Monthly Archives: March 2006

Mr. Las Vegas

Mr. Las Vegas

March 23, 2006K
nown as “Mr. Las Vegas” for his many years performing in Sin City casinos, Wayne Newton has logged more than 50 years as one of the world’s most popular entertainers. Newton will be at the Alys Stephens Center April 1, two days before his 64th birthday. Considering his slick persona, it’s odd that Newton entered show business as a 10-year-old in a traveling version of the Grand Ole Opry. By the mid-1960s, his soprano voice had established him as a pop star with hits like “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” and “Danke Schoen.” However, Newton’s high-pitched voice made him the butt of jokes, including a barrage from Johnny Carson. In the late 1970s, Newton had had enough and stormed into Carson’s office at NBC Studios, where he physically threatened The Tonight Show host.

Wayne Newton (Mr. Las Vegas) entertains at the Alys Stephens Center. (click for larger version)

The Carson-Newton feud involved more than jokes, however. In 1980, Carson attempted to purchase the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. The Aladdin was under investigation at the time for alleged ties to organized crime. Carson and an associate reportedly kept changing the terms of the deal, which finally fell through. Wayne Newton bought the casino several months later. The singer remains a Las Vegas mainstay, still performing five nights a week at The Flamingo, where the advertisements for Newton’s show read: “As Vegas as Vegas Gets.” Wayne Newton will be at the Alys Stephens Center April 1 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $60. Call 975-2787 for more information.


City Hall — Dawn of The Living Dead


March 23, 2006

The blight that seeps through Birmingham like the Blob looking for Steve McQueen has found an odd nesting place: the police department’s forensic lab at the city jail on Sixth Avenue South. Last April, Birmingham Police Chief Annetta Nunn announced that the forensics unit would be relocated to the fourth floor of the 1700 Building, the city’s sparkling new police headquarters on First Avenue North. However, a “$400,000 surprise,” as Mayor Bernard Kincaid refers to the cost overrun, arrived in the guise of unexpectedly high bids that have delayed completion of the final phase of the new forensics lab. Oddly, the “$400,000 surprise” came to the Mayor’s attention only three weeks ago.

For more than a year, departmental memos have documented the deplorable conditions at the current forensics building on Sixth Avenue. “There have been tons of those,” Kincaid said in reference to internal documents circulated for “alleviating this situation.” Complaints range from standing water [potential electrocution] and mold, to birds roosting on the top floors. Some employees at the forensics building are currently under instruction from the police department to wear a breathing apparatus while working there. Kincaid insisted that local forensic science has not been compromised, as the most vital work is conducted on the first floor, two floors below the worst leaks. The Mayor reassured reporters at a March 7 press conference (after the City Council had approved $482,000 to finish the new forensics lab) that the city’s current forensics situation was acceptable for another three months until equipment and personnel could be moved to the 1700 Building. “We understood that because of the leaks, and what Public Works [city department] fixed, the [forensics] building was leaking. Public Works did fix that. Again, it’s not leaking on the first floor,” said Kincaid, fumbling for an explanation and sounding determined to convince even himself that there were indeed leaks, which no doubt had been repaired. “We’re hoping that, given the dire straits in which we find ourselves, that there will be some accommodation, somewhere.” Kincaid added in seeming desperation. “We have not been able to locate a portable forensic lab that we could bring in.”

It’s amazing that the city’s forensic unit would be exposed to potential contamination for a week, much less for more than a year. Regarding the health of employees at the forensics lab, Kincaid is aware that the Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) is not happy. Sgt. Allen Treadaway, president of the Birmingham F.O.P, said that the building’s conditions had been known for some time. “What we haven’t known is what came to my attention recently . . . the health issues as far as they apply to our employees working in that building,” said Treadaway. “We’ve got a female officer that has worked in that building and has had two miscarriages, one recently.”

He added that another officer has an upper-respiratory infection. “When we start distributing breathing apparatuses to employees, with the big canisters on the side, to wear when they’re in that building, that’s an indicator something is seriously wrong,” said Treadaway. “When we start having upper-respiratory examinations for all employees working in that building, that’s an indicator that something is wrong.” Treadaway wants testing done on the current building to be sure it’s safe for employees to continue working there until the new lab is complete. He complained to the City Council that the fourth floor of the 1700 Building has been available for several months with no work going on. Treadaway warned that construction delays are inevitable. “We were supposed to be in these new precincts [Southside and east Birmingham] a year ago, and there’s construction still going on,” said the police sergeant.

Kincaid was less than pleased, and somewhat tongue-tied, at the implication that hazardous working conditions had led to police officer miscarriages. “Quite frankly, to stand before the Council and to lay miscarriages on this without medical evidence is . . . what just happened and should not have.” Kincaid added, “The F.O.P. will probably bring forth several issues. We’ll probably have a flurry of those . . . We just look forward to a revved up level of activity by the F.O.P.” The Mayor was dismissive of questions about police lawsuits. &

City Hall


March 09, 2006

William Bell Is Finally Back

Councilor William Bell’s District Five election win over incumbent Elias Hendricks four months ago raised more than a few eyebrows around the city. After having been chosen interim mayor when longtime Mayor Richard Arrington stepped down in 1999 several months prior to the end of his 20-year reign (the council president is next in line for the mayor’s position if the mayor steps down), Bell lost a mayoral runoff to present mayor Bernard Kincaid. Purportedly, the plan was for Bell to run against Kincaid as a pseudo-incumbent. Bell’s loss essentially drove a stake through the heart of Arrington’s powerful political machine, the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition. Most figured Bell’s political career in Birmingham was essentially over. Everyone, that is, except William Bell.

In his years as council president in the 1990s, Bell’s theatrics ran interference for Arrington in the former mayor’s weekly showdowns with former Councilor Jimmy Blake. Among Blake’s complaints were his objections to minority preference in a city that is predominantly black. Blake never backed down from his premise that whites were the real minority. So it was with great irony that minority hiring would initiate a showdown between Bell and Councilor Roderick Royal at the February 28, 2006 Council meeting.

Bell has been surprisingly quiet during his current tenure, maintaining a low profile that fulfilled his promise of humility upon return to the Council. His suggestions at committee meetings and his grasp of how city politics function have been mildly impressive. Fortunately for those who report on City Hall, William Bell appears to have eaten his last slice of humble pie, returning to his former high-profile, ready-for-a-fight persona.

At issue was the city’s hiring of All Seasons Travel to facilitate travel arrangements for the 198 neighborhood officers attending the 2006 NUSA (Neighborhoods USA) Conference in Kansas City in May. Birmingham’s representation at NUSA has been a source of controversy in years past, primarily because the city has, by far, the largest delegation, and many local citizens regard the trip as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Other past controversies stemmed from fish fries held by delegates on the balconies of their hotel rooms, which did little to erase perceptions that the city was being represented by a bunch of country yahoos.

Bell questioned why All Seasons Travel was the only company the city sought bids from. Jim Feinstermaker, chief of the Community Development Department, which oversees the neighborhood associations, replied, “We’ve worked with All Seasons in previous years, so we just went back to them.” Bell asked that the resolution earlier approved in the meeting be brought back before the Council for reconsideration, to allow bids from minority travel agencies that might also offer cheaper rates. Councilor Roderick Royal, who acknowledged that “it’s important to find minority participation where we can find it,” said the city had worked with All Seasons for more than 15 years. “Certainly, if there was concern, we should have been addressing it a long time ago. And I hope that falls on good soil,” added Royal, in what appeared to be a slap at Bell. Royal at one time was Bell’s administrative assistant before a rumored falling out occurred between the two.

“You know what, Madam President? That little twerp over there, he needs to get a life!” Bell exploded in anger. “I mean, I’ve sat here and let him shoot at me all these years. Now what happened here 15 years ago, I asked Mayor Richard Arrington the same thing [regarding minority hiring]. I’ve been consistent. When you look at all of the minority participation bills [in the past], you’ll see one name on there. None of the [current councilors’] names were on those bills passed in the past. You’ll see one name on there: William A. Bell!” At meeting’s end, Bell apologized for not attending a recent function at Lily Grove Baptist Church. He then added, “And I may want to apologize for something else, but let me think about it a little bit longer.” With her usual dry sense of humor, Councilor Valerie Abbott deadpanned, “I want a definition of twerp . . . I truly don’t know what it is.”
Council Approves Wal-Mart Corporate Welfare

Freshman Councilors Miriam Witherspoon and Steven Hoyt have made minority contract hiring a priority regarding tax incentives and cash payouts to those who wish to do business with the city. Hoyt demanded 20 percent minority representation for sub-contractors building the new Wal-Mart in the blighted Eastwood Mall location. Despite protests from Councilor Joel Montgomery and some city residents that there is no guarantee that Wal-Mart would stay in the location, many believe Wal-Mart will be an economic boon for Councilor Carol Reynolds’ District Two. The $11 million cash deal to purchase the Eastwood Mall property for Wal-Mart was approved unanimously by the council on February 28. District One Councilor Joel Montgomery, who was absent from the meeting due to his claims that he was sick, set a City Council precedent when he phoned from his sickbed to voice opposition to the Wal-Mart deal via the council chamber’s public address system. Reynolds walked out in protest when Montgomery began speaking. Council President Carole Smitherman properly refused to allow Montgomery to vote and went so far as to tell him he didn’t sound sick.

Montgomery remains angry that Wal-Mart left his district a few years ago to build a Wal-Mart Super Center in District Two, an arrangement that has caused a rift between Councilor Reynolds and himself. Reynolds has been a cheerleader for Wal-Mart, despite complaints from many nationwide that the mega-corporation fails to pay wages high enough to provide health insurance for many employees. Reynolds, who is employed by the Birmingham Water Works and recuses herself from Water Works issues that come to a vote by the Council, has been vocal in the past about encouraging Water Works employees into a union. But despite her rallying behind Wal-Mart, she’s savvy enough to hedge her bets with the odd statement: “I’m not a huge fan [of Wal-Mart] I’m a K-Mart girl.” &