Monthly Archives: May 2004

City Hall — Elusive Animal Control Contract Baffles City Officials


Elusive Animal Control Contract Baffles City Officials

The City of Birmingham is under pressure to sign a new animal control contract that the Jefferson County Commission has yet to produce.

For months, the city of Birmingham and the Jefferson County Commission have been at odds over pursuit of a joint contract on animal control services. The never-ending drama took a predictable turn on May 4, when the County Commission awarded the contract for animal control services to current provider, Steve Smith, president of BJC Animal Control.

The commission had given the City until May 18 to decide whether it would maintain joint animal control with the County or seek separate services. On May 11, the Birmingham City Council voted to ask the commission to delay signing the contract for 30 days. (If the contract is not ratified by the City, the County will proceed with a separate agreement for animal control services without the City.) Should the contract be terminated at the end of that period, according to Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid, the City will have had some time to determine the appraised value of the animal shelter and other assets. (Birmingham would have to pay the County 45 percent of that appraised worth 14 days following dissolution of the contract.) The City would then be forced to provide animal control without the County. Birmingham is currently receiving services under a series of extensions of the contract that BJC Animal Control has held since 1997. In a May 13 meeting, the County Commission decided to delay signing the contract until June 1, allotting the City half of the time requested.

“No elected official with an ounce of sense would approve something they’ve never seen before.” —City Councilor Valerie Abbott

According to Charles Long, assistant to County Commission President Larry Langford, the final draft of the contract is not yet complete due to “caveats” that include education and a low-cost spay and neutering program requested by the Animal Control Advisory Board created by the County Commission. The deadline for completing the contract is June 1, the same day the City must make a decision to stay with the County or go it alone. Long could not give even a ballpark date for when the contract will be completed. “Between now and June 1, a contract will be drafted,” said Long in a May 14 interview. “The City will have the opportunity to take a look at that contract when it’s completed.” He added that the County’s purchasing and legal departments understand the importance of allowing ample time for the contract to be reviewed. “We’re not working to alienate the City in giving them an opportunity to take a look at the document,” he said. “It’s just to make sure that we get it right, because everyone expects us to get it wrong.”

Mayor Kincaid, however, questions the County Commission’s urgency to get the contract signed. “Why is there such an accelerated pace to get this signed in the face of their own advisory committee advising against it?” (The advisory board recommended the contract be awarded to Dan Bugg of Hot Springs, Arkansas, though his bid was $1.6 million, as opposed to Smith’s bid of $1,052,000, primarily due to Bugg’s inclusion of “significant capital expenditures”—four new vehicles, necessary improvements to the physical facility, an increased training budget, and more personnel).

Kincaid has criticized the County for ignoring the City’s input on the RFP (request for proposal) that was sent out to solicit bids from prospective vendors. At a May 11 press conference, Kincaid reiterated his opinion that the RFP was written to benefit the current vendor, BJC Animal Control. “You’d think that anyone paying two-thirds of the freight would probably not be the tail wagging the dog when it comes to this. We’ve asked for reasonable input into the RFP so that it would not appear to be slanted toward one provider,” said Kincaid, complaining that the City was paying the lion’s share of the current contract, more than $600,000 a year, while surrounding municipalities contract with Steve Smith for services at $75 an hour. “I would defy the County to have the quality of animal control that they have had for $350,000, because that’s all they’re putting in.” Kincaid added that he has not received a satisfactory response from the County regarding an audit of the escrow account, which is maintained to make improvements to the animal control facility.

Dr. Barbara Monaghan, chairperson of the advisory board created by the County Commission, expressed concern that the contract being considered by the County Commission has two one-year extensions, potentially extending the contract with Smith through 2007. “It’s my opinion that we should not maintain the same relationship with (Smith) for the next three years,” said Monaghan. “At every 12-month period there ought to be a quality review, and we need to lift the standards incrementally every year that he has the contract until we are in the place where we need to be.” Monaghan also wants the standards of the adoption and education programs that were to be built into the contract to increase every year. She has no illusions that all of the board’s wishes will be addressed. “I’m not naïve enough to think that if I took issue with a specific point of the contract that they would likely review it and change it. I’m becoming a little more cynical about the way things are,” said Monaghan in a May 13 interview.

“That’s very nice of them” was City Councilor Valerie Abbott’s sarcastic response to the County Commission granting the City 14 days instead of the requested 30-day period. “Considering that we don’t even have a copy of the contract to look at, that’s very generous of them,” said the councilor. “From the City of Birmingham’s standpoint, if we don’t get any extra time, of course we can’t approve it. No elected official with an ounce of sense would approve something they’ve never seen before. Or approve something they’ve just been handed. Surely the people at the County Commission don’t think we’re that stupid. So, I’m just assuming that the reason they decided to give us that very generous 14 days was the fact that even they haven’t read the contract yet because it hasn’t been written. But, of course, that’s just my guess, because the County doesn’t communicate with us.”

In an interview directly following the May 13 County Commission meeting, Commissioner Bettye Fine Collins expressed dismay that the City and County could potentially have separate animal control services: “I think it would be far better for us to have a cooperative agreement on this operation, so I hope it can be worked out . . . In the best of worlds, I think it would be better if some agency like the Humane Society had control of this.” Collins added she did not initially vote for Steve Smith to have the contract. “I didn’t vote for him to have that contract originally because he worked for the Health Department and apparently inspected restaurants. I didn’t think he had the background or training for it,” explained the commissioner. Collins seemed unaware of the advisory committee’s recommendation of the higher bidder instead of Smith. “I don’t know when they [the advisory board] meet,” said Collins. “I probably need to start going to some of the meetings to hear what’s happening.” She added that none of her suggested appointees to the advisory board membership were chosen.

Collins said she has not been a party to negotiations, as animal control does not fall under the purview of her office. Regarding criticism that BJC Animal Control has not been properly audited, Collins responded, “If you give a person a contract, and they are to operate under that contract, I’m not too sure that after you agree to pay them this amount of money that it’s our role to do a financial audit on the operation. He’s an independent contractor, and he contracts to us for a service . . . I don’t really know if it’s a matter to be audited . . . then I would think that the Office of Public Examiners would require us to do that. The only thing that I can suggest about that would be that we set up some form of evaluation for his operation.” Collins said she’d like some input to set up an evaluation for independent contractors. “All I can do is just evaluate their performance, . . . and how the monies are spent to provide that service would not be mine to judge, I would think,” she concluded. At the end of the interview, Commissioner Collins told this reporter to stop by her office that afternoon to pick up a copy of the contract. Twenty minutes later, someone from her office phoned to say that there was no finalized contract available. &

Bombers Invade Birmingaham

Bombers Invade Birmingham


Bombers of yore land at the Southern Museum of Flight.


Two WWII era vintage airplanes, the B-29 and B-24 bombers, will be on display at the Birmingham International Airport through Sunday, May 23. (click for larger version)


Two of America’s most lethal weapons from its past military arsenal, the B-29 Superfortress and the B-24 Liberator, will be on exhibit at the Southern Museum of Flight through May 23. The Superfortress, which eventually replaced the B-24 and B-17, has been hailed as the weapon that won the war against Japan. With a range of 3,700 miles, the bomber was considered ideal for the Pacific war theater and its long over-water flights, and did not participate in European combat missions. In 1945, the most destructive bombing raid in history was carried out by 299 B-29s as they leveled 17 square miles of Tokyo. In August 1945, a pair of Superfortresses dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forcing the Japanese to surrender. Among the B-29′s novel features were pressurized crew areas and guns that fired by remote control. The B-29 later operated in Korea, and the last Superfortress was retired from duty in 1960.

The B-24 Liberator was designed in 1938 as an improvement on the B-17. Approximately 19,000 were produced, more than any U.S. warplane of any era. Deployed in both Europe and the Pacific, the Liberator flew more combat missions than any other aircraft in World War II. The B-24, the only plane to be used by all U.S. military branches, was a production marvel. Its construction was so precisely engineered that a bomber could be built every 100 minutes. The Liberators were the top anti-submarine aircraft in World War II and were credited as the main reason for the German U-boat’s demise.

The B-29 that will arrive in Birmingham is the only flying Superfortress in the world. The accompanying B-24 is the oldest Liberator still in operation. Tours of the bombers are $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 7 to 18. A limited number of half-hour local flights will be available for $400. For more information, call 833-8226

Wax Country Music Stars Face Homelessness

Wax Country Music Stars Face Homelessness

Someone in Nashville is moving a ton of wax, and they’re not selling records.


“Nobody’s ever tried that in their life, to sell a whole wax museum!” laughs John A. Hobbs, his booming Southern drawl reminiscent of Looney Tunes rooster Foghorn Leghorn. Hobbs currently has his entire 55-figure Music Valley country music star wax museum in Nashville up for auction on eBay. He’s asking $750,000, but will settle for $450,000. The current leading bid is $200,000 as of press time. The auction ends May 7, after which Hobbs will consider options to sell the stars individually. “We were trying to sell the whole family at one time, to keep the family together. But if we have to, we’ll deal them one at a time. Some of the stars wanted to buy their own, some of the managers of the stars wanted one . . . [television comedy host] Jimmy Kimmel wanted to buy Minnie Pearl.” Hobbs says that the individual figures should fetch $3,000 to $15,000 each.Music Valley Wax Museum, the last wax museum in Nashville, will shut its doors for good on July 31. The city’s original wax museum, The Country Music Wax Museum, closed in 1997 after 26 years. “We had a big tourist attraction back then, but now we’re changing our whole look in Nashville,” grumbles Hobbs. “It’s not that much toward country music, it’s more toward conventions and football. And they put country music on the backburner. The other museum closed up ’bout several years ago. This ‘un done pretty good [Music Valley] but the land’s too valuable to leave a museum on it.”

Wax likenesses of country music artists Minnie Pearl and Alan Jackson. (click for larger version)


Hobbs also owns the Nashville Palace, a swanky nightclub where real live country music legends, as opposed to wax figures, can be spotted almost nightly. Many of the young stars got their start there, according to Hobbs. “Randy Travis washed dishes for four years; Lorrie Morgan worked there at age 16. Alan Jackson sang there for free. Vic Damone and the Smothers Brothers worked there. George Jones used to be there nightly, where he’d often hop on stage,” laughs Hobbs. “I’ve seen George at his worst and at his best. I’ve seen George when we wouldn’t let him go on stage!”

Most of the museum’s figures were made in California by wax artist Rio Rita, who created the replicas of film stars in the Hollywood Wax Museum. Hobbs sent Rio Rita four photos of each country star’s face, including a facial front shot, two profiles, and an angular shot combining face and profile. Each figure is garishly displayed in shiny, waxy living color on the eBay web site, with “Dueling Banjos,” the theme song to Deliverance, casting a surreal pall over the macabre auction. The stage outfit worn by the Ernest Tubb mannequin is the same one he wore throughout his career, as is the flowing gown adorning Loretta Lynn. Lynn’s figure also includes a plate used in her famous Crisco commercials. The Chet Atkins figure includes one of his original guitars, while Buck Owens is wearing the actual hillbilly overalls and straw hat that he sported on the “Hee Haw” set. The cornfield where the buxom “Hee Haw” babes popped up to shake their breasts and deliver ridiculous one-liners is also included. While a few figures resemble their breathing—or once-breathing—counterparts, most require an observer to use some imagination. Willie Nelson looks more like hobo singer Box Car Willie, who in turn looks like NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Roy Acuff favors crooner Andy Williams, while Minnie Pearl is a dead ringer for the puppet Madame from the “Waylon and Madame” ventriloquist act.


“Marty Robbins liked his wax figure so well he used to come down there ’bout once a month, and he’d bring a beautician and get her to comb his hair.”

Hobbs’ personal favorite is one of the newer figures, country singer Alan Jackson. “Alan looks like he could just walk right up and talk to you. Marty Robbins liked his so well he used to come down there ’bout once a month, and he’d bring a beautician and get her to comb his hair and everthang . . . Ernest Tubb wouldn’t even look at his figure,” remembers Hobbs. “He’d say, ‘My God, I’d think I was dead. I don’t want to go and look at that damn thang.’” &

The web site address for the Music Valley Country Music Star wax museum auction is: