Tag Archives: Birmingham Alabama

Shelter from the Storm — The Greater Birmingham Humane Society

Shelter from the Storm

The Greater Birmingham Humane Society has a new state-of-the-art facility, but old problems—such as pet over-population and irresponsible pet owners—remain.


April 21, 2005Photographs by Mark Gooch

Buddy is a lab mixed breed awaiting adoption. (click for larger version)


“I hope somebody loves you as much as you ought to be loved,” the woman cooed sweetly as she and her husband surrendered a box of puppies to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society. Like so many others who bring animals to this shelter, they had an explanation: Their male mixed lab had gotten into the fenced area where their female purebred Husky was kept. Pointing to one black pup, the husband said, “He’s going to make somebody a beautiful dog; I’d love to keep them if they stayed this size.”

The litter was the fifth delivered to the shelter in two days. The couple promised the clinic worker who was receiving the puppies that their male dog would be neutered. As a clinic technician named Tonya took the puppies to the isolation room for medical procedures and observation, she gloomily predicted that the onset of spring and summer will drastically increase the number of puppies and kittens brought to the shelter.

The Greater Birmingham Humane Society has existed in one form or another since 1883. Originally known as the Birmingham Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Animals, it was the first such facility in the South and the 12th humane society founded in the United States. In 1926 it relocated near the state fairgrounds on Lomb Avenue. Some 50 years later, it moved to another building in the same vicinity. In November 2004, GBHS’s years of fundraising happily resulted in the construction of a state-of-the-art shelter on Snow Drive in the West Oxmoor area. The new facility is considered one of the finest in the United States.

There were 27,000 animals surrendered to the GBHS in 1977, with 20 percent of those adopted out and the others euthanized. The number of animals turned in during 2004 totaled 10,321. Of those, 8,186 were euthanized, while 2,057 were placed in homes. Adoptions, however, are up nearly 20 percent since the move to the new facility. “That’s the result of educating the public,” says GBHS public relations director Melissa Hull. “It’s all about education. If the pet owners are educated, we don’t have to be here . . . People don’t get it. They show up saying, ‘We’re bringing you a donation,’ but instead of money, it’s a dozen black lab, mixed-breed puppies.”

Dr. Miguel Cruden worked at the GBHS shelter while attending veterinarian school. Currently living in Virginia, he flies to Birmingham twice monthly to perform spay and neutering at GBHS. (click for larger version)


According to Jacque Meyer, a transplanted New Yorker who took over as executive director of GBHS seven years ago, black dogs are the most common at the shelter. A head count indicated 22 black adult canines and 20 others of varying combinations of browns, whites, tans, and grays. “It’s harder to find homes for black dogs. People seem scared of them. It’s a stupid perception,” says Meyer. The reluctance to adopt black dogs means that their color makes them a liability. There is only so much space available, and that has to go to the more adoptable dogs. Dogs weighing less than 20 pounds are the easiest to find homes for. Terrier (usually pit bull) and shepherd mixed breeds are difficult to adopt out because they often end up with prospective owners who are simply interested in transforming their pet into a vicious trophy animal. GBHS adoption counselors try to avoid such scenarios when screening prospective owners. “We don’t strive to be a pet store,” says one adoption counselor. “We’re not looking to send them out the door with just anybody.”

The Greater Birmingham Humane Society receives no government funding. It depends on donations, including funds raised by the annual Do Dah Day festivities each spring. The shelter only takes in animals that have owners; strays go to Birmingham-Jefferson County Animal Control. On any given Saturday, the busiest day of the week, as many as 120 animals may be brought to the shelter. Receiving Supervisor Ann Haden, who has worked at GBHS for seven years, is the first person to see the surrendered animal. She has the toughest job because she has to deal with the public more than anyone else at the facility, but Haden is not shy about being direct with irresponsible pet owners. “It’s never an animal issue. It’s always a human issue,” she says. “An animal is not a lawn ornament. It is not an alarm system.”


Dr. Miguel Cruden worked at the GBHS shelter while attending veterinarian school. Currently living in Virginia, he flies to Birmingham twice monthly to perform spay and neutering at GBHS. (click for larger version)


A dog named Ruby was brought in earlier that day. Her friendly demeanor was replaced by a menacing growl after she was placed in the isolation kennels. After going through medical procedures and observation for 24 hours, Ruby will face a temperament test. “It depends on how well she adjusts and how much space we’ve got,” Haden explained about Ruby’s chances of survival. Space is a valued commodity at GBHS. Not all dogs can adjust to kennel life while waiting for adoption, which means they’re not likely to be adopted.

The new GBHS facility is designed to keep both kennel stress and the spread of disease to a minimum. Only staff members are allowed into the actual kennel areas for direct contact with the dogs and cats. Glass partitions allow the public to see all animals available for adoption without getting the animal overly excited. Spay and neutering surgeries can be observed through glass windows for educational purposes. A washing machine and dryers whir in the clinic area of the facility, keeping stacks of blankets and freshly washed stuffed animals available for new arrivals. Cages are constantly being cleaned. Dogs are walked daily. Two vets currently perform spaying and neutering procedures. Dr. Miguel Cruden, who worked at the Lomb Avenue location while in school, flies down from Virginia twice a month. Dr. Vaughn Walker, a local veterinarian who makes house calls, comes in two days a week.


According to Greater Birmingham Humane Society employees, potential cat owners are less picky than those who adopt dogs. (click for larger version)

Marty Patock, clinic supervisor, is about to begin a series of temperament tests. If an animal reacts with aggression, it is euthanized. Once it is placed on the adoption floor—GBHS tries to put dogs on the floor within three days of surrender—the animal will stay there until it is adopted or shows signs of kennel stress. Ruby is the first dog tested. She quickly tries to bite Patock when he pinches between her toes, one of the primary test procedures. The aggressive behavior leaves Patock with no option other than to mark an “X” on the placard on Ruby’s kennel pen to indicate that she will be put to sleep. (Each dog has a card that gives the name, age, reason for surrender, and various personality characteristics.)

Ruby is led from her kennel to the euthanasia room after several mange-infested puppies have been put down. As many as 100 animals may be euthanized in a week, with up to 60 sometimes put to sleep on Saturdays during the summer when large numbers are surrendered. “It’s hard on the staff. Some days we never leave the euthanasia room,” says Patock. “It’s often because of lack of space, and that’s the worst reason to do it.” Ruby is surprisingly friendly for a dog that growls menacingly at all who come near her cage. “A terrible waste,” says Patock as he injects sodium pentobarbital into a vein in Ruby’s leg. The dog is unconscious within 10 seconds. A minute later, Patock confirms with a stethoscope that her heart has stopped beating. “It enables an animal to leave this word in a responsible way,” he says as he shakes his head. &

The Greater Birmingham Humane Society is located at 300 Snow Drive. The shelter is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 4:30 p.m. GBHS adoption centers are located at Pet Supplies Plus, (1928 Highway 31 South) Southgate Village, and Pet Supplies Plus (4606 Highway 280, near Super Target). Adoption costs for dogs and cats are $75 for any spayed or neutered pet, and $65 for any unaltered pet, plus a refundable $65 spay/neuter deposit. For more information, call 205-780-7281 or visit www.gbhs.org.

City Hall — Car Wash Controversies


By Ed Reynolds

April 21, 2005

It was the most exciting City Hall drama since former councilor Sandra Little told Mayor Bernard Kincaid that he was “a little man.” In an appallingly self-righteous sermon to the Council, Reverend Steve Green of More Than Conquerors Faith Church alluded to some members of the Council as “wicked rulers.” To hear Green tell it, apparently Satan had arrived at the April 5 Birmingham City Council meeting in the guise of a car wash; the business owner was seeking a permanent address in a commercial area of town where it would purportedly be a threat to services at Reverend Green’s church. Although the majority of the City Council recently approved a $600,000 study to determine if there is a disparity regarding minorities and city contracts, when Jimmie Johnson, a young black entrepreneur, secured a million dollar line of credit to open a Splash-N-Go car wash on Dennison Avenue, the council sided with Reverend Green.

“We believe that a car wash next to a church . . . is as incompatible as gasoline and fuel,” said the obviously confused pastor. Green urged the Council not to revert to the past. “We won’t repeat the things that we have seen in time past in Birmingham, that you won’t take out the hoses, as it were, and begin to put out the fire of the inspiration of this community, as we’re on fire for making West End a better place.” The pastor made a bold prediction: “West End will one day look like Shelby County and (Highway) 280.”

Former County Commissioner Reverend Steve Small spoke out against the car wash as he commended the Council’s record of protecting communities. “(The car wash) will bring an element of criminal activity to our community,” said Small. “We will have all kinds of loud noise and profanity.” Noting that neighborhood residents need to be able to sleep at night, Small added, “They don’t need to hear ‘your mother this’ and ‘F’ that’ all night long! They don’t need to hear it on Sunday mornings either!”

—City Councilor Bert Miller Councilor Valerie Abbott was not so much focused on the church’s congregation as she was on residents in a “very nice residential subdivision” behind the prospective car wash property. “The problem with car washes is they cause a lot of noise pollution,” said Abbott. “People turn their stereos up while they’re working on their cars.” Councilor Montgomery questioned why drive-thru restaurants, where people play boom boxes, are permitted but car washes are not. “I don’t understand how you can create more crime with a car wash than you could with a drive-thru restaurant, a laundromat, (or) a dental office, especially since it probably stores pharmaceutical drugs,” said Montgomery. The car wash would be unmanned but will have 16 cameras operating around the clock. Critics contend that another car wash is not needed since there is presently one on 6th Avenue and another on Green Springs Highway, both within a few miles of the church.Councilor Roderick Royal noted the irony of the Council’s usual insistence on acting business-friendly, but now refusing “a minority who has secured a million dollar loan.” Council President Lee Loder, a reverend himself, is torn. “This is hard because a brother wants to start a business, and that’s good,” said Loder.

“But this is not the best area to try to start in because if we’re gonna try to preserve good neighborhoods, we’re gonna have to be more restrictive.”Councilor Bert Miller was similarly perplexed. “This is a tough decision. Pastor Green is a friend of mine,” admitted Miller. “As a black man in this city, I know the history of our city . . . We’ve been denied the opportunity for so long to enhance ourselves and our city.” Regarding threats of increased criminal activity when car washes are present, Miller, who noted that there are pollen-covered cars all over town, added, “There’s crime in the White House, there’s crime everywhere . . . How can we as a race of people who have been hosed, who have been the victim of churches blown up because of the color of our skin, turn this down?” Miller said that black men die everyday because of lack of opportunity, urging, “Let’s give the brother a chance.” In search of common ground between the embattled factions, Miller asked, “Can we name this More Than Conquerors Splash-N-Go Car Wash?” Pastor Steve Green replied yes, as long as the church gets “40 percent of the proceeds.”Telling the Council that he has been in prayer over the car wash, Pastor Green launched into his sermon. “Pilate had some tough decisions one time, too. And sometimes we can do things that can cause blood to be upon our hands . . . I don’t come before this Council much. I do not abuse spiritual authority, but I’m speaking from a whole other platform. That’s why I say wisdom builds a house. Wisdom builds real insight,” Green preached. “We all know what goes on at car washes. We’ve made movies about car washes. Sometimes it can be an ethnic thing, it can be a racial thing. Let’s not put our heads in the sand. Let’s be for real. We know what the real deal in the community [is] and I’m saying we selected you guys [councilors] to stand in the gap. We appreciate business, we appreciate revenues. But the Bible says when the righteous are in authority—and I believe that we’ve got the right ones in authority—the people rejoice. But when wicked rulers bear rule, then the people mourn. It sounds like to me that the people are mourning. It might be an indication that we’ve got the wrong leaders.” Councilor Roderick Royal was furious. “I don’t think there’s a soul in this world that can claim anything better than any other soul,” said the councilor. “I am a born-again Christian and I resent the remark you just made.” Tossing a final barb, Royal added, “Jesus called the pharisees snakes and vipers.” Councilors Loder, Reynolds, Abbott, Sykes, and Smitherman (a More Than Conquerors member) all voted on the side of the viper. The debate took 90 minutes.

Smoking Ban Approved

The City Council voted unanimously April 5 to enact a smoking ban beginning June 1 in most public places, including restaurants. Exceptions include bars, hotel and motel rooms designated as “smoking,” professional offices, private clubs, retail tobacco shops, and workplaces that are outdoors.Councilor Elias Hendricks agreed with earlier comments by Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid that as the major city in this area, Birmingham should lead the effort. But Hendricks is unhappy that the ban will not be implemented all over Jefferson and Shelby counties, and Councilor Valerie Abbott agreed. Abbott pointed out that war veterans clubs have been deeply concerned. “Since our armed forces have encouraged people to smoke and now they’re addicted, [veterans clubs] have called and said that they want their members to be able to continue to smoke,” Abbott said. She also questioned the unfairness of restaurants not allowing smoking in their bars while bars without restaurants can continue to permit smoking.

Councilor Carol Reynolds remained worried about more government intrusion. “Some things that really disturb me are another layer of government bureaucracy in our lives,” said the councilor. Reynolds complained that Birmingham police have more important things to do than patrol restaurants for smokers. She warned that government bans on fatty foods to combat obesity night be next.”There’s a flip side to everything,” said Councilor Bert Miller, who supports the ban. “We talk about the economic impact. Can we stop for one minute and think about our health? I don’t want my chicken tasting like smoke. I don’t want my fish tasting like smoke.” Miller added that he “just got through with a serious heart condition. I don’t want to smell smoke, no way. I don’t want to look at steam! I’m just that cautious.”Councilor Joel Montgomery balked at the smoking ban because he does not want to place the city at an economic disadvantage. Montgomery said, “Alcohol and tobacco are both tied at the hip. There’s no question about that. I’ve done my own research over the weekend. Alcohol sales in restaurants make up as much as 20, 30, and 40 percent of the gross receipts of restaurants in this city.” He also expressed concerned that Waffle Houses will move out of the city because 80 percent of their clientele smoke, according to the councilor. A remark the previous week by Mayor Kincaid (that a smoker’s freedom ends where Kincaid’s nose begins) continued to bother the councilor. “That’s why we have freedom of choice in this country, folks, so you can check your nose at the front door of that restaurant if you don’t want to walk in there,” said Montgomery.

“I will not be a party to the economic devastation of the retail restaurants in this city. This needs to be a statewide ban.” He finally agreed to the ordinance after an amendment was added to lobby the Jefferson County Commission and to ask Kincaid to lobby the county Mayors Association to get onboard with the ban. Though Montgomery wanted the ordinance to be contingent on the county being included, Council President Lee Loder refused, but did allow Montgomery’s amendment to be included as a “formal request.” At Montgomery’s insistence, Loder also allowed an amendment requesting that the American Cancer Society lobby the County Commission as strongly as the organization lobbied the City Council.

City Hall — Highland Park Neighborhood Politics




April 07, 2005They may add up to nothing more than small community squabbling, but Highland Park Neighborhood politics are not for the squeamish. The six-month soap opera known as the Highland Neighborhood election is rich with intrigue. There are allegations of stolen campaign signs, the disappearance of neighborhood meeting sign-in sheets, and the disqualification of a write-in candidate because the city would not accept affidavits confirming his neighborhood meeting attendance.

On October 26, Alison Glascock was the winner of the Highland Park Neighborhood election after winning 411 votes from petition ballots and 99 votes at the poll. [When a candidate for neighborhood office has no opposition, that candidate can circulate (usually by hand) a sheet of paper collecting the signatures of those who support that candidate's election to office.] Her opponent, Doug Blank, owner of Highland Avenue’s high-profile rental venue the Donnelly House, received 100 votes at the poll as a write-in candidate. However, Blank called the results a “sham” and protested the election stating that the city had no representative at the poll (a fact disputed by Jaquelyn Hardy, Birmingham’s principal community resource representative). There were also complaints that Vickie Barnes, outgoing Highland Park Neighborhood secretary, was working the poll.

In a recent interview, Glascock said that petition ballots were employed when she ran unopposed in 2000 and 2002. “I went out and got quite a number of petition votes because I have previous dealings with Mr. Blank, and I didn’t know what he was likely to get up to at the polls,” Glascock explained. She said that she did not know that Blank would be a factor in the race four weeks before the first election when she gathered the petition signatures (Blank and Glascock have reportedly been at odds over the Donnelly House in the past).

There are allegations of stolen campaign signs, the disappearance of neighborhood meeting sign-in sheets, and the disqualification of a write-in candidate . . .

Dewayne Albright, who ran as a write-in candidate for vice-president of the neighborhood, reported Glascock to the police after he said he spotted her taking down Doug Blank’s campaign signs along Highland Avenue. Albright said that only Highland Neighborhood election signs were removed and that others were left intact. The initial police report says that Glascock took 150 campaign signs. Glascock disputes this. “The only thing that (Albright) got right on the police report is my name and tag number,” she said. Glascock readily admitted to removing 15 signs from the right-of-way on Highland Avenue, but she argued that she has always removed signs from right-of-ways until learning after the incident that political, religious, and labor-use signs are allowed. The police report made after Birmingham police went to Glascock’s home indicates the 15 signs that were discovered in her possession.

Much to the shock and dismay of Glascock, the Birmingham City Council heard complaints regarding the October neighborhood election on December 21 and voted to have it conducted again. “I would have strong objection to being inclined to break the rules that everybody else has to go by,” said Glascock of recalling the election. “This whole issue has been, right from the very beginning, that somehow I’m supposed to be governed by a whole different set of rules from anybody else. And if I hadn’t been, none of this re-do would have happened.” To her further surprise, Doug Blank was not to be her opponent. Instead it was Bob McKenna, a local counselor in clinical psychology. “I believe the intent of the Council was really just to let Doug and I go have a chance at it again together,” said Glascock. She insists that Blank’s supporters thought that McKenna had a better chance of beating her than Blank did. Doug Blank said that personal issues made him change his mind about running again.

The City Council delayed the election matter for two months. Then a resolution from Councilor Carol Reynolds was put on the Council’s March 8 meeting agenda “certifying the qualifications of Alison Glascock and Robert McKenna as candidates for the office of neighborhood president for Highland Park Neighborhood.” The resolution rescheduled the second election for April 19 until a terse memo two days before the council meeting from Mayor Bernard Kincaid to Reynolds, which was copied to the entire Council, City Attorney Tamara Johnson, and Jim Fenstermaker of Community Development, persuaded Reynolds to pull the item off the agenda. The Mayor’s memo had “HIGH PRIORITY” in bold letters at the top and read in part: “I read this item with utter disbelief!! Although the text of the “Resolution” was not included in my Council Package, I respectfully request that this item be withdrawn. My reasons for this request are as follows: 1) First, and foremost, the act of “certifying the qualifications” of candidates for neighborhood elections is purely an administrative matter—not a legislative one; hence, it is a matter under the province of the Mayor and Administrative Staff exclusively; 2) What you are suggesting in your proposed Resolution would be counter to the way we have conducted the other 98 elections for neighborhood officers to date for this cycle’s elections . . .” Glascock was appalled that Reynolds didn’t tell Councilor Valerie Abbott, in whose district Highland Park lies, about the resolution. “Interfering with somebody else’s neighborhood,” was Glascock’s assessment of Reynolds’ action.

Kincaid’s objection apparently concerned Bob McKenna’s method of inclusion on the ballot. McKenna, who said he received an e-mail from the Mayor indicating there would be a problem, had been told by Community Development that he had not attended enough neighborhood meetings to be a candidate. Rules require at least four attendances in the past 12 months. McKenna insisted that he had attended five meetings and gathered 15 affidavits within 24 hours affirming his presence after Community Development chief Jim Fenstermaker informed him there was not enough time to get the affidavits before the second election deadline. According to McKenna, Fenstermaker then told the candidate the issue would have to be decided by either the Mayor’s office or the City Council. McKenna met with Robbie Priest of the Mayor’s office, but no action was taken. The issue then went to the Council.



Several Highland residents have expressed concern about petition votes because verification can be difficult. A petition ballot includes the name of the person for whom the signee is casting a vote. In this case, a signature represents a vote for neighborhood president, vice-president, and secretary, all of which were unopposed positions. Regardless, collecting petition signatures is within the rules of the Citizens Participation guidelines for neighborhood elections. Alison Glascock said that 300 of the petition votes she received in the first election were collected by hand (The petition ballot for the October 26 election included president, vice-president, and secretary of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association, since all three ran unopposed). Glascock said that Highland vice-president Terry Gunnell gave a petition ballot to a UAB graduate student who took the petition to her residence and collected approximately 25 signatures. Glascock added that another was placed in the Sheraton Apartments (which is key-access only, according to Glascock) next to the elevator by either a manager or resident. She said that she asked no one to put the petition in that spot, where she received about 30 votes. Regarding the complaint that anyone could sign that petition, Glascock said that the Sheraton manager checked the names and unit numbers to certify that all on the list lived at the Sheraton.

Regarding McKenna’s claim that he signed five meeting sign-in sheets though apparently some were lost, Glascock, who collects the sheets after each meeting, admitted that the July meeting sign-in sheets were misplaced. (McKenna does not maintain that he was at to the July meeting.) McKenna said that there had been three sign-in sheets circulating at the neighborhood meetings he attended where his signatures were not found, but Glascock said there are only two at each meeting. “She lost all of July,” McKenna told Jim Fenstermaker. “Why is it such a stretch that she may have misplaced the other sheets?” McKenna also complained that the sheets were not being turned in monthly. Glascock explained, “I’m supposed to turn in sign-in sheets every month, but I usually turn in several at a time.” As to McKenna’s insistence that he had been at five meetings, Glascock responded, “I will swear on the Bible and take a lie detector test, he was not at the three meetings that he claims he was and that his ‘little buddies’ have signed statements to say that he was at.”

Another complaint was that Glascock’s husband, Charles Glascock, had been a poll watcher. Though his position obviously represents a conflict of interest, it is within neighborhood election guidelines for him to serve in that capacity. As to complaints that her husband helped to count votes, Glascock admitted that her husband did just that. She said a poll worker needed help since another poll worker, the current neighborhood secretary who has worked with Glascock, was forced to leave when voters protested that they felt intimidated by her presence. Glascock said an independent observer was present, so the process was open for the public to observe. Glascock said that if she had been trying to rig the polls, she and her husband didn’t do a very good job, as Blank got one more vote than she did.

The final tally for the second election was 290 votes for Alison Glascock (poll votes) and 92 write-in votes for Doug Blank. The City Council certified the election at the March 22 council meeting. &

City Hall — Hearing On Public Smoking




March 24, 2005

On March 16, the public safety committee of the Birmingham City Council held a public hearing on a controversial proposal to ban smoking in all public buildings in the city. Nearly 20 residents and local business owners addressed the committee, chaired by Councilor Joel Montgomery, with roughly half the speakers in favor and half against the proposal.

The smoking ban proposal has been before the public safety committee twice previously. Loretta Herring, day-care director of Bethel Baptist Church, told the committee that she was tired of the delay and demanded that the proposal be moved out of committee to the City Council. “[The public safety committee] is just going around like a dog chasing its tail . . . cancer is so devastating . . . I was a smoker, and it’s hard for people who have been smokers to understand how devastating this dangerous disease is.” Councilor Roderick Royal, who sits on the committee, disagreed with Herring’s assessment that the committee was using delaying tactics. He explained that the law department has been studying the smoking ban proposal at the committee’s request to find a workable ordinance that is in compliance with state law. “So it’s not true that [we're] like a dog chasing its tail,” said the councilor.


Royal, noting that he has a daughter with asthma, said that he is a cancer survivor and had no reason to delay the ordinance. “I have every reason to support a total smoking ban. But I’m not here as an individual,” said the councilor. “I’m here as a representative of the citizens of Birmingham. Some are smokers, and some are not. So I have to lay aside my personal feelings about smoking. I do not smoke, and I never have smoked, except for the time when I was in the Persian Gulf, trying to figure out whether or not I was going to get captured by the Republican Guard in the first [Gulf] war.”

Local attorney Lenora Pate, who sits on the board of the American Cancer Society, said that data and research studies show that business, sales, and revenues from bars and the hospitality industry have increased when smoking is banned indoors. “It is absolutely imperative for the workers of the next generation who work in the service industry in this city,” said Pate. “They are the ones who are vulnerably at risk for the carcinogens. More importantly, many of these are women, and the latest studies show that it is correlated with breast cancer.” As a board member, Pate met with the city law department regarding the ban. The American Cancer Society favors banning smoking in all indoor public places.

“Most of the businesses that undertake this actually have an increase in their business,” agreed Dr. Max Michael, dean of the UAB School of Public Health. “The other perspective is that we immunize our children even though our children probably don’t want to be immunized; we require ourselves to wear seatbelts; we try not to allow people to be on the streets driving drunk. These are all things we do to protect the individual and to protect the public’s health.” Local attorney Barry Marks said that “smoking in public is bad for Birmingham’s business and Birmingham’s image . . . It does not put Birmingham in a good light.” Marks noted that restaurants lose customers due to “secondhand smoke hangovers,” and added that his wife had undergone several surgical procedures as a result of “secondhand smoke.”

Henry “Bubba” Hines, owner of Bubba’s Pub, was not happy with the proposed ban: “This is not a smoker’s rights, this is a business’s right to pick and choose how he wants to do his business with legal activities . . . Let the customers decide what goes on in these bars. Let us decide, because our customers will choose if we’re going to stay in business or not stay in business.” T.C. Cannon, a former mayoral candidate and long-time owner of TC’s bar in the Lakeview district, also opposes the ban. “It is opening a big can of worms if you pass this ordinance,” said Cannon. “The American Cancer Society does great work. Their research and development have saved many lives. However, there are many carcinogenic agents, businesses, etc., that are allowed to exist . . . To restrict this to Birmingham is a definitely a grave injustice to the business owners in this city.”

David Ricker, chairman of the Freedom to Choose Committee, said, “We do not need more government control of our personal choices. I’m amazed that some politicians feel that they should treat individual citizens and business owners as infantile babies.” Ricker said that other municipalities with less stringent restrictions will draw business from Birmingham. Irene Johnson, a South Town resident, irately opposed the no-smoking ordinance. “I am opposed to this ban. I do not smoke . . . I have the choice to walk out if I go to a restaurant where there’s smoking . . . After a while you’re going to put a law on people sneezing in public because it spreads viruses! Those smokers pay taxes. It’s a disgrace they have to stand outside in the rain, smoking.”

Lawrence Fidel, president of the Alabama Restaurant Association, said that his group opposes the ordinance. “We’ve always been opposed to local smoking bans because it just seems to drive business from one sector to another. I’m not going to say that there are maybe some nonsmokers who might be attracted to come to a restaurant, but it doesn’t offset the loss of smoker business in our research and studies.” Fidel added that his organization is working with State Senator Vivian Figures, who introduced the statewide Clean Indoor Act a couple of years ago. “We are going to support legislation to ban smoking statewide in restaurants,” said Fidel. He explained that this would level the playing field by banning smoking in all bars, restaurants, private clubs, and even outdoor smoking areas adjacent to restaurants. He added that bars that function as restaurants early in the evening before becoming late night entertainment bars will “suffer greatly” because patrons will go to bars that are not declared restaurants.

“Clean air is important to me. Health is important to me,” surmised Councilor Joel Montgomery. “I do believe that people have choices in life. I do believe that business owners have rights as well.” Montgomery recommended a compromise which would exclude bars and lounges from the smoking ban. The public safety committee, with the law department’s blessing, approved the anti-smoking ordinance with the amendment. The City Council will vote on the amended smoking ban at the March 29 council meeting.

After the meeting, Montgomery said: “This is the best thing that I can come up with. And I’m still not so sure that the city is not going to end up with some type of litigation.” The councilor said he has been concerned that businesses will move to surrounding municipalities should the ban pass, and he disputes numbers that indicate an increase in business when smoking is prohibited. “Even in New York City you’ve seen a drop in business as much as 30, 40, or 50 percent. Most of it is in restaurants that have bars and lounges as part of their establishment. You can make a case for it either way . . . It is a health issue, but it is also a freedom of choice issue and a civil liberties issue, and we just have to balance it out, and it’s a tough thing to do.” In closing, Montgomery issued a caution as ominous as the surgeon general’s warning on a pack of cigarettes. “I believe that people who are proponents of this smoking ban want a prohibition on tobacco, period. From there, what’s next? I don’t think you’ve heard the last of this.” &

City Hall — Kincaid Weighs in on “No Pass, No Play” Policy




January 27, 2005 

Last fall the Birmingham Board of Education temporarily dropped its controversial “no pass, no play” policy that denies students the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities if they fail to maintain at least a 70 grade average in each class. Area coaches had vehemently protested the policy, with criticism focusing on the lack of such restrictions in other state education systems. The Alabama High School Athletic Association has a less severe requirement that requires students to maintain a grade average of 70 in four core courses and two electives.

Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid is dubious about the policy’s reinstatement on the recommendation of Birmingham School Superintendent Dr. Wayman Shiver “unless and until, in my mind, [Shiver] can show some increase in academic performance with the institution of [the policy].” Kincaid pointed out that other school systems do not employ such constraints. “All around us we have Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, and Hoover rated in the top five school systems in the state, [and they] don’t have that restriction,” said Kincaid. “Now [Shiver] might say we need that, we might need a performance enhancer for our athletes that they [other school systems] don’t necessarily need. But he has, in my mind, not made that linkage. He just wants to do it because it’s more restrictive.”


Kincaid added that the Birmingham school system is already losing students to other systems. “We’re fighting like the dickens to keep them from gravitating to Mountain Brook, Vestavia, Homewood, and Hoover,” said Kincaid. “I haven’t seen the value of [Shiver's] argument yet. He might have some reasons that have not been put on the table yet, but the reasons that are on the table just don’t satisfy me yet.”

A vote by the school board approving the policy’s reinstatement was postponed at the January 11 meeting of the board, with board members complaining that a return to the policy after the 2004 football season had finished would be unfair to students participating in winter and spring activities, which include not only athletics but band and chorale participation as well. Kincaid doubts that the policy will return. “I wish [Shiver] luck in an election year,” said the Mayor. “I think enough parents out there will raise enough cain in the individual districts that the board members are just not going to go along with it.” &

City Hall — Once again, confusion reigns at City Hall

January 13, 2005

Once again, confusion reigns at City Hall. In a four-to-four vote on January 4, the Birmingham City Council failed to reappoint Fultondale Mayor Jim Lowery to the Birmingham Water Works Board. [Councilor Carol Reynolds, a 17-year employee of the Water Works, recused herself.] Lowery’s six-year term ended in November 2004. He was renominated by Councilor Bert Miller, with Councilors Joel Montgomery, Carole Smitherman, and Roderick Royal also voting to reinstate him. Lowery is the only non-Birmingham resident on the Water Works Board.The controversy surrounding the vote concerns whether the city council is obligated to appoint to the board at least one member who resides outside Birmingham. In the interest of ratepayers outside of Birmingham, the council has made a non-residential appointment for the past 25 years. The Birmingham Water Works currently serves Jefferson, Blount, Shelby, St. Clair, and Walker counties. Council President Lee Loder said that the council will determine at a later date what the policy is regarding automatic appointment of a non-Birmingham resident. Until that policy decision is made and advertised as such, Lowery will remain in place. Besides Lowery, four others, all Birmingham residents, sent resumés to City Hall seeking the vacancy. None of the applicants were granted an interview, which Councilor Joel Montgomery later blamed on Council President Lee Loder’s ineptitude. Montgomery also inferred that the attempt to delay the appointment was an effort to manipulate the appointment process to have someone other than Lowery appointed. The councilor added that he had withdrawn his nominee because the candidate’s name was submitted after the deadline. Loder argued that a press release was issued in November 2004 advertising the vacancy, which was also publicized in local daily newspapers.Bob Friedman of the Petitioners Alliance, an activist organization that has fought to have the Water Works’ assets returned to the city of Birmingham, addressed the council at the January 4 meeting. “Most of the four applicants informed us that they learned about the vacancy through the Internet or by word of mouth. It is our understanding that although all four of the Birmingham candidates submitted applications and resumés to the city council, and specifically to the administration committee, none of the four were ever contacted with confirmation of receipt of their application or for an interview.” Friedman added: “It is insulting and hurtful to offer a position to folks when you have already made up your mind about the outcome.”He requested that the appointment process be sent back to the council’s administration committee so that the position can be thoroughly publicized and interviews granted. Friedman added, “Mr. Lowery is not an acceptable choice. He has earned that verdict from his past service where he voted against the initiative and referendum rights of the citizens of Birmingham [a process whereby a vote is put to the public if at least 10 percent of registered voters sign a petition urging the action] and against the economic interests of the city of Birmingham.” Friedman reminded councilors that 2005 is an election year, and six councilors were voted from office four years ago “because of their apparent lack of concern for the voters.” He added that some on the current council pledged to not vote to reinstate Water Works Board members who actively worked against the interests of the citizens of Birmingham.”If we have a policy that has been in place for 25 years, we should follow it,” said Councilor Valerie Abbott. “My only problem is that we did not announce the vacancy was for an ‘outside of Birmingham’ person.” Abbott, who defeated Bob Friedman for the District Three council seat, agrees with Friedman on initiatives and referendum. “The board that was in place when we took office three years ago went to court to take away Birmingham’s citizens rights to initiatives and referendum,” said Abbott. “I don’t think that was right, and I am not inclined to vote to reappoint someone who voted to do that to our citizens.” Abbott suggested that any appointment be delayed until an announcement is made that a vacancy is available for someone outside of the city, or until the Mayor’s Association announces that it had already endorsed Lowery.Councilor Roderick Royal noted, “The council has been appointing someone who lives outside of Birmingham but is served by the Water Works for at least 25 years now. I think that is good policy; I think we should continue to follow that policy. The argument that Birmingham is not well-represented falls on its face because the other four members [on the board] are residents of Birmingham.” Royal said he would support anyone qualified. “In the final analysis we just want the best people serving on our boards . . . It’s just unfortunate that every time we get to a point that something is halfway hot and political, and then we want to weasel out. Stand up and be a man, stand up and be a woman . . . stop being a weasel, stop being a weakling, you know, a girly man, as Schwarzenegger said.” &


City Hall — Hey Big Spender




November 18, 2004On November 9, the Birmingham City Council approved the hiring of Henry Sciortino as the city’s financial advisor. Sciortino, the former president and CEO of Fairmount Capital Advisors, Inc., which had advised the city for the past three years, left Fairmount this past summer after a falling out with company chairman Rodney Johnson. According to a November 7 Birmingham News article, Pennsylvania court records indicate that Sciortino filed a civil lawsuit against Fairmount and Johnson on August 3, 2004. The article stated that “Johnson filed a memorandum in opposition to the complaint,” including accusations that Sciortino was involved in “mishandling more than $500,000.” In a press conference after the council meeting, Mayor Bernard Kincaid, who believed Sciortino was not fairly represented in the story, decried the article as “the yellowest form of journalism that I can ever imagine.”

At the November 9 meeting, the council voted to rescind a resolution it had approved on August 3, which contracted with Fairmount for $240,000 as financial advisors. Councilor Joel Montgomery voted “no” each time. Then the council voted on a resolution to contract with Sciortino’s present company, Triad Capital Advisors, Inc. (for $146,666), but the resolution failed due to only three “yes” votes from the seven councilors present. [Councilors Lee Loder, Valerie Abbott, and Elias Hendricks voted "yes." Councilors Carol Reynolds and Joel Montgomery voted "no," while Councilors Carole Smitherman and Gwen Sykes abstained. It takes four votes to approve an item when only seven councilors are present.]


Councilor Abbott first questioned the Birmingham News piece during the meeting. “We certainly all saw the newspaper article, and it did raise a number of questions in all of our minds,” she said. “But we do have a contract that allows us to terminate if anything is discovered that causes us greater concerns.” She continued: “Until the lawsuit is resolved, we don’t know who’s right. And if we turn this down today we will be making a judgement on who is correct, and to me that would not be fair.” Abbott added that, in her opinion, “although interesting, [the article] did not include the entire story.”

“The most compelling argument for this is that there is a time constraint on this,” said Councilor Hendricks. “And at this point we do not need to be without a financial advisor. The financial advisor and the recommendation for a financial advisor is wholly in the purview of the financial department and the mayor. They’re the ones who use them; they’re the ones who have to be responsible for what they do.”

After the initial vote, Council President Loder appeared confused and refused to declare that the vote had failed until he could receive clarification that three votes were not a majority in this situation. He said he also wanted to give councilors the opportunity to reconsider their vote. Half an hour later, Loder called for the vote again, explaining that he now understood that a majority of four was needed when only seven councilors are present. By this time, Councilor Sykes had convened with Mayor Kincaid and Councilor Hendricks and switched her “abstain” vote to a “yes” vote.

Councilor Montgomery became livid. He told Loder that the first vote should have stood, but Loder replied that a councilor could change his or her vote at any time prior to declaration of the vote. [Loder has the option of declaring the vote, but the council can put up a motion demanding that he declare the vote.] Montgomery argued that reconsideration of a vote is the only way to ask for a vote again once a roll call vote has been taken. [Reconsideration can only be requested by the prevailing side, but there was no prevailing side on the first vote due to no clear majority.] Loder overruled Montgomery and let the second vote stand. Loder explained, that according to Roberts Rules of Order, the parliamentary procedure used by the council, Loder is authorized to retake a vote if he feels that the vote is “not clear or unrepresentative.” Loder added, “My job is to accurately reflect the will of this body. . . . I am satisfied at this time that the vote taken accurately reflects the will of this body.” Storming through the hall outside the council chambers after the meeting, Montgomery vowed to contact the district attorney that afternoon.

In an interview, Montgomery took issue with Loder’s explanation of his job as council president. “His job is not to reflect the will of the body. His job is to preside over that meeting,” said the councilor. “What he did was immoral. He stole $146,000 from the taxpayers of this city and nullified the representation of various districts up there by manipulating not only the Roberts Rules of Order, but also the process by which we deliberate up there!” Montgomery said Loder’s goal was to make sure he had the four votes needed to pass the item to hire Sciortino’s company. He expressed amazement that Loder didn’t know that four votes are needed when only seven councilors are present. “This man has been sitting on the council for four and a half years, and he doesn’t know that when you’ve got seven people up there that you need four votes for a majority?”

Montgomery continued his tirade: “He manipulated that vote; he kept going until he got the achieved outcome that the mayor of this city wanted. . . . What he [Loder] did was immoral and corrupt!” The councilor vented further: “You are circumventing the will of the majority of the councilors up there on that council if you continue to vote after you’ve already voted it down twice and you refuse to declare it. You have then taken over as dictator . . . He made a complete mockery of this system in order to achieve his desired outcome!” Montgomery contacted the state attorney general’s office, but was referred to the county’s district attorney’s office, which said the controversy was a civil matter.

At the November 9 press conference, Mayor Kincaid praised Sciortino. “Henry Sciortino is a very capable man. We have great chemistry, he has great skills, and I think he will do a great job for the city of Birmingham . . . What tainted this man is the yellowest form of journalism that I can ever imagine. [The story] reported what was in an answer to a lawsuit. He was the plaintiff. Seems to me that fair and balanced reporting would have [included] what he had in his rendering to the court as a plaintiff, and that would have balanced what had happened. And so the yellow journalism that you saw tainted this picture!” Kincaid continued in anger. “You also must realize that someone has a vested interest in this not going forward. There seem to be forces that have come together using our local media to try to derail this. Fortunately, the council saw through that.” &

City Hall — Animal Control Issues


October 21, 2004

City Councilor Roderick Royal was furious. Pacing outside Mayor Bernard Kincaid’s office after the October 12 Birmingham City Council meeting, Royal waved a police report detailing a recent encounter with a ferocious pit bull that occurred while the councilor walked his Springer spaniel in his Pratt City neighborhood on September 29. During the council meeting, Royal had introduced a pair of resolutions: one allowing an increase in the $20 fine for anyone whose dog chases someone; the other requiring anyone with more than three dogs to have a fenced-in yard, if state code does indeed allow such an ordinance. If not, the resolution requested that a city representative lobby the state legislature to permit the fenced-in yard law. Royal became irate after a reporter told the councilor that during the Mayor’s post-council meeting press conference, Kincaid had described Royal’s proposals as nothing more than political posturing. “I don’t appreciate him saying this is politics when I was being chased up the street. And I’ve got the police report to show it!” Royal fumed as he waited to express his anger directly to Kincaid.

Royal’s resolutions requested that the Mayor direct the law department to both amend city code to allow for the penalty increase and to submit a fenced-in yard resolution to the council. But Kincaid was not happy that Royal took that route, and during the council meeting City Attorney Tamara Johnson told the council that they should have simply sent a memo to the law department requesting that the proposed resolutions be investigated for viability. At his press conference, Kincaid explained that when the council calls for a change in ordinance, the normal procedure is to go to the law department for the drafting of a resolution rather than introducing it on the dais at the weekly council meeting. “I view it as just a political ploy,” said Kincaid. “The process was to refer it to a committee in the first place. . . . That’s why council meetings are lasting so much longer. They are being used for committee meetings and for political posturing. What you saw [today] was political posturing at its finest. . . . One year from today is the election for city council, so you’ve seen the political posturing start.”


During the council meeting, Councilor Carole Smitherman said that it was not fair to levy identical fines for small and large dogs, and suggested that fines be increased up to $500, depending on the ferociousness of the animal. Councilor Valerie Abbott agreed, focusing her criticism on pet owners. “What we really have is an irresponsible owner problem,” said Abbott. “We need to increase fines to the point that it gets the attention of irresponsible pet owners.” Instruction in elementary schools on proper pet care was one of Councilor Carol Reynolds’ solutions, while Councilor Joel Montgomery complained that Birmingham Jefferson County Animal Control is perhaps not doing its job. “Folks, we pay animal control $56,000 a month to pick these dogs up,” said Montgomery.

In an interview two days later, Royal took exception to Kincaid’s explanation of legislative procedure, complaining that it frequently takes too long to get the law department to respond to council requests. Royal argued that the Mayor doesn’t control the council’s agenda, and that councilors are free to discuss any resolution or ordinance they feel is necessary. He then explained the definition of a dangerous dog: “The [city] code says that a dog is vicious if it comes out of the owner’s yard and chases you, attacks you, or bites you.” The councilor continued: “[These days] people don’t have poodles that chase you, they have Rottweilers.” Addressing the public health advantage of a fenced-in yard, Royal explained, “It’s just to further protect the public safety. It’s more likely that you can protect the public safety by an enclosed yard than by an unenclosed yard where a dog is chained to a tree or pole. . . . If you have a female dog, and a male dog chases you, I don’t think you’d be posturing at all. In other words I wasn’t posturing when I was chased by a pit bull. Anything I bring up, [Kincaid] is against,” said Royal. “What’s the likelihood that I would be making a show out of something that would cost me a limb? So on this point, [Kincaid] is just clearly off-base,” the councilor concluded. Royal agreed with Councilor Montgomery that the current animal control vendor may not be up to the task. “The city may need to look at other providers, because $56,000 a month is a heck of a lot of money.”

Rhetorical Flourish

Rhetorical Flourish

All of the Birmingham mayoral candidates want to be mayor, but few can articulate why you should vote for them.

Seventeen candidates are currently challenging Mayor Bernard Kincaid in his bid for re-election on October 14. Armed with know-it-all opinions, silly catchphrases, and a handful of facts and figures, the troupe has appeared at several public mayoral debates since mid-August touting their vision and experience (or lack thereof) to lead Birmingham to the promised land of world-class education, standing-room-only mass transit, and heaven-sent domed stadiums. Attendance varies at the debate forums, which are sponsored by television stations, community activist organizations, and neighborhood groups, among others. A moderator conducts each forum, with candidates giving opening statements that focus on their vision for Birmingham’s future before fielding questions from either panelists or residents in attendance. With a few exceptions, personal attacks are kept to a minimum. Here’s a peek at twelve of the seventeen, with quotes taken from statements made at three mayoral forums: the Jefferson County Center for Economic Opportunity (JCCEO) on August 26, the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church on August 28, and Huffman High School on September 2.

William Bell
As the candidate with the most experience at City Hall, William Bell spent 22 years as a city councilor before being ousted two years ago by current councilor Elias Hendricks. Bell served approximately four months as interim mayor after long-time Mayor Richard Arrington stepped aside before his final term expired, presumably to give Bell the advantage of running as an incumbent of sorts against then-councilor Bernard Kincaid. Kincaid won in a monumental upset despite Bell’s million-dollar campaign treasure chest.

Bragging on the $1.4 billion in capital improvement projects that resulted during his years in office, and his $230 million “Bell Plan” to save Birmingham city schools, Bell laid out his strategy to improve public education: “We’re not building enough homes in our community to build up our neighborhoods. . . . That’s going to have a positive impact by creating an environment for families to move back into our neighborhoods and our communities, to build up our schools. But more importantly, rather than routing funds directly through the school system as we’re currently doing, I’m going to route those funds that the city supplies the school system through our PTA organizations.” Bell pledged to build 1,000 new homes throughout the community if elected. He also shocked those in attendance at Sixth Avenue Baptist when he pledged to get the Water Works assets, which he basically gave away while city council president, back under city control. Giving his critics from days past a figurative nudge in the ribs, Bell remarked: “I was even accused at one time of running City Hall as president of the city council. Make me your mayor. I’ll show you how to run City Hall.”

T.C. Cannon
Boasting that he currently holds the “oldest ABC license in the city,” Cannon, who currently owns TC’s bar in Lakeview was once co-owner of the original “upside-down” Plaza, which was located where the Hot and Hot Fish Club now resides. He likes to quote JFK and pledges to transform the city’s image into something more positive than that depicted by the statue of “the dog attacking the human being” in Kelly Ingram Park. Cannon says that he is the only candidate with a plan to raise money instead of merely spending it. “The greatest thing that has happened to the drug industry is cell phones,” details Cannon. “I intend to license these things and penalize you for using an electronic held device in a moving vehicle. That alone will create approximately $18.6 million per year.”

His main platform, however, is construction of a domed multi-purpose facility in the warehouse district between First Avenue North and First Avenue South. Adding that he has three college degrees and three honorable discharges from three different branches of the military, Cannon said he once ran a “black nightclub in the ’60s.” He also used to race stock cars at Birmingham International Raceway, and his noticeable limp is the result of a crash there one night.

Eugene Edelman
Don’t let his thrift store Red Skelton wardrobe fool you. Dr. Edelman is a retired schoolteacher of 38 years who is righteously pissed that he was one of hundreds of teachers who did not receive the full buy-out money they were promised (taxes were deducted, which was not part of the original plan according to school employees who took a lump sum payment for early retirement). “Tricked out of their tax money,” gripes Edelman, who sports a Thou Shalt Not Steal button on his lapel. He complains that Mayor Kincaid “cut a secret contract to make sure that [teachers] got screwed out of $10,000 a piece.”

The former university professor and middle school teacher is known as “The Bean Counter” on most local talk radio shows, but occasionally uses the alias “Robert from Shoal Creek” “because I can’t stand those people!” He derides Operation New Birmingham (ONB) as “Operation New White People,” grumbling that ONB gets money “to help more white people move into downtown Birmingham while the neighborhoods cry.”

Willis Hendrix
Willis Hendrix reminds the audience at every candidate forum that he has “five earned college degrees. . . . I don’t know of anything I haven’t done or can’t do.” He carries a copy of the Bill of Rights everywhere he goes, which is his campaign platform. Suggesting that politicians are in violation of the law when they make promises they can’t keep, he tells voters that they can send him to jail should he do the same if elected. “You don’t get anything done by making wild promises you can’t come up with. There’s a criminal law against promising something that you can’t produce, and that’s if you’re [dealing with] money under false pretenses, and I think a lot of politicians are guilty of that.” Hendrix claims to have never bought anything on credit. “I don’t owe anybody anything, financially or spiritually or any other way. I’m what is known as a Renaissance man. A little bit crude but nonetheless I’m floating on a sound foot.”

Paul Hollman
“Not half a man, a Holl-man!” thunders Reverend Paul Hollman to a roaring crowd at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. The effervescent Hollman promises to build partnerships with the private sector. “I will change through innovation. . . . I will lead through partnership, I will find power in partnership, like Alabama Power. I’m gonna bring up some minority business, I’m gonna go across town and unite with the other mayors and say, ‘Let’s work together and not apart!’” A favorite quote of Hollman’s is an old African Proverb: “Whenever two elephants fight, all that gets hurt is the grass beneath. . . . Our children are hurting, our elderly are hurting, our schools are hurting simply because we cannot get along with one another!” His years as a top salesman for the Xerox Corporation and the lawn maintenance business he started at age 14 (when he employed five neighborhood kids) are the basis of his detailed grasp of financial issues. Hollman pledged that if elected, one of his first actions would be to hire city councilor and mayoral candidate Roderick Royal as his public administrator.

Stephannie Huey
Huey has the dubious distinction of being the only candidate to run for mayor of another city—Denver in 1999. “I believe I finished third,” responds the mathematics instructor to a reporter before the Huffman High forum begins. She is currently working on a master’s degree in math from Alabama State University. At the JCCEO forum, candidates select a “wild card” question from a hat. But Huey merely laughs at the question she chooses, swapping it for another “because the question was too long.” Huey’s platform revolves around obtaining an NBA franchise for Birmingham. She feels that a quality mass-transit system will be a revenue generator and also wants reduced bus fare so that children can take public transportation to school.

Bob Jones
Jones, a member of the first graduating class at UAB in 1970, has practiced law for 28 years. He claims much financial experience through his law practice but knows that handling money is more intricate than most realize. “It’s not all about how well you budget. It’s how prudently you spend taxpayers’ dollars.” Having attended more than 50 neighborhood meetings in the last few months, Jones is ready to tackle the city’s top job: “I understand the role of the mayor. The mayor should be an administrator, a bridge-builder, one who brings people together.”

Mary Jones
“Lift every voice for democracy,” is Mary Jones’ slogan. Jones stresses the importance of mass transportation by recounting the story of a man who walks six hours round trip everyday for work. She keeps her grandstanding to a minimum at candidate forums. She adds that she worked closely with Mayor Richard Daley while living in Chicago.

Mayor Bernard Kincaid
“I’m proud of the fact that from the day I was elected to this day, there has not been one hint of scandal emanating out of City Hall,” intones Mayor Bernard Kincaid, his portly torso swelling with pride. Kincaid, who spent several thousand dollars having the mayor’s office checked for listening devices when he moved into City Hall, boasts that he has cleaned up corruption. “We’ve gotten rid of the Brinks armored cars that used to be backed up to City Hall hauling away your money. And we’ve done that by getting rid of unearned contracts, people on retainers who aren’t even showing up at City Hall—they have disappeared.” Kincaid adds that a state takeover of city schools was thwarted during his current tenure. Congratulating himself for hiring women, he notes, “I have appointed more women to responsible positions in government than any [Birmingham] mayor.” Determined to instill a “can-do attitude” in city residents under his administration, Kincaid promises, “You don’t have to move to live in a better place.”

Lee Loder
When asked if he supports Governor Bob Riley’s controversial tax proposal, Loder recalls the state’s dismal racial past: “It’s unfortunate that 90 percent of all the wealth is owned by only 10 percent of all the people in the world. Our framers of our constitution at some point decided that they were going to protect, in Alabama, the large landowners, some of whom are the descendants of that same plantation that your and my great, great grandmother and great, great grandfather worked from ‘can’t see morning ’til can’t see night.’ At a minimum they will begin to pay a fairer share of what they owe.”

Calling his three years on the Birmingham City Council “an interesting, exciting rollercoaster ride in public policy,” Loder says that Birmingham’s biggest problem is that “somewhere along the line, we stopped caring.” Loder explains that there is a tradition in the chapel at Morehouse College, where Loder attended school, that one chair is always left available. Loder explains: “The one chair is so that there will always be an extra chair for somebody who feels left out. I’m going to add an extra chair to the city of Birmingham.” Loder pledges to “create a tent so big that everybody will be able to get under it.” He fails to say if there will be room in the tent for his dog, Stokely. Loder was arrested on animal cruelty charges after the emaciated dog was discovered last September chained in Loder’s backyard. The case has yet to be completely resolved.

Frank Matthews
Matthews is king of the grandstanders, passing out “play money” imprinted with campaign slogans and once arriving at a city council campaign kickoff in a helicopter. The perennial candidate is fond of introducing himself with, “I’m Frank Matthews, you can bank on me!” Promising to “shake up the Financial Department” if elected, he criticizes the current city financial chief for not being a CPA. Matthews has previously stated on his radio program that he “runs for office because it’s my hobby and my job.” He is proud of his economic sensibilities. “I’ve been able to use the best minds and the brightest people that I can get to enter into business practices with me. I love to crunch numbers and I’m self-taught in that area. That’s why I’m the person that projected to the city that you would experience a $16.2 million deficit.” Matthews claims he warned of the deficit four months before it was revealed in news reports. He also frequently complains to this reporter that he is never mentioned in Black & White anymore. There you go, Frank.

Roderick Royal
“Our problem is the infrastructure of the neighborhoods. Our problems are the weeds! Our problems are the inoperable cars. Our problems are the street resurfacing,” shouted City Councilor Roderick Royal at the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church forum. Royal, a former police officer, cites his accomplishments as a councilor, including his “smooth ride program” that is designed to pave the worst 100 miles of streets in the city immediately. “I’ve already given you an inoperable vehicle ordinance to remove vehicles off the streets that drug dealers use to store drugs in!” Blaming the city’s financial woes on the absence of a trained public administrator, Royal confesses, “There’s one trained public administrator running for mayor, and that’s Roderick Royal.” He fails to mention if he’ll have a position on his staff available for fellow candidate Paul Hollman.

Carole Smitherman
“Praise the Lord, saints!” is how City Councilor Carole Smitherman greets audiences at candidate forums. Smitherman insists that Birmingham needs some nightlife. “We need a city that’s vibrant, that doesn’t close at four o’clock [in the afternoon].” She announces her first plan of action if elected mayor: “When I become mayor, the first thing I’ll do is have a barbecue dinner with my new staff, with the department heads, and the city council . . . that I cook!”

As for those working on her campaign in order to land a position on her staff, don’t get your hopes up, because you might not be smart enough if Smitherman’s campaign pledge is to be taken literally. “I will assemble the best and the brightest that I can find in Birmingham. Those people that are on my political team will not transition with me to City Hall. I will find the best people and the experts that I can bring to solve the problems.” Smitherman doesn’t mention a Brinks truck but she does have a novel concept to address dire financial predicaments at City Hall. “What I will also do is make certain that I have a finance person with me not only in the Finance Department, but one that is housed in the mayor’s office.” &

City Hall — Council Spending Spree Continues

City Hall

The idiosyncratic world of the Birmingham City Council

Council Spending Spree Continues

The Birmingham City Council continues to toss money around like confetti; this time it’s $90,000 to fly a contingent of area youth to San Francisco for the 2003 Youth Games. And that’s just the transportation costs. Another $95,000 has been budgeted for lodging, coaches, uniforms, and registration fees. As dismal public school test scores and perpetual neighborhood flooding cast a pall over the city’s future, few councilors appear willing to make the unpopular decision to direct money where it is apparently most needed. The number of local organizations that receive city funds to aid Birmingham youth is staggering, but the City Council continues to hand out cash “for the children” like a senile, generous grandparent.

As expected, Councilor Joel Montgomery is against it. “I think we’ve got too much playing going on in this city and not enough education. Not enough taking care of our neighborhoods,” said Montgomery at the June 10 council meeting. “And I have a serious issue with the amount of events that we’ve got going on here. We’ve got midnight basketball. I don’t know how many things that I’ve identified line by line in this budget right now that are for extracurricular activities for the children, and I think this money would be better spent in our educational system and in our schools, in the form of mathematics, sciences, and those type things. I just have a serious problem voting this money outta here the way we’re voting it outta here, and I hope the public looks very hard at what’s going on up here, and watches every week how much money is flying out these doors. It’s ridiculous to continue to spend this kind of money.”

The Youth Games are an “Olympic-style competition between cities throughout America in 10 sports,” explained Scotty Colson, an administrative assistant to Mayor Bernard Kincaid, to the Council. Councilor Carole Smitherman asked Colson why the Division of Youth Services (DYS) doesn’t administer this type of program. Colson explained, in a cautious, measured tone that only served to cloud his response: “We work closely with them on that. . . . One of the things is that the Youth Games is a collaborative effort of so many different programs, as is DYS. So DYS works with us on this and we’re going to be working with them even more closely.”

Those eligible include youth ages 15 and under who live within 10 miles of Birmingham. Colson reassured concerned councilors that most of the kids are from Birmingham and not surrounding communities. According to Council President Lee Loder, “This is another really good promotional event for the city ’cause Birmingham is the guru around the nation for this particular event since it’s housed here [Birmingham is where the Youth Games are headquartered].” Loder attended last year’s Youth Games in Newark, New Jersey, at the public’s expense. Councilor Gwen Sykes noted that young people need such programs: “We cannot do enough for our young people in recreation, and these type activities are very important,” said Sykes. Warning that youth with too much free time on their hands frequently end up as thugs, Sykes urged the Council, “Step up and do more before we risk them to the street, to activities that are really not wholesome and good for our community . . . before [they] become preys [sic] on some of the other people in the community.” Sykes chairs the Council’s Education Committee, and her recent $41,000 proposal for Birmingham schools was approved by the Council only after she removed a “cruise” for graduating seniors from the appropriation that she wanted taxpayers to finance. —Ed Reynolds