Tag Archives: Birmimgham Alabama

The Gospel According to T.C. Cannon

Originally published in WELD on October 24, 2015

The Gospel According to T.C. Cannon




Those who have followed city politics in the past decade or spent evenings as bar flies at any time between the 1960s to the ‘90s in local drinking establishments perhaps know of Terry “T.C.” Cannon. In 1962, Cannon and his older brother Joe opened the Plaza bar (better known as the “Upside Down” Plaza) on 11th Court South behind Western Supermarket on Highland Avenue (currently the long time home of Hot and Hot Fish Club).

Cannon recalls with a grin that his brother Joe had been ‘captured’ (involved with) then gambling kingpin of Birmingham, Little Man Popwell. “So everything (at the Plaza) was in my name,” T.C. says.

The Plaza drew a nightly cast of characters, creating an oddball clientele mix; Lawyers, doctors, students, businessmen, musicians, librarians, and schoolteachers made it the most eclectic bar in town. Bohemians drank with professionals. “It’s a wonder that the magnolia tree outside the Plaza survived because almost every lawyer in Birmingham has pissed on it,” an attorney friend and long ago Plaza patron told me.

The lounge was a Southside landmark. The Upside Down Plaza is currently still in business in the Five Points South area beneath Pickwick Plaza, where it relocated when the lease was not renewed in the mid-‘80s. In 1987, the nightclub began operation under new ownership.

Cannon claims the Plaza was forced out of its original locale because the landlord discovered religion. “A local preacher instructed them that they had to get rid of this horrible beer joint,” says T.C. “We still had three years on the lease and when we went to court, we won and got to stay three more years. And that was a lot of fun.” Continue reading

Animal Control Contract Extended

Animal Control Contract Extended

On January 21, the Birmingham City Council voted to extend the contract it has held since 1999 with Steve Smith

to maintain local animal control services in conjunction with Jefferson County. Though the county retains primary authority over animal control, the city contributed $667,942 to the jointly held contract during the shelter’s fiscal year 2001, as opposed to the county’s $384,498. Smith’s tenure has also been controversial, with many questioning the practicality in allowing a “for-profit” business to retrieve and care for stray animals. An October 2001 National Animal Control Association (NACA) evaluation of Jefferson County animal control services was critical of Smith’s daily operations, which included euthanizing animals without first sedating them. The report also criticized euthanization of dogs in front of other animals in the holding area, missing drain covers in pens (puppies and small dogs can become easily trapped), and the absence of line-item budgeting for shelter operations. Smith has reportedly taken steps to address most of the complaints.

Councilor Joel Montgomery had previously expressed dismay at local television news reports of euthanasia procedures at the shelter. But after a recent tour of the site, the councilor told Smith, “I do not see any indications of animal abuse in your facility. I’m an animal lover, and I don’t see [abuse] going on.” Nonetheless, Montgomery promised he would continue to visit the facility unannounced. “I am going to come back spontaneously to see what’s going on . . . because this will come before the Public Safety Committee [which Montgomery heads].” Montgomery was also concerned that Smith did not respond to NACA criticism that Smith did not disclose any information regarding his budget history or current budget allocations. The councilor quoted the NACA report: “Oddly enough, the agency does not even offer a line-item budget. Instead, expenditures for equipment and training occur on an as-needed basis. This is only the second time in a NACA evaluation that an agency-government, non-profit, or for-profit-was found to conduct business in this manner.” Montgomery surmised that the Council had no way to determine whether or not animal control was operating at a deficit that is being carried over from year to year. Smith responded that he planned to follow a line-item budget in conjunction with an audit currently being conducted by a local CPA firm at the county’s request. Preliminary findings show expenses to be about the same as those for Mobile. Councilor Montgomery expressed concern that $55,000 per month for animal control seems excessive. “We ought to be picking up dogs on the moon for that much!” growled the councilor.

Councilor Valerie Abbott called the NACA report “quite horrifying.” Condemning the contract as “severely lacking,” Abbott said, “I’m disturbed that this is a for-profit operation, because any smart businessman knows that the less money you spend on your business, the more you get to keep.” Only Abbott and Councilor Roderick Royal opposed the contract extension. Royal, who is on the Greater Birmingham Humane Society board of directors, said he could not support the contract in light of the NACA report. Noting his respect for animals, the councilor had stated at last week’s meeting, “I don’t believe a dog should be tied to a tree, I don’t believe in fighting dogs.” Council President Lee Loder, arrested four months ago on animal neglect charges, recused himself from the item. (Among the charges against Loder were that he had tied his dog Stokely to a tree in a backyard pen in the rain out of reach of shelter.) Council President Pro Tem Carole Smitherman presided over the issue in Loder’s place. Interestingly, when the item first came up for discussion during the January 14 meeting, Loder left the room for the duration of the discussion.

After the council meeting, Steve Smith noted that Animal Cruelty Officer Dana Johnston comes by the shelter several times a week and has made no complaints. “The only allegations of cruelty that we ever heard were those voiced by a certain T.V. station. They haven’t come from the NACA study, they didn’t come from the Birmingham cruelty officer, or the Jefferson County cruelty officer, they didn’t come from any of the members we’ve had from HSUS (Humane Society of the United States), any members of the County Commission or the City Council,” said Smith. He added that his most vocal critics have never set foot in the shelter. Smith said the NACA study “was an opportunity to find out the things that we were doing wrong and do better. And even though we’ve assured them that we’ve done these things that NACA asked us to do, and gladly did them, they just say, ‘Too little, too late.’ They don’t want us in there to begin with, for whatever reason.” Smith acknowledged the Council’s vote as a show of support for his services. He said that in the early 1990s, the city was paying the Jefferson County Health Department, which formerly ran animal control, almost what he is being paid at present. Smith noted that the private contractor before him was running only two trucks at a total yearly cost of over $400,000, while his company runs 12 trucks at a cost of $667,000. Smith said that seven of the trucks are committed exclusively to the city (four and a half trucks) and county (two and a half trucks), with the other five owned by Smith for private animal control contracts he holds with other municipalities in the county. &

Rev ‘Em Up

Rev ‘Em Up

Stock car racing starts up in Phenix City.

The East Alabama Motor Speedway, near Phenix City, once again offers a roaring summer of spills, thrills, and all-around high-speed mayhem every Saturday night at 8 p.m. The 3/8-mile, high-banked clay raceway features the finest in Southern-style automobile racing with late-model, pony stock, enduro, super street, road warrior, and cruiser classifications. This year, the 6,000-seat track celebrates its 30th racing season, and will be giving away six-foot tall trophies to all Summer Sizzler Seven Series champions.

Late-model racing is the fastest, but the most fun is the cruiser class, also known as hog racing. Any car with race-worthy safety specifications (roll bars and doors welded shut) is allowed on the track to compete in a 10-lap shoot-out. There’s nothing more exciting than the sight of a massive Cadillac DeVille slamming into a 1972 Lincoln Continental as the pair slide through a dirt turn, kicking up clouds of dust. All a driver needs is a helmet, a fearless nature, and little regard for his automobile. A couple of stiff drinks probably wouldn’t hurt either. For more information, call 334-297-2594.

City Hall — Liability on parade

City Hall

Liability on parade

With one week to go before the Birmingham School Board election, Councilor Gwen Sykes is eerily close to playing a vote-solicitation card prompted by the March 22 killing of 15-year-old April Lynn Jamerson at Bessie Estell Park. Lurking in the background is fear from the city’s Law Department regarding the ever-dreaded word liability.

Sykes proposed a resolution at the April 2 Birmingham City Council meeting to rename the Friday before spring break “April Lynn Jamerson Senior Future Day.” That day has traditionally been known as “skip day,” when high school students play hooky without fear of school administrators taking disciplinary action. Present at today’s name-change proposal is Jamerson’s mother, Shunda Milhouse, who noted that officials had “promised” recognition of a day remembering her daughter’s death. Noting that “there is no privacy when it comes to privacy,” Milhouse urged parents to inspect bedrooms and “observe what’s going on in your child’s room, because a lot of these males, they are carrying guns.” Milhouse called for adult supervision of future student gatherings, and Sykes’ resolution endorses police patrol for any events next spring honoring Jamerson. Some councilors are hesitant to recognize the skip day.

Acknowledging that he understood “where we want to go, at least, in trying to honor the young lady who was unfortunately killed by another one of our children,” Councilor Roderick Royal protested: “Skip day has never been sanctioned by the school system.” Royal argued that school officials’ authority is being usurped as to “what days will be school days, and which days will not.” Councilor Bert Miller agreed, and noted that police involvement might make the city responsible for any problems that arise. “If we sanction this day, we are giving the kids permission to skip school. And also, if the city is patrolling with police officers, the city would be held liable if something was to happen again.” The ears of Council President Loder, an attorney by trade, perk up at mention of the word liable. Loder told Shunda Milhouse that he was hesitant to “draw [her] into this,” and asked if she would approve the Council delaying the renaming until all questions could be addressed. The mother replied that was fine as long as her daughter’s death was not “swept up under the rug.”

Councilor Sykes immediately went on the defensive as she attempted to clear the air, explaining that the resolution was never intended to allow a skip day. Sykes protested, “Skip day has never been really authorized, but I’m in the system. And I know, for some reason or another, there hasn’t been what it takes in order to make sure that this didn’t happen!” The councilor’s voice began to rise in anger. “There are people who knew that this was going on, because it’s been going on for years. We’re not authorizing the children to skip on this day. We’re saying that they will no longer skip on this day! And we’re saying the Board of Education had to put some teeth into what they’re doing.” Sykes added that teachers need to contact parents when children are not attending school. “There are some things the Board of Education is going to have to do!” thundered Sykes, assistant principal at Green Acres Middle School and head of the Council’s Education Committee. Sykes led a teacher walk-out a year ago protesting a salary raise given by the Board to current superintendent Johnny Brown. Her clashes with the Board have been front-page news, and her council administrative assistant, Gwen Webb, is running for the Board in the April 9 election.

Councilor Royal was “more than greatly disturbed” to hear Sykes say that those in the school system “would know and tacitly approve of students being out of school.”

An audible sigh emerged from the direction of City Attorney Tamara Johnson as a look of horror crossed her face. “This is a very emotional situation,” said Johnson. “However, there may be legal ramifications in some of the things that people are saying. To know that something takes place does not translate into a ‘tacit approval’ of something taking place. Nor does it translate into an obligation to perform some kind of duty or to have some kind of responsibility.” Johnson warned against making a public record of comments “about an independent board such as the School Board and its operations” since the Council does not know the facts in the case.

Sykes immediately changed her tone after Johnson spoke. “By no mean [sic] did we mean to imply that [school officials had been responsible],” said Sykes. “Just based on what we’ve been hearing for a long time, that it’s been something that’s been going on traditionally.”

Montgomery fulfills pledge to slow airport expansion

While campaigning for election to the City Council, Councilor Joel Montgomery said he was “hounded” to stop airport expansion, and promised “to do everything in my power to stop the expansion of the Birmingham Airport.” After extensive research, Montgomery found documentation that East Lake Park was dedicated in 1931 and certified by City Clerk Paula Smith in 1999. If a park has been dedicated with proper notification, no use other than that relating to park activity can be made of the property in question without a vote of the public. An ordinance of permanent operation must be published in a paper of record before becoming law.

Montgomery is convinced that expansion of parallel runways through East Lake Park will not be allowed. “I don’t see a problem with the documents presented. I attached the legal description, and I also attached the [land] survey. That means the park’s dedicated.” Montgomery said he did not know if proper notification in a paper of record had been given. “If it was not put in the paper, people have been going to the park for how many years? They all know it’s a park,” surmised Montgomery. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s dedicated.” &

City Hall — Langford Defends Visionland

City Hall


Langford Defends Visionland

On March 15, Mayor Kincaid’s office released a report from the city’s financial advisor, the Swarthmore Group, that indicated financial hemorrhaging at Visionland. The subjective tone and sarcastic phrasing of the report caused quite a stir at city headquarters. The report questions the hiring and firing of park managers, alleged payments to Fairfield Mayor Larry Langford and Fairfield City Clerk Melvin Turner, and debilitating financial losses incurred in 1999. One conclusion reads “There’s more blood here than at the local Red Cross unit” and the park’s dreadful 1999 season is summarized as one of “Rape, Pillage, and Plunder.”

Swarthmore’s Dan Maze, the author of the report, told the Birmingham News that the wording was intended for effect. “I wanted somebody to continue to read it,” Maze said. “Did I go over the line? I don’t know.” The 1999 season saw attendance fall by a devastating 100,000, resulting in a net loss of $9.2 million, even though the minutes from the July 8, 1999, West Jefferson Amusement Park Joint Board meeting claimed, “All’s well at Visionland.” Among the original 13 board members were Langford [chairman], former Governor Fob James, Elmer Harris [retired president and CEO of Alabama Power], County Commissioner Betty Fine Collins, and former State Legislator Jimmy Butts, who was recently convicted of accepting bribes relating to business with Visionland. No one was accused of offering the bribe. Visionland was a sponsor of a NASCAR race car driven by Butts’ son, reportedly a $50,000 investment.

According to the Swarthmore report, the Board of Directors of the West Jefferson Amusement and Public Park Authority [WJAPPA], which was created by 11 surrounding municipalities to deliver financial assistance to Visionland during the beginning years, met biannually until July 1999. Because the board did not meet again until November 2001, observers wondered who approved the hiring of the Ogden Park Management Services in June 2000 for $750,000 a year. The Swarthmore report urged the city to support the park for another year, then recommended that the facility be sold.

The City Council convened a committee-of-the-whole meeting on March 21, approving payment of the $1 million currently owed to the amusement facility. Councilor Carol Reynolds, the lone “no” vote against paying the $1 million, had invited Larry Langford to address the council that afternoon. Langford said he did not attend the meeting to defend himself. He addressed what he termed “bogus reports” that he was being paid by the park, explaining that he was only reimbursed for expenses. Langford urged the council to ask to see the checks allegedly paid to him. “If I did what they said, call the attorney general and put me in jail. It’s a real simple thing.” Langford said there has been interest expressed in purchasing the park. “It was never intended for us to try and stay there and operate the park until hell freezes over,” Langford said as he explained that the intent had always been to sell the amusement park in “five or six years.”

Langford blamed much of the disastrous 1999 season on bad luck. “The problem was, we had 52 days of rain, and by the time it stopped raining, the heat index went to 110 degrees and stayed there for the rest of the summer.” He added that an E. coli breakout at amusement parks around the country that summer frightened away patrons. Langford reminded the Council that a $6 million ride malfunctioned the first day of its operation. “The park overall has done what we had hoped the park would do,” said Langford. The property purchased for the park at the time sold for $3,000 an acre. Today, property in the area goes for $250,000 to $300,000 an acre, according to Langford. He noted that 27 million people pass along Interstate 20/59 between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa yearly. “What we were trying to do was find a way to get people to stay here in Alabama for a couple of days and quit treating this state like a service station — come to get your gas and drive on through.”

“Our problem has been, how do you penetrate Jefferson County?” Langford said. He noted that if one out of every three county residents visited the park one time a year, in 10 years Visionland would be as large as Six Flags. “We can sell the park quicker with the park being open than if we closed it,” Langford said. He concluded by pointing out that Visionland had at least initiated “the first sign of real regional cooperation.”

Noise Ordinance

Councilor Joel Montgomery has had his fill of loud music booming from automobiles cruising past his District One home. “It’s killing me,” said Montgomery. The noise also shakes “the front door of St. John’s United Methodist Church, where I worship on Sundays,” Montgomery adds with obvious disgust.

So the councilor decided it was time to tweak city codes addressing noise abatement. The present noise ordinance is considered unenforceable, according to Birmingham Police Chief Mike Coppage. Requirements that Birmingham police use decibel meters to gauge volume levels makes it difficult to catch a perpetrator in the act. By the time police arrive, the offending noise has been turned down. There are only about a dozen decibel meters at present for the entire force, adding to the difficulty of enforcing the law. Coppage explains that the only way to consistently deal with the problem is to have complainants sign arrest warrants against noise level violators, yet most are reluctant to do so because they fear retaliation or future harassment.

As Public Safety chairperson, Montgomery collected noise ordinances from various states and municipalities in search of a model for Birmingham’s code. He found his answer in Kansas, where a state noise code explicitly addresses vehicle stereos. “This is the first step to revising our noise ordinance as a whole,” promises Montgomery. Changes in city noise laws will only affect vehicles. Other sections of the overall noise ordinance will remain intact until they can be addressed at future Public Safety Committee meetings.

“This is going to free the police officer. If he hears somebody within a distance of 35 feet, in an automobile rumbling, this is going to be his discretion as to whether or not he can write that individual a fine,”

Montgomery explained. No decibel meter will be needed. “To me there’s no difference in this and if you were writing somebody a speeding ticket and you had no radar device in the car. You’re still taking the police officer’s word against the operator’s word.” The new law stipulates that discernable noise heard by other vehicle passengers within 10 feet of an automobile or 35 feet for those in buildings will be considered a violation.

Montgomery emphasizes that he has no problem with what anybody listens to “as long as I don’t have to hear it. And I certainly don’t want to hear it when I’m lying in my bed.”

Councilor Montgomery originally suggested a minimum hearing range of 50 feet from a building with regards to a passing vehicle stereo, but Chief Coppage asked for a compromise. “I think that the 50-foot limit is a little bit gracious,” said Coppage, who suggested a 25-foot minimum. Captain Roy Williams of the Birmingham Police Department estimates he could write up to 50 tickets a day just on the volume of music in cars in traffic. “Sometimes I can’t even hear my radio,” Williams says.

The ordinance must be reviewed by the city’s Law Department, then voted on by the Birmingham City Council. Penalties will not exceed $500 or more than six months imprisonment or both.

“This is really trite,” said Councilor Reynolds. “But what about the popsicle man? Will he be required to have a permit to play his music?” Chief Coppage said that he would have to consult the legal department about the popsicle man. Coppage stressed that the ordinance is aimed at “boom boxes” that shake cars and rattle houses when they drive past. “To me, that is minimal compared to the fighter jets going overhead,” Reynolds said, referring to noise pollution at her home near the Birmingham Airport where an Alabama Air Guard is housed. She explains that she is simply trying to find a realistic way of enforcement “without creating a police state.”

The ordinance will include exemptions for emergency and public safety vehicles, vehicles used by municipal utility companies, sanitation trucks, and vehicles used in authorized public activities such as parades, fireworks displays, sports events, and musical productions.

“Praise the Lord!” Montgomery noted with a smile when he read the sentence addressing limits on “bass reverberations,” surmising, “One day noise pollution will be as much of an issue as air pollution.”

The Cause That Refreshes

A few weeks after Council President Lee Loder chastised Councilor Gwen Sykes for allowing a Highland Avenue coffee shop [which supplied the Council with pastries] to plug itself during cable television broadcasts of meetings, Coca-Cola got in on the action. After presenting the city with $100,000 towards the restoration of Vulcan, Coca-Cola United President and CEO Claude Nielsen accepted accolades from the Council commemorating the soft drink’s 100th anniversary. Coca-Cola’s humble beginnings were nothing more than “one mule, one employee, and we delivered 18 cases of Coca-Cola,” said Nielsen. “Next year, in this community, we will sell over eight million cases of Coca-Cola.” The CEO expressed appreciation for the “opportunity to refresh each of you every day. You can count on us for at least another hundred years of refreshing this city.” In honor of the anniversary, six-pack cartons featuring the Birmingham skyline and a rendering of Vulcan were presented to each councilor. Loder held a carton so the TV cameras could get a close-up as Councilor Carole Smitherman laughed, “Everything goes better with Coke!” &

Gone in Sixty Seconds

Gone in Sixty Seconds

Who else but racing legend Mario Andretti could balance an IMAX camera on an Indy car traveling at 230 miles-per-hour? It’s all part of the filming involved in the new IMAX film, Super Speedway, at the McWane Center.

Speed demon Mario Andretti is the epitome of the handsome, charming race car driver. The most versatile champion in racing history, Andretti has won in Indy cars, stock cars, high-tech Formula I racers, sprint cars, and 24-hour endurance racing. Adding a Hollywood flourish, the Italian racer with the Tony Bennett-good looks drove for a team owned by actor and fellow driver Paul Newman.

Now, highly-acclaimed IMAX director Stephen Low gives audiences the rare opportunity to experience Andretti’s 230-mile-per-hour perspective. For Southerners open-minded enough to check out racing other than the NASCAR sort, the McWane Center’s IMAX Theatre will feature the documentary Super Speedway for a five-month run beginning Saturday, March 23. Indy cars are faster and quicker than stock cars, and their wheel-to-wheel, tension-fueled battles are breathtaking. The half-million dollar automobiles pull four G’s in the turns, and create enough suction to jerk manhole covers from streets on road course surfaces (covers are welded to the street for road races).

Andretti was lured out of semi-retirement to pilot an Indy race car fitted with an IMAX camera whose aerodynamically intrusive bulk raised concerns that the car would fail to reach top speeds. Refusing to participate unless filming was done under true racing conditions, the veteran driver put those doubts to rest when he hit 240 miles per hour. “You never really know what’s going to happen until you dive into a corner at over 200 miles per hour, because otherwise these cars don’t react,” says Andretti, describing the aerodynamic forces that drivers challenge in order to find the perfect balance between risk and opportunity. Testing a new car is a daring, unpredictable venture. “You don’t have the sense of what this animal is going to do,” Andretti comments. “These things can bite.” Initially, the camera would shut off when speeds hit 210 miles per hour because of “harmonic vibrations killing the electronics in the camera,” according to Andretti. Filming took place during practice sessions prior to each of four different races during the 1996 season, documenting Mario’s son Michael Andretti’s quest for the CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) championship. Mario Andretti was in control of switching the camera on and off, and it was up to him to find the best shots.

A second story line develops when an automobile restorer finds a 1964 Dean Van Line Special Roadster in an abandoned chicken coop in Indiana. It’s the same car that Mario Andretti drove at the 1964 Indianapolis 500. Restoration continues throughout the movie until Andretti is reunited with the reconditioned sparkling white and chrome Roadster at the film’s end. Vintage footage depicts races from earlier days, including an ample number of dramatic crashes to emphasize the risks drivers take.

The film transcends the titillating boundaries of in-car race cameras that project drivers’ perspectives during Sunday afternoon telecasts. Both Mario and Michael Andretti were amazed at the realism of IMAX racing. “With an on-board video camera, you don’t really get a true picture of what’s going on,” explains Mario. “This IMAX stuff will keep you on the edge of your seat because everything is happening the way the drivers see it.”

Super Speedway will be shown at the McWane Center March 23 through August 30. For more information, call 714-8300.

City Hall — Council overrides Kincaid’s judicial preference

City Hall

Council overrides Kincaid’s judicial preference

After voting for Agnes Chappell to replace controversial Judge Carnella Greene Norman as Municipal Court judge, Councilor Valerie Abbott said her choice was “the most difficult decision I’ve had to make since I’ve been on this council because we had such highly qualified candidates.” In a 5-4 vote that surprised City Hall observers, Chappell beat Community Development head Etta Dunning, Mayor Bernard Kincaid’s choice to follow Norman. Chappell had 18 years experience as a Family Court senior referee, where she heard 250 cases a week in her role making recommendations to the presiding judge. “In the end it came down to the person who had experience as a judge already,” said Abbott, who called the decision “agonizing.”

Councilor Carol Reynolds, who supported Dunning, also struggled to make up her mind. “I listened to the people within our community as to their recommendations,” Reynolds said, noting that she kept a tally sheet by her home telephone to keep up with constituents’ suggestions. Councilor Roderick Royal, who voted for Chappell, was bothered that none of the seven finalists for the judicial post live in Birmingham. Councilors Lee Loder, Carole Smitherman, and Elias Hendricks also voted for Chappell.

After the vote, Kincaid said that the Council’s choice was their prerogative. “If they’ll stay out of my business, I’ll stay out of theirs,” the Mayor laughed at the narrow defeat. Kincaid preferred Dunning because she had been director of Community Development and is very aware of community issues. Kincaid added that Dunning’s community development experience would make her the “ideal person” for presiding over the Environmental Court. The Mayor admitted he would be curious to know how Family Court would function after replacing Chappell.

Council approves controversial $5 million to UAB

UAB’s proposed $90 million, 12-story biomedical research center has caused some councilors to question the city’s priorities. Citing UAB as the leading employer in the city, Mayor Kincaid has defended the research center due to expected gains in occupational tax coffers through the research facility’s creation of 1,400 jobs. The economic impact should flourish in other areas as well, according to Kincaid. “It replicates itself in terms of economic benefit,” the Mayor explained, pointing to an increase in license fees and job opportunities at restaurants and other businesses affected by the opening of the center.

On February 19, the Birmingham City Council voted to approve appropriating $5 million for the project, with the first of five $1 million installments due in September. Councilor Joel Montgomery had voiced support for a February 12 resolution of intent, [the resolution aids the university's solicitation of other funding sources] but requested from the Mayor’s office projections of revenue benefits to the city against the $5 million investment before making up his mind to approve the money. A week later Montgomery had decided to oppose the funding until neighborhoods and schools got their share of the financial pie. Montgomery called UAB a “vital partner,” but quickly added, “We also have another vital partner in this city, and it’s the people of the city of Birmingham.” The councilor is concerned about diminishing population numbers, stressing that the city must invest in its neighborhoods to halt the flight from the city. “You do not start building a house with the roof. You start with the foundation.”

Councilor Gwen Sykes requested an audience with UAB officials so that the Council could “become even more of a partner in this venture.” Sykes’ request for more discussion irritated Councilor Hendricks, who noted that UAB officials had met with councilors at both Finance Committee and Economic Development Committee meetings. Chastising fellow councilors, Hendricks railed about the unfairness of councilors’ suggestions to the public that no dialogue has taken place. Sykes angrily voiced displeasure regarding implications that there is “lying” on the Council. Declaring that it was impossible for her to attend the meetings Hendricks referenced, Sykes maintained that she is “not a liar” and remains “in touch” with the public regardless of her attendance record at committee meetings. Sykes stated that the Council needs to examine every way that UAB “spreads its money as it relates to contracts and services throughout the city of Birmingham.”

Insisting that he is neither “a financial wizard nor a genius,” Councilor Royal reiterated his support for the resolution of intent supporting UAB funding, but points out that on January 18, the city could not “ante up” a million dollars for Huffman High to complete its construction of a gymnasium. If the city could not find a million dollars a month ago, why could the city find a million for UAB now, Royal asked. He added that the funding of the biomedical research center is “a little dishonest” as it relates to the schools. The councilor preferred that the UAB funding be included in the July 2002-2003 budget. Royal defended certain councilors’ refusal to fund the research center with a philosophical one-liner: “If all of us are thinking alike, then no one is thinking.” Royal also expressed displeasure with Hendricks’ scolding. “I take special exception to chastising of the council people.”

Councilor Reynolds wanted to see a list of the subcontractors employed by the top 20 white-owned businesses dealing with UAB. “We need to know if they are getting work to minorities or if these dollars are leaving town,” Reynolds inquired before yielding the remainder of her time to Kamau Afrika, a critic of UAB’s minority contracts practices.

“We must not have a continuation of ‘Uncle Tom’ politics as we had with your predecessors,” objected Afrika to councilors. “That’s why we put you in office.” Afrika continued: “The Summit had $12 million in land preparation but no minority participation at all. You had Mexicans doing the work.” Afrika repeated that it is wrong for UAB to hire “illegal aliens from Mexico and Central America” instead of local black residents. &


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. &