City Hall — Blake warns against police state

City Hall

November 20, 2001

Blake warns against police state

In the street outside City Hall, the police department and fire and rescue service exhibit the city’s emergency-response fleet, featuring a mobile command center and other SWAT vehicles. Councilor Jimmy Blake proudly lauds the efforts of law enforcement over the years, but cautions against what he calls the current trend of increased militarization of police forces. He’s concerned that police might develop a military mindset “through osmosis” by participating in joint training exercises with the military, which he warns is “dangerous to the public health.” Blake frowns on the sight of “soldiers with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders” at the airport, noting that militarization of American society is a victory for terrorists. Councilor Aldrich Gunn agrees. “Mind over matter, Dr. Blake. Whenever you get so you turn that person’s mind, or change its mind or change its way of livin’, you’ve already lost.”

Friends in low places

Councilor Sandra Little, impeccably dressed as usual, offers a series of resolutions honoring Helen’s Cafe, the Powderly Shell service station, and JC’s Beauty Supply, respectively. Little also salutes Council President William Bell for his “Bell Plan,” which provided money for schools from the projected proceeds of the Birmingham Water Works assets. Councilor Leroy Bandy then offers a resolution honoring Bell’s wife Sharon for 20 years of service to the Birmingham school system.

Hell no, I ain’t fergettin’!

Councilor Lee Loder offers eight resolutions recognizing the outgoing councilors for service to their districts. Councilors Blake and Don MacDermott request that their salutations be changed to honor their assistants. Blake interrupts Loder as commendations begin. “To me, words mean something. And resolutions that reflect on political activity mean something in particular,” objects Blake. “I’m not a hypocrite, and I believe one has to be truthful.” Blake states that if he agreed with the resolutions, he would have worked to get those councilors re-elected (Blake reportedly labored for incoming councilors Carol Reynolds, Gwen Sykes, Joel Montgomery, and Valerie Abbott, Blake’s District Three replacement). Blake adds that Loder would have worked to get those honored in the resolutions re-elected had he really believed that they had actually served their respective districts well. Admitting that he’s “quite fond personally of these people [fellow councilors],” Blake abstains from voting on Loder’s resolutions. “Words and resolutions have meaning. Those with legal training certainly should know that,” Blake says in a parting shot at Loder, an attorney.

Councilors toss insults back at Blake

When the resolution honoring Councilor Gunn comes up, the elderly councilor refuses to accept the honor. “The privilege of commendin’ and doin’ whatever it is, some things you don’t have to do. Your actions speak. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate it,” Gunn says in typically cryptic fashion as he requests that his honor be withdrawn. Councilor Bill Johnson joins Blake in abstaining from the resolution honoring Johnson. Blake approves the
resolution commending MacDermott’s assistant. A second resolution honoring Little is offered by Bandy, which is approved. Bandy takes aim at Blake: “In contrary to what Dr. Blake just stated, who cares? Councilwoman Little has done a great job for her district.” Blake tries to respond but Loder also fires away. “I don’t think I would challenge the intellectual giants of today [a parting shot at Blake, who is a medical doctor by trade] and the folks with good ol’ common sense to deny that every person on this dais has made some positive contribution to this city, and they are worthy of recognition for their positive contribution.” Blake agrees, but notes that if Loder’s resolution were focused on Little’s contribution to dedication of parks and commitment to the arts, he would have approved the recognition [Councilor Little can be heard giggling in the background]. Councilor Johnson chimes in: “I’ve sat here for four years and I’ve noticed that Dr. Blake never misses an opportunity to rain on someone else’s parade [Little is almost collapsing in laughter].” Councilor MacDermott takes his turn: “It’s good to see that nothing changes, even until the last minute [audience laughs]. At least we’re consistent.” MacDermott defends Loder’s resolutions as worthy, noting, “Everyone up here is dedicated to what they think is the
decision they should have made. And I don’t judge people’s motives.” Councilor Little can barely stop laughing as she thanks Loder for the commendations. “I think this is one of the most unified councils the city of Birmingham has ever seen in a long time,” says Little.

Tears of joy

As president of the City Council, William Bell traditionally has the final word. In bittersweet tones, Bell reflects on his 22 years as a council member, but is suddenly unable to speak as he begins to sob. “[The crying] is not out of sadness, it’s out of joy, for the blessings I’ve received.” The Council President praises his children for maintaining fine character despite having to “grow up in a spotlight.” Bell continues, apparently reading from a prepared text. “Some people have said I was arrogant. I take pride in uplifting black people, but I do not do so to the detriment of white people.” Noting the importance of future generations working together, Bell defends his convictions, stating, “But that doesn’t mean that I have to bow down to someone simply because of the color of their skin. It doesn’t mean that I have to hold my tongue simply for being perceived as an uppity black.” Refusing to name names, he observes that current city politics have involved more character assassination than any council he’s worked with in his years of service. As the tears continue to flow, Bell savors the emotional goodbye as he tries to end his final council meeting with dramatic flair. But suddenly Gunn interrupts the downward motion of Bell’s gavel, much to the Council President’s exasperation, and leads the council in an off-key rendition of “God Bless America.” Refusing to be outdone, Bell ends the meeting with prayer as councilors join hands.

November 27, 2001

Mayor shares visions of the future

Mayor Bernard Kincaid can’t stop smiling this morning as the new Birmingham City Council is sworn in. Kincaid uses the occasion to present his vision for boosting the city’s viability as a major, progressive metropolis, focusing on mass transit, increased pay for police and fire fighters, retention and expansion of city automobile dealerships, and a “world-class” school system. Referencing the previous council’s habit of stripping funds designed to implement his goals, the Mayor proudly notes that his vision “comports very well” with the issues on which councilors campaigned. He then walks over to individually embrace each councilor.

Love is all around

As predicted, today’s meeting is indeed a lovefest. Newly elected council president Lee Loder, who received a standing ovation when he entered the packed council chambers, praises Kincaid for presenting plans to revitalize the city. The more the Mayor shares ideas, the easier the council’s job will be, says Loder. The rest of the meeting is relatively uneventful, with the council finally approving payment for the February 2001 referendum on the fate of the Water Works. The previous council had repeatedly refused to pay for the referendum.

Matthews continues to rant

During the citizens forum, local community activist and former District Two council candidate Frank Matthews criticizes the council for “tossing out the Sunshine Rule” during this morning’s pre-council meeting when the council convened in executive [private] session for an item on the agenda. The item in reference is the payment of up to $3,000 for an attorney to represent former Council President Bell. Bell’s deposition has been requested by parties in a lawsuit against the city over a $6.9 million contract with Johnson Controls that Bell signed while interim mayor in July 1999. Johnson Controls is suing the city for allegedly not paying for installation of heating and cooling equipment. During the pre-council meeting, Council President Loder admitted to misgivings about meeting in executive session, saying that he didn’t recall any participation in such meetings during his 18-month tenure on the council.

Matthews also complains about paying for the February 2001 Water Works referendum with salary surplus from Information Management Services. “Well, if you’re going to throw out the Sunshine Law, then I guess you would take money from the Information Management Service to further keep this city in the dark,” adds Matthews. Mayor Kincaid’s perpetual smile turns to laughter as Matthews continues. “I hope that this council — great intellectual minds, great debaters, some are even scholars — will not allow this mayor to become a dictator by using manipulation and deception to deceive you.” As members of the audience boo loudly, Matthews pledges to remain a vigilant watchdog, promising, “Frank Matthews will be here to keep you on your toes and in a row like dominoes.”

Smitherman gloats

The new councilors address the public at meeting’s end. Councilor Bert Miller says, “There are no problems, there will only be situations. And situations will be handled!” Miller then gives out his telephone number. Councilor Valerie Abbott, seated next to Miller on the dais, admits that it’s difficult to speak after him. “It’s Miller time all the time,” Abbott laughs. “I’m very thankful to the people who put me in, and the people who didn’t put me in, it’s O.K. I’m here now. And I’m here for everybody.” Councilor Roderick Royal says that someone told him outside the council chambers that he appears taller on his campaign literature. Councilor Carol Reynolds notes that she is proud to be an American, and is thrilled to “restore this city’s pride, this city’s integrity, this city’s dignity.” Councilor Joel Montgomery says he wants to see the city retain ownership of the Water Works, and calls the expenditure of money to council lobbyists “a disgrace.” Councilor Gwen Sykes quotes the late soul crooner Sam Cooke: “It’s been a long time comin’, but I do believe a change is goin’ to come.” Councilor Elias Hendricks notes that he is especially proud to be a councilor since his father ran for the council in 1977. Council President Pro Tem Carole Smitherman, apparently ruffled by Nation of Islam minister William Muhammad’s earlier references to the Koran during the citizens forum, tells Muhammad that the first thing given to councilors by the city was a Bible, and they intend to use it as a guideline to steer the city in the proper direction. Smitherman, whom many suspect will be a candidate for mayor in two years, bragged, “I like to serve people. And I’m glad to have been given that opportunity by the voters of District Six with an overwhelming victory, and having received the highest percentage of votes in the runoff election.” Council President Loder promises that the council will not be marked by its failures, but rather by how high it sets the bar for the city of Birmingham. &

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