaid during the May 14 City Council meeting. At issue was the city’s failure to pay a $7,100 bill for the Council’s inauguration reception held at the Harbert Center in November 2001. The unpaid expense has accumulated late fees and includes a $672 charge for wine, which Loder and his fellow councilors claim to know nothing about. Loder angrily lashed out at Kincaid for keeping the Council in the dark regarding reasons for nonpayment. The Mayor snarled right back. And before everyone was through arguing about the correct procedure to finance parties, Operation New Birmingham (ONB) was characterized as a “money-laundering” system.

Kincaid said the city didn’t receive the bill until February, and has no idea when it initially appeared in the Finance Department. According to the Mayor-Council Act, the Finance Department must certify that the money is available to cover the expense. Authorization for the Harbert reception was made by recently departed Council Administrator Jarvis Patton when the former Council was in office. Ironically, only one of the incumbents was re-elected. [The reception was originally scheduled as a private event, but the newly elected Council made it a public affair after public outcry.] Patton was told a purchase order was needed, said Kincaid, but the Council administrator ignored correct procedure. Denying that his office had been sitting on the bill to avoid paying for the event, Kincaid angrily denounced the insinuation that the Mayor’s office was “derelict” in duty.Food cannot be paid for with city funds unless the function is deemed to be for a public purpose. The inauguration reception did not meet that criteria, according to the city’s Law Department. “Liquor cannot be paid for under any circumstance,” added Kincaid. “The liquor was problematic.”

Loder argued that the event was a public function and therefore eligible for city funds. “I don’t know what the problem is,” said Loder. “I haven’t received a response — a formal response — at all over the last three months as to what the problem is with this event. And that’s a problem.” When asked by Loder when he expected to inform the Council that the bill was not payable by the city, Kincaid said his office has been trying for the past four months to find a way to cover the outstanding debt. The Mayor said that the corporate community could cover the expense.

Addressing the issue, Council Attorney J. Richmond Pearson said, “It is the most foolish thing in the world for you to take money from a private company, or a public utility, that comes before you for decisions,” warned Pearson. “That’s just plain common sense. You don’t even have to have lunch at law school to know that.” Using an example, Pearson pointed out that Alabama Power Company is on the council agenda seeking an easement on city land, though it was not stated that Alabama Power would be one of the corporations asked to pay off the reception expense.

“Investitures and inaugural festivals that include citizens, as well as public officials, is [sic] an extension of public business,” Pearson said, adding that, however remote, those benefiting from city decisions are in potential conflict if they contribute money, which should be avoided lest any “appearance of evil” be construed. City funds should cover inaugural events, with direct payment to “those vendors who rendered service, and not through any conduit,” continued Pearson. “And I mean by that, don’t send it through Operation New Birmingham, send it directly where it is intended to go.” “That’s what some of your legislators have done,” said Pearson. “There’s always the avenue of campaign funds being utilized to pay expenses of the nature referred to here. . . . All this other esoteric nonsense I’ve heard doesn’t make sense.”

Councilor Joel Montgomery noted that the Council had previously followed the advice of Patton regarding the reception. Montgomery suggested that perhaps Patton, who was Council administrator for over 20 years — and signed the original contract for the event — should foot the party bill. Montgomery added that he has refused many times to approve payment through the city custodial fund at ONB. He agreed with Pearson that the city is using ONB as a conduit to pay for food and other activities.

“You’re taking your citizens as fools, the same thing racketeers do,” said Pearson, unafraid to speak his mind. “You’re laundering money. It’s tainted all the way! If you owe somebody, pay ‘em direct. Don’t send it through the Devil!”

Commending the Commenders


Never one to miss an opportunity to laud the city for anything, the Birmingham City Council saluted the Vonetta Flowers Planning Day Committee. That’s right, the Council passed a resolution at the May 7 council meeting recognizing those who organized the city’s salute to Flowers in honor of her Olympic Gold Medal as a member of the two-women bobsled team. Each member of the group received a certificate and told the Council how moved they were to be able to honor the Olympian. Council President Loder calls the group a “dream volunteer team.” As the resolution’s sponsor, Councilor Bert Miller posed for photographs with the Planning Committee members and led a round of applause for Flowers because she was named “one of the most fiftiest most beautiful people in the world [sic]” by People magazine.
Auto Auction Prompts Questions

“Remember the day, folks . . . because it’s all going to come out in the wash,” Councilor Montgomery warned. The “day” in reference is the City Council’s approval of a redevelopment agreement with Serra Automotive. Birmingham will spend nearly $3 million to purchase land and make infrastructure improvements that will keep all Serra dealerships in the city for the next decade. The city expects to reap $8 million in tax revenues.Montgomery voted with other councilors several weeks earlier to endorse the plan, but when the May 28 vote to finalize the deal came up, the councilor protested vehemently. Montgomery’s change of heart was prompted by radio ads announcing that Serra Toyota was holding a used vehicle auction in Trussville. “Why would you be selling those automobiles there the weekend before you were fixing to enter into an agreement with the city of Birmingham to do business exclusively in the city of Birmingham?” Montgomery said after the meeting. “That raises the question in my mind as to where they think the true market is for their being able to sell the vehicles.”

Serra attorney Tom Baddley told the Council that the automobile dealer was holding auctions outside Birmingham because there was no available space near the dealership. Serra needs an area large enough to park 150 to 200 vehicles, according to Baddley, who said that auctions were also conducted in Irondale. Sales tax revenue goes to the municipality where the vehicle is delivered, according to city officials.

“If you want to do business in the city of Birmingham, we’ve got lots of parking lots,” Montgomery said to the Serra attorney. “What good is that [$8 million in projected revenues] gonna do us five years from now if they’re gone and we’ve got blank land sitting out there? We need to start trying to have businesses come to the city of Birmingham because they wanna be in the city of Birmingham . . . not because we’re having to pay them to stay here.”

Councilor Roderick Royal shared Montgomery’s concerns. “We want 100 percent of the revenues generated,” said Royal, who would like to see Serra hold auctions at the Wal-Mart parking lot in Huffman after it closes [a new Wal-Mart SuperCenter is currently scheduled for East Lake]. Serra attorney Baddley said that it was his understanding that an effort was being made to develop potential auction space in eastern Birmingham. “If [available area] is there and closer, Toyota would love to have their auctions in the city of Birmingham,” said Baddley, who added that automobile manufacturers approve auction sites. The attorney noted that the annexation agreement had not been signed, and that Serra was not yet in the city.

Should Serra violate the contract in an attempt to relocate, the city would be forced to go to court to recoup the $2.5 million it is paying the auto dealer. City attorneys said that the dealer’s right to conduct auctions outside the city could depend on how often they took place. &