Monthly Archives: October 2006

The Mayor fights the Council on a police pay raise.




The Mayor fights the Council on a police pay raise.


October 19, 2006Two years ago, at a memorial service honoring three slain Birmingham police officers, Mayor Bernard Kincaid announced that he would make Birmingham police the highest paid police force in the state. As the city’s homicide rate soars, police and city councilors have criticized Kincaid for not producing a plan to boost police salaries. Kincaid insists that all city employees are entitled to simultaneous raises but says the city cannot afford that. “Pay increases, as I see it, and the way I’ve operated, have been for all employees. The public safety sector represents one-third of those employees,” says the Mayor. A 15 percent pay raise for all municipal workers would cost $30 million a year, according to Kincaid, which is nearly 10 percent of the city’s General Fund Budget. “If it were enacted, we would have massive layoffs of employees, we’d possibly have to close parks; there would be no funding for outside boards and agencies, and possibly libraries,” he warns. “Certainly there would be a hiring freeze that would have to go into effect. Virtually, it would just be catastrophic for the city’s operation if it were carried to its illogical solution.”

For months, Kincaid and the City Council have drawn swords over granting a 15 percent pay increase to police and firefighters. The Mayor had previously approved a $200 monthly uniform allowance for public safety personnel, which prompted grumbling from Public Works employees, who also wear uniforms. Kincaid then attempted to appease public safety workers by offering to petition the Jefferson County Personnel Board to convert the monthly allowance into salary. The Mayor touted the 20-year retirement plan offered to public safety personnel as “invaluable” when comparing officers’ pay to surrounding jurisdictions. But demands for a substantial pay raise remained, and on September 26 the City Council voted to give police and firefighters a 15 percent increase. Kincaid vetoed the Council’s action and a public outcry began. Two weeks later the Council overturned Kincaid’s veto. Councilor Roderick Royal summed up the frustration: “This city is under siege. And we don’t need to keep playing games, Mr. Mayor.”

“Police Chief Nunn reported that crime overall was down in the city, but homicides were up and, as you know, that’s the headline-grabber.” —Mayor Bernard Kincaid, expressing a rather lackadaisical attitude toward his constituents being murdered.

City under siege

If the current rate continues, the number of homicides in 2006 will far surpass last year’s total. According to Sergeant Allen Treadaway, a 17-year veteran who currently serves as president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), staffing levels at the Birmingham Police Department are perilously low. He warns that Birmingham cannot afford to lose any more officers. “I have commanders throughout this department who tell me that it’s shorter now than they’ve ever seen it, and these folks have 25 or 30 years in,” said Treadaway. “My department is so short that I’m having to work a lot of overtime just to keep up. I don’t mind doing that. But you can’t do it forever. Folks need a break. And when you talk about morale and frustration, that’s where it builds.”

He cites statistics from previous years. “From 1990 to 1997, the city of Birmingham averaged 124 homicides a year. We had a high of 147 in 1991,” says Treadaway. In 1997, consultants from New York City evaluated and made several recommendations to the Birmingham Police Department. “The first year, 1998, Birmingham’s crime rate dropped dramatically across all categories of ‘part one’ offenses. That’s your rapes, your assaults, your homicides,” explains the sergeant. “For the next several years, Birmingham’s crime rate continued to decline, with homicides averaging only 76 a year compared to 124 the previous nine years. Last year, for the first time in eight years, Birmingham’s homicide rate reached triple digits—-105. The difference is, in 1998 the Birmingham Police Department had 882 sworn personnel on the streets. Today we have less than 787.” Another 18 officers are currently serving in the military, while approximately 15 policemen are reassigned to the airport following 9/11.

Treadaway continues: “With these shortages we cannot accomplish our goal of combating Birmingham’s crime problem. We cannot implement the crime-fighting strategies that we did in 1998 that saw these numbers go down . . . Homicide started [to increase] first. I have said that’s an indicator that other part one offenses will follow . . . The strategies that were presented to reduce crime in Birmingham here recently are no different from the same strategies that we implemented in 1998. The difference? We don’t have the personnel. Call the commander at any precinct.”


Illustration by Nolen Otts. (click for larger version)

Kincaid disputes crime increase

“Reducing crime became the whipping boy for this,” was Mayor Kincaid’s assessment on October 10 after the City Council voted 7 to 1 to override his veto of increased police salaries (Councilor Valerie Abbott sided with the Mayor, and Councilor Maxine Parker was absent). “[Police] Chief Nunn reported that crime overall was down in the city,” said Kincaid. “But homicides were up and, as you know, that’s the headline-grabber. So with that as a backdrop, it seems to be the moment to push this forth, using that as the reason for doing it.” Kincaid continued to insist that the authority to recommend salary increases rested with him, not the Council, and said the matter would be settled in court.

During the Council meeting, Councilor Joel Montgomery was disappointed that “the Mayor has decided that he does not consider public safety in this city a priority nor the pay of our public safety personnel who protect you, the citizens.” Montgomery accused Kincaid of inciting upheaval within the ranks of city workers. “Our, quote, commander in chief, unquote, has decided that he is going to take our different employees in different departments and pit them against each other in order to beat this raise down,” said Montgomery. “I think the citizens should rise up and demand that we have a pay raise for our public safety personnel. And not only that, that we hire enough public safety personnel to put them on the streets to protect our citizens!”

As for where the city will find the money to finance the 15 percent pay increase for public safety personnel, Councilor Montgomery said the Council will hire a consultant to locate the funds. Regardless of where the money is found, Sergeant Treadaway believes that a competitive pay scale is the city’s only hope to combat crime. “We got a 2 percent pay raise. Trussville just gave a 6 percent raise, Fultondale just announced 5 percent,” he says, wearily. “We lose ground every time we argue this. . . . The problem, and what’s so unique to Birmingham, and why we find ourselves in worse shape than we ever have as far as retaining officers, is that the fastest-growing county in the Southeast is Shelby County. They also have some of the highest paid police departments in Alabaster, Pelham, and the Shelby County sheriff’s department. Now, with state troopers paying what they’re paying, and they’re going to double their staff levels over the next three years—they’re looking to add 300 state troopers—that is going to open up even greater opportunities for Birmingham officers [to leave the force].” &

Renaissance Man

Renaissance Man

Gene Simmons thinks the world looks better with a KISS logo on it.

October 19, 2006 

“I guess Gene is just being Gene,” said Gene Simmons’ publicist with a sigh. She had called to apologize for a scheduling mix-up. “He sounds like he’s just going to do what he wants to do. He’s a nut, but a good nut. He’s like the CEO of a billion-dollar company.” Simmons was scheduled to call in the afternoon to promote his appearance at the Galleria. He is visiting to tout a new KISS line of colognes and perfumes entitled KISS Him and KISS Her. Instead, he called hours earlier, leaving a message that he had tried to do his part, was sorry it hadn’t worked out, and that maybe he’d try again.

In addition to playing bass for KISS, Simmons is a pompous, adolescent version of Hugh Hefner. Living for the past 23 years with former Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed (the family has a hit reality TV show, “Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels” on A&E, similar to MTV’s The Osbournes), Simmons is a man addicted to marketing himself and his band. He boasts that he has slept with thousands of women, that he discovered Van Halen, dated Cher, and even managed the career of Liza Minnelli.

Simmons finally called back, and we talked through a poor cell phone connection as he drove from New York to Philadelphia. We discussed drugs, money, and underarm deodorant. He’s as arrogant on the telephone as he is on television. But that’s all right. We wouldn’t want him any other way.

Black & White: Is this Gene Simmons?

Gene Simmons: It is he. Are you near a computer? Just click on for the bio with the bullet points.



It’ll take just a few seconds here to pull up the internet.

You don’t have DSL? Why not? It’s the 21st century. You’re killing me. You know that? Where am I calling, Alabama or Kansas?

David Lee Roth said, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy a boat big enough to sail right up next to it.” Is this pretty much your motto?

I discovered Roth. My reference point is actually a little easier. Margaret Thatcher said, “Money is the root of all evil.” Actually, it’s not. Lack of money is the root of all evil. Because if you don’t have money, you’ll do all kinds of things, including holding up a 7-Eleven. But if you’re a hundred million dollars liquid, why would you want to hold up a 7-Eleven?

How did you manage to stay off the drugs and booze during KISS’ heyday?

When I get down, I run my own race. Champions do, you know. If you’re a champion and you’re running a marathon, never look over your shoulder or in front of you, just run your own race. Because these rock ’n’ roll waters are shark-infested, and very few people who work in it are qualified to do anything else besides ask the next person in line, “Would you like some fries with that?” I only like to rub shoulders with the best of the best, because you’ll be judged by the company that you keep. I have never been high or drunk in my life, because that’s my decision for myself. Although I reserve your right to get on crack as often as you want. But don’t come to me with a hand out. I don’t want to hear any sob stories. . . . Speaking of rubbing shoulders with the best, there’s an entity called Gemini, which does fragrances and so on.

Okay, go ahead and hawk the KISS products.

I’m proud to say that we have this joint venture where the KISS fragrance line has just debuted so big and so fast it will whip your head around like a corkscrew. If you look at Women’s Wear Daily you will find that we’ve gotten the complete thumbs up from a very finicky and fickle—which are not bad things because these are semantics. And, of course, you know I’m not anti-semantic—you’ll see they have given us the thumbs up by putting us on the cover. That’s as much of a “Boy, these guys are cool” as you need to get . . . The products are intended for every crevice of your body.

Is it a full product line?

Creams, underarm deodorants, shampoos, fragrances for women. And we are going to be debuting something in a month or two. Maybe the powdery, glittery stuff that actually smells good that women love to do. You know, sometimes you don’t want to spray it on, you just want to sorta powder it on and have it glisten as well as smell good when he or she comes close.

Describe the fragrance.

It’s difficult to talk about taste. It’s like eating a steak. Describe it . . . When you describe a fragrance, you just have to experience it.

Have you always used a particular personal fragrance?

I haven’t really. And so far, I’ve been using daily the KISS underarm deodorant. My daughter, who is 14, uses the KISS fragrance every day, as a matter of fact. Let me tell you something, at 14 years of age, that’s as much credibility as you need . . . So far the fragrance has been gangbusters. I can spell that for you if you like.


G-A-N-G, baby . . . busters.

Is there anything you won’t attach the KISS name to?

As far as I’m concerned, planet Earth should be renamed KISS. The air you breathe should be KISS air, the ground you walk on should be hallowed KISS ground. There should be Kisstianity, the religion. No other brand’s got what we’ve got. Every other brand pretends to be what they are. Every other band is simply a band. We’re the only true rock ’n’ roll brand. Second only to Disney. We’ve got 2,500 licensed products. Everything from KISS condoms to KISS caskets. We’ll get you coming and we’ll get you going. &

Gene Simmons will be at Parisian at the Riverchase Galleria on Saturday, October 21, from 2 to 5 p.m. He will be signing packages of the new KISS fragrance. For more information call 987-4200.

Pot Stickers

Pot Stickers

Next time you’re buying drugs, make sure you’ve paid your taxes.

October 19, 2006
The last thing the average drug user expects to see is a group of tax agents crashing through the front door. That’s because few drug sellers or users realize that under Alabama law, they could be found guilty of tax evasion for not having the appropriate Alabama tax stamp affixed to their drug of choice. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and various pills are among the substances required to have tax stamps that indicate that the state is getting its fair share of tax revenue. However, that doesn’t mean banned narcotics are suddenly legal. “We have a lot of phone calls from people who think, ‘Okay, if I buy the stamp, then it’s legal to use marijuana?’ Well, no, that’s not what that means,” says Charles Crumbley, Director of Investigation for the Alabama Department of Revenue.In 1937, the federal government passed the Marihuana Tax Act. Initially, the act did not criminalize the possession of marijuana, but its penalties included a fine of up to $2,000 and five years’ imprisonment if no tax stamp had been purchased. In reality, the law was a roundabout way of criminalizing marijuana, since the government produced and sold only a token amount of stamps.

In 1969, drug guru Timothy Leary challenged the law, which the Supreme Court found to be unconstitutional because it violated the Fifth Amendment. According to Crumbley, “There was a constitutional issue which deemed the stamp a violation of the right to remain silent because the dealer had to fill out tax returns and report the drugs.” As a result, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 was passed, which specifically outlawed marijuana at the federal level.




Many states were apparently attracted to the idea of the tax stamp as a way to further penalize drug dealers by fining them for tax evasion. Since 1970, more than two dozen states have enacted laws requiring a narcotics tax stamp, though some have been declared unconstitutional in state courts. States also enjoy the revenue generated by the fines. The Alabama Department of Revenue estimates that more than $1 million has been collected during the nearly two decades that Alabama has had the Marijuana and Controlled Substance Revenue Act on the books. (In chapter 40-17A of the Code of the State of Alabama, marijuana continues to be spelled as it was when it was legal: marihuana.)

All Alabama narcotics tax stamps are purchased anonymously. “I don’t know who they are. And I don’t want to know who they are,” laughs Crumbley. “The first stamps that I remember we ever sold were to a couple of farmers who came in at Christmas time, and they bought ’em for their wives as Christmas presents, ‘just to be cute.’ We sell a lot of stamps [as novelties]. I don’t recall that we’ve ever sold any large quantities of stamps . . . Most of the people we sell to are stamp collectors. But we haven’t sold any stamps in the past year.”

There are three categories of illegal controlled substances, and respective minimum quantities of each, to which tax stamps apply. An individual must have in his possession more than 42.5 grams (1.5 ounces) of marijuana; 7 or more grams of any controlled substance (cocaine or heroin, for example); or 10 or more dosage units (such as pills, that are not sold by weight). In Alabama, marijuana is taxed at $3.50 per gram (one stamp per gram). Each gram of a controlled substance (other than marijuana) is taxed at $200. Every 50 dosage units of a controlled substance that is not sold by weight are taxed at $2,000. According to state code, even counterfeit drugs are also subject to taxation. “We’ve even seen fake Quaaludes,” he says. “Even a fake Quaalude is subject to tax because it was held out to be a controlled substance.”

A few states have been very aggressive with enforcement. North Carolina collected $83 million in the 15 years its law was on the books, according to Laura Lansford, assistant director of that state’s Unauthorized Substances Tax Division, as reported in the Tennessean in December of 2005. The law was declared unconstitutional in 2004. State laws around the country have faced similar challenges based on due process and the right against self-incrimination. Courts have upheld some stamp laws while striking down or limiting others.

In 2005, Tennessee became the most recent state to enact a narcotics tax stamp law. “It’s patently ridiculous. Legal nitwittery,” Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told the Tennessean. “On the one hand, it says you can’t own a substance. And on the other hand, it creates a taxing scheme. . . . The law on its face makes no sense.” Tennessee took in $2.7 million during the first 18 months the law was in place.

According to the NORML web site, in 1937 U.S. government propaganda had convinced Americans that “crazed Mexicans, blacks, and fans of jazz clubs were pushing marijuana ‘reefers’ on school children and honest youths.” On the day the 1937 Marihuana Tax Stamp Act was enacted, Moses Baca bought two joints from Samuel Caldwell in Denver. Judge Foster Symes made the following pronouncement at Caldwell’s ensuing trial: “I consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics, far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine. Under its influence, men become beasts. Marijuana destroys life itself. I have no sympathy with those who sell this weed. The government is going to enforce this new law to the letter.” Caldwell was sentenced to four years’ of hard labor and paid a $1,000 fine. Baca served an 18-month sentence.

At least the marijuana tax stamp gives drug users who find themselves in handcuffs an option to keep the tax man at bay. “They may be going to jail, but they won’t be having any trouble with taxes,” laughs Crumbley. &