Monthly Archives: December 2005



December 29, 2005

Mayor Bernard Kincaid is insulted by a current butting of heads over a railroad park proposed for construction between 14th and 18th streets along First Avenue South. The city of Birmingham and Friends of the Railroad District [FORRD] are engaged in a power struggle over who will oversee development of the park which will include a two-acre lake, restaurant, small beach area, railroad museum, picnic areas, and a carousel. At press time, Giles Perkins, president of FORRD and a member of Birmingham City Council President Carole Smitherman’s recent re-election campaign, said the city and FORRD were not far from reaching an agreement.

“Perkins e-mailed my chief of staff [Al Herbert] . . . and said that we’re not very far apart,” said Kincaid. The Mayor has bristled at notions that FORRD should control the project. “But for Bernard Kincaid, we wouldn’t have the master plan that gave us this . . . We birthed this into creation. Not that I’m trying to take ownership, but I birthed this baby. And I’m not about to give it away. I’m willing to work with anyone to help me raise it. . . . I have invested an awful lot into its creation and guiding its creation.” At the December 13 City Council meeting, Councilor William Bell told Kincaid, “If we’re going to allow private developers—or a private group to come in and work on this, then they need to be given a free hand to the extent that they can go out and raise funds, to the extent that they can make decisions without—no offense—getting bogged down in the bureaucracy of city government.” Bell explained that there is no reason to work with the FORRD group if the city wants to control the project. “I’m a proponent of if we’re going to bring in private dollars, then we need to give them the kind of free hand that they need,” added Bell.

Kincaid responded that many investors will not fund the project if the money does not go to the city, especially the $2.5 million the Jefferson County Commission pledged on December 15. “What’s at issue, quite simply, is control. It is a city project, it’s city-owned property,” said Kincaid.

We didn’t start this project with someone else taking charge of it. In my opinion, that’s the tail wagging the dog. We welcome others helping us to raise funds to consummate the project, because it can not be done just out of city funds. We’re going to need private sources . . . So it then becomes incumbent upon us to strike an agreement such that those funds that can come to us, and they come to us because there is the perception that there is some oversight on our part and some guiding of this project by the city of Birmingham and its professionals.

The County Commission invited the entire Council to a December 15 presentation by the city to the County Commission, which in turn approved its $2.5 million match to that of the city. Only Councilors Joel Montgomery and Miriam Witherspoon attended the meeting, though the entire City Council is in support of the railroad park, with reservations. At the December 13 Council meeting, Councilor Roderick Royal complained that projects without the County Commission often do not work out. “I’m not at all against the project,” said Royal. “I think my biggest problem is that we’ve had so many arrangements that the city always gets caught holding the bag . . . We had the zoo. We had the regional thing that we were going to turn it over to the Friends of the Zoo. We’re still funding the zoo.” Royal added that the Friends of Avondale Park never wanted to take over Avondale Park. “Nobody wants to be a Friend of Legion Field. If you really want to do something, help Legion Field.” The comment brought a run of snickers from the Council chambers.

Giles Perkins, present of FORRD, told the Council that the project was modeled after a contract in Asheville, North Carolina, that he was alerted to by members of the Mayor’s steering committee, who planned the railroad park project. Perkins agreed with Councilor Bell that “to raise private sector money we have to have the appropriate authority to commit that the dollars are going to be spent the way that they have been pledged.” Negotiations have gone on for a year. Perkins, an original board member of the Birmingham Zoo when it went private, told councilors that his group is committed to the vision of consultants hired by the city to make preliminary designs of the park.

At the Finance and Administration committee meeting on December 12, Perkins told the Mayor and Council that FORRD would be happy to develop it and turn it over to the city. “That’s just the reciprocal [sic] of what should happen,” Kincaid said at the Council meeting the next day. “The city should develop it and then do as we did with Vulcan Park Foundation or with EBI—the zoo. We did it! We got it where it needed to be. We ushered it through all the processes, then we turned it over to an entity, not the reciprocal [sic]. And that’s what’s being asked for now.”

The Council voted to put $2.5 million into the project with stipulations that the Mayor update them on negotiations with FORRD by January 16, 2006, before presenting a final agreement by January 30, 2006. &

The Black & White Gift Guide 2005

The Black & White Gift Guide 2005

By Christina Crowe Paul, Brantley David Pelfrey, Christina Crowe, Paul Brantley, David Pelfrey, Ed Reynolds

December 15, 2005

Each Christmas season Black & White‘s elite shopping team gets a big kick out of finding unique items, a few bargains, and the latest top gear. For example, not only have we found some very good ice cream, we tracked down the perfect scoop. We figure that the best of everything is good enough for you, our readers. We also like toys, gadgets, and pretty much any device that launches marshmallows across the room. Largely speaking, then, we’ve already done all the heavy lifting this year. You merely have to write the check and wrap the box.

Food, For Goodness Sake

For the foodies on your gift list, or for those who just love tasty treats, here are a few ideas for something different.

O&H Danish Bakery’s kringles are the perfect pastries to have on hand for a big breakfast on Christmas morning. This Wisconsin-based bakery, run by the Oleson family, turns out the thin, flaky, frosted rings filled with flavors such as pecan, raspberry, almond, cherry, and even turtle. At $8.85 or $9.85 per 1-pound, 8-ounce pastry, they’re a steal. The company also makes decadent tortes, coffee cakes, and other Danish delights. Order online at or call, 800-709-4009.

For the cooks you know—amateur, aspiring, or otherwise—several new cookbooks would make great additions to their kitchen libraries. Francophile and author of A Year in Provence Peter Mayle and renowned baker Gerard Auzet have teamed up to publish Confessions of a French Baker: Breadmaking Secrets, Tips, and Recipes (Knopf; $16.95/hardcover,, a guide to baking the delectable (but seemingly impossible to replicate) French breads known the world over. Auzet includes recipes and tips for making traditional baguettes, boules, and batards, as simply as is possible—but the process is still time-consuming and precise. Inspired by the famous American chef of all things French is Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. This is the printed result of blogger Julie Powell’s online chronicle of her attempts to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Reading the book is like peeking into the diary of a woman obsessed with finishing something she started—a process that includes slaughtering lobsters and murdering mussels, often late into the night. ($23.95/hardcover; Little, Brown; For a little Asian flair, sushi chef extraordinaire Nobuyuki Matsuhisa offers his second title, Nobu Now (Clarkson Potter; $45/hardcover;, featuring recipes that range from haute cuisine—like king crab white soufflé with octopus carpaccio—to his take on old favorites, like fish and chips made with sea eel. The book includes recipes for poultry and meat dishes, as well as desserts. These are accented by beautiful full-color, full-page photographs that also make the book a great addition to any coffee-table collection. And finally, what’s being touted as “Italy’s Joy of Cooking,” The Silver Spoon, published by Phaidon Press ($39.95/hardcover;, is the book Italian home cooks have considered their bible for the past 50 years. Translated into English for the first time, Il cucchiaio d’argento contains more than 2,000 recipes and 200 full-color photographs covering everything from sauces and antipasti to desserts.

One recipe that surely must appear in the Italian food bible for pizzelles, the thin, round, crispy cookies baked in an iron that resembles a waffle maker. These addictive delights are found in virtually every Italian home at Christmas, and many Americans have made this tradition their own. Buy a holiday cookie–making friend the chrome Prima Pizzelle Baker from VillaWare, and start them on a new annual tradition ($54.99 plus shipping at


Graeter’s Ice Cream

With 135 years’ experience, Graeter’s Ice Cream churns out rich, handmade delights in traditional flavors such as butter pecan and chocolate chip, holiday flavors like peppermint and pumpkin, and variations like their best seller, black raspberry chip. (Graeter’s “chips” are enormous hunks of real dark chocolate.) The closest Graeter’s parlor to Birmingham is in Louisville, Kentucky, but you can order the ice cream online at, or by calling 800-721-3323. The cost is $70 for six pints or $110 for a dozen pints (plus shipping); if you’re ordering for yourself (or for someone with whom you share a freezer), go for a dozen; you’ll be glad you did.

For a fun twist in ice cream tastes, send a friend a batch of mochi ice creams. These Asian ice creams, a variation of Japanese mochi pastries made of rice paste and eaten to celebrate winter holidays and the New Year, are made of bite-sized balls of ice cream covered in the chewy rice dough, in

flavors such as mocha, green tea, mango, and red bean. Order them online in 16-, 36-, or 48-flavor packs from Hawaii-based Bubbies Ice Cream ( for $43, $59, or $68 (plus shipping), respectively.

Batteries Required

Remote-control toys mesmerize everyone, regardless of age. From the Ancient Mariner comes a variety of remote control boats. The New York City Fireboat is a radio-controlled, electric-powered replica of the city’s Dicky Fireboat that squirts water from onboard cannons just like they do in the real world. The Fireboat is 23 inches long and 14 inches tall ($132; . . . The Sea Tiger Submarine is a radio-controlled submarine that can dive to 24 inches, resurfacing upon command. Should the batteries fail, the sub will automatically return to the surface. Have hours of fun by the pool on Christmas morning, regardless of the temperature ($50; . . . The Remote- Control Shark is the perfect complement to your armada of toy boats. This two-foot rubber-skinned shark has a tail that flips left and right to propel it through the water. It can swim down to three feet below the surface ($40;
Tools and Tech Treats

Many of this year’s tech gifts involve ways to amp up your iPod or other portable MP3 player, cell phone, or PDA. But without battery power, each is rendered useless. That’s where the solar iPod charger comes in. This 6-ounce, 4-inch-long device has three wings that fan out to catch sunlight, then transfer it to your music player via an included cable (works with iPod Mini and third- and fourth-generation iPods; an adapter kit for mobile phones is sold separately for $20). It’s waterproof and portable ($99; or 877-733-3683).



Oakley RAZRWire (click for larger version)

Another great way to make the most of your personal music player is with the digital sound bag, a boring name for what is essentially the modern-day version of the boom box. This simple, elegant messenger bag (in royal blue, white, or bright orange) is outfitted with a pair of speakers. Just slip the player into the bag’s inside pocket, plug in the speakers, and hit play to access all your digital tunes and share them with the rest of the neighborhood ($70; or 877-733-3683).

Of course, you’ll need the songs uploaded to your player before you can enjoy either of these gadgets, so why not buy a Napster 15-song download card for $14.85 ( or at stores like Best Buy, Target, and Rite Aid) or an iTunes gift card or certificate, available in a range of amounts starting at $15 (

For your more aquatic friends, a unique way to listen to digital tunes comes in the form of the SwiMP3, a goggle attachment with 128MB of memory that can play up to four hours’ worth of tunes through cheek pads that send sound waves through your skull bones (really) and into your inner ears ($199;

Another device that takes a hands-free approach to technology is the Oakley RAZRWire, a tiny, titanium Motorola headset with both a microphone and speaker attached to the frame of Oakley shades that allows you to take calls discreetly. The sunglasses and phone attachment are available in platinum, pewter, or mercury ($295; or 800-431-1439).

The Slingbox, which resembles a big silver candy bar, connects to a cable or satellite box and transmits whatever’s on TV at home to your laptop or PC (Wi-Fi required), all for $250 with no monthly fees. Buy at or in electronics stores such as Best Buy and Circuit City.



Sometimes the coolest gadgets stem from the simplest of ideas. The WordLock is one such invention—born of an engineer’s frustration with trying to remember the combinations to three locks on his home swimming pool, the WordLock is a padlock that uses letters instead of numbers. Choose a (memorable) five-letter word, and change it as many times as you like. The inventor won a contest and production deal at Staples, where you can buy the lock for just $6, or order it online at

If you’re looking to splurge a bit, the latest GPS (global positioning system) digital navigation systems are pretty nifty now that they’ve had a few years to improve. For just under $700, Garmin offers the StreetPilot 340c Portable GPS Navigation system, which finds your location by tracking up to 12 satellites simultaneously. It features a full-color, 3.5-inch diagonal touch-screen interface with automatic route calculation that’ll tell you turn-by-turn directions along the way. With FM traffic alerts, 2- or 3-D map perspectives, and up to eight hours of battery life, it’s going to be tough for this gift’s recipient to explain ever being late or lost. Check it out at, and buy it locally at Circuit City and other electronics stores. For those who are very confident of their driving skills, or simply not distracted by what is essentially a mini entertainment system running on their dashboard, Pioneer’s In-Dash DVD Multimedia AV Navigation system is the perfect gift. The 6.5-inch, touch-panel, full-color screen mounts in the dash and offers detailed maps, as well as the ability to play CDs and DVDs. For a little extra, the system will deliver detailed traffic information for major cities in conjunction with the XM NavTraffic service and an optional XM Radio tuner ($1,999; www.pioneerelectronics or locally at electronics stores).

For an unique way to get around town that’s also GPS compatible, test drive a Segway. Our very own retailer here in Birmingham is offering a holiday special where buying a Segway Human Transporter (HT) will get you a free, handheld Garmin eTrex Legend GPS, complete with a custom mount and maps preloaded (worth $400). In addition to the original i180 model, Segway now comes in a Cross-Terrain (XT) model, with all-terrain tires; a Golf Terrain (GT) model, with extended-range batteries, a golf bag carrier rack, and enhanced-traction tires; and the p133 model, designed to navigate in congested pedestrian environments and be taken on a train or subway. The weight limits on these range from 210 to 260 pounds, so try to go easy on the eggnog and cookies. Prices range from $4,495 to around $5,300. Visit the local dealer in downtown Birmingham at 1516 20th Street South, 939-5574.


Manly Stocking (click for larger version)

The Tradesman’s Christmas Stocking, from Duluth Trading Company, is a hearty alternative to the embroidered, bedazzled standard socks out there: made of Duluth’s “near bulletproof Fire Hose” cotton canvas material, it features leather trim, two outside pockets for tucking in tools, and a loop for hanging a hammer or screwdriver you may need for quick toy assembly on Christmas morning. Hang it by the red suspender loops, and there will be no mistaking this “stocking” on the mantle ($19.50 plus shipping; or 800-505-8888).

City Budget Almost a Done Deal

City Budget Almost a Done Deal

July 14, 2005

Five days after the city of Birmingham’s fiscal year 2006 began, the City Council and Mayor Bernard Kincaid have apparently reached an accord on the city’s 2006 budget , which totals $303 million. This year concludes with City Council elections, so politics perhaps dictated the Council’s refusal to give in to Mayor Bernard Kincaid’s proposal to slice $1 million from schools or from designated social services that are financed by the city.Kincaid presented the budget to the Council on May 17, three days before it was due. By the end of June, the administrative and legislative branches of Birmingham government remained at odds. The Mayor and Council had decided to focus on two shared priorities: economic development, and jobs and programs for area youth. Kincaid, however, included a two-percent pay raise for city employees [$3.8 million], with the city eating the five-percent increase in health benefits [$1,440,000]. Councilor Elias Hendricks, chair of the Council’s finance and budget committee, argued that the pay increase was introduced later and “wasn’t one of the tenets on which we built our budget.”

Two days following the recessed June 28 Council meeting, Councilor Roderick Royal criticized the Mayor’s office for not having an updated budget available; the one after the Council had made its proposed changes. “To me, I think it was an effort [by the Mayor] to embarrass us,” he said. Since agreement on the 2006 budget was not finalized by July 1, the 2005 budget remained in place.

The drama in the final days of the 2005 fiscal year took the form of an exchange of memos between the Council and the Mayor’s budget team. In a June 30 memo to Kincaid from Councilor Hendricks, the councilor indicated that the Council had passed a proposal to eliminate 92 currently vacant positions that might be filled later in the year ($3.6 million total).

Kincaid’s budget team responded to the Council’s budget amendments the next day, when the 2006 budget was to go into effect. Their response criticized the Council for elimination of the 92 jobs “permanently,” including 32 public-safety positions at a total cost of $1,360,791. [Elimination of the 92 positions would save $3.6 million.] At the June 28 council meeting, Kincaid had criticized the City Council for adding the $1 million taken from the proposed 2006 budget. “The Board of Education, financially, is in much better shape than it was when the city stepped in in the past and took care of some of these things on an emergency basis that now has been deemed to be entitlements.” The Mayor added that the Board of Education budget “comes pretty close to ours with about half the number of employees.” Kincaid did originally leave $707,000 for student safety, crossing guards, and workforce development.

In the past, the city has depended on “salary surplus” [using money designated for jobs that might come open later in the year but that often do not] to make up for budget shortfalls. “We have moved away from the paradigm of doing shadow financing and relying upon salary surplus,” said Kincaid. Salary surplus was originally forced on the city when a six-percent employee pay raise for city employees was included in a past budget.

High on Councilor Roderick Royal’s list of restored funding included education issues. “I do think that we ought to continue the tutorial and adult literacy and other things, because Alabama trails the other states in terms of literacy,” said Royal.

At the July 5 City Council meeting, Kincaid said the Council’s latest proposal “would really cripple the city.” The Mayor said librarian assistants would lose their jobs, and some branches would be forced to lock their doors early, and that parks and recreation facilities would be closed. The Council again recessed for the second week in a row as Kincaid and councilors retreated from the council chambers to hash out differences to adopt a 2006 budget. A consensus was reached, and the Council will vote on the 2006 budget at the July 12 council meeting. The compromise includes keeping the 92 vacant positions originally targeted by the Council. In exchange, money for schools and other programs are back in the budget, including an immediate $200,000 for housing authority community centers, $270,000 for high school coaches and band director salary supplement, $200,000 for reading programs, and $112,000 for professional development. Kincaid said he would locate $1.3 million for these and other immediate additions to the budget by the time the Council votes July 12. By mid-year another $1.1 million will be identified. “This is a fair compromise, partly because the Council is not asking that all of the funds be found up front,” Kincaid said after the meeting.

In an interview after the majority of the Council found a compromise with Kincaid, Councilor Joel Montgomery, who had commended Kincaid for many of his budget cuts, said, “This is what’s been going on up here at City Hall for the longest time . . . This is salary surplus. It is money that is set aside for unfilled positions that never get filled.” Montgomery added that the City Council had caved in to the Mayor, granting him control of the $3.6 million that the Council should have locked into place so Kincaid could not touch it. “We can’t touch that money now because [the Mayor] recommends [how it's spent]. That is state law . . . He’s the only one who can recommend what to do with that money now.” &