Tag Archives: Birmingham

CIty Hall — The Deep End


The Deep End

He can’t say why or how, but Mayor Langford believes that an equestrian center and an Olympic-size swimming arena will revitalize the crime-ridden and economically depressed Five Points West area.

April 17, 2008
Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford’s mastery at communication often seems to hypnotize many members of the City Council. At the April 8 council meeting, even Councilor Joel Montgomery—who often resists freewheeling spending—was drinking Langford’s Kool-Aid. Montgomery and five other councilors supported allotting $48 million for the mayor’s proposed upgrade to Fair Park and the surrounding Five Points West district—which Langford says will cost a total of $90 million.(Councilor Roderick Royal voted against the proposal, Councilor Abbott abstained, Councilor Bell was absent.)Predictably, Councilor Valerie Abbott remained suspicious of Langford’s economic notions. “I’m in favor of this concept. However, you know me. I’m always waiting for those little details,” admitted Abbott. “And in this case, I just want to get to the bottom line. I would like to approve money to develop a plan today, but not necessarily to allocate all the money, because at this point I do not know exactly what the money will go for.” Langford’s redevelopment plan for Five Points West includes an Olympic-size swimming arena [natatorium], equestrian facilities, and an indoor track at Fair Park. Several businesses, including hotels and retailers, are scheduled to open in the immediate vicinity as part of the area’s economic revitalization. The bulk of the funds for this project will come, at least initially, from funds raised by the increase in business license fees approved by the council three months ago. Though at the time those funds were earmarked for construction of a domed stadium. According to Langford, monies would not be due until 18 months after construction on a domed stadium had begun. Until then, according to Langford’s plan, funds generated by the license fee increase will be the primary funding source for the Fair Park plan. Other funding for the revitalization project will come from a one-cent sales tax previously approved by the council for economic redevelopment, as well as money previously approved for Fair Park but never spent.

Regarding the development’s commercial versus its sports/athletic components, Abbott favors the latter, fearful that current Five Points West businesses might not be able to compete with new businesses. “I would like to see a redevelopment plan and a legal agreement, something we can sink our teeth into,” the councilor said as she also inquired about an ongoing operational funding source for Fair Park. Abbott also wants to know what the economic impact would be. That kind of information is often available whenever city economic development is proposed, but in this instance no economic impact study has been undertaken.

When Councilor Carol Duncan simply asked about the cost of the natatorium (or “swimming pool,” as Council President Carole Smitherman refers to the facility), Langford said the pool would cost about $12 million. “I’m not going to get emotional about any of this anymore. This is too long coming in this city,” said the mayor with obvious disgust. “Without the retail component out there, all we’ve done is build another stadium. You’re going to have to have the retail component in order to be sure that it is maintained. This area has so longly needed something out there. Let’s don’t piecemeal it. If you’re going to vote it, vote it . . . If the Council decides today that you don’t want to do it, that’s fine. I will not bring it back.”

Councilor Roderick Royal wanted to delay the item until after the council receives the 2009 budget in two months. “Since we are contemplating using business license fees—the money that we said to our taxpayers that we were going to use for the dome—the question is: how do you replace this money? And will that affect our ability whenever we do decide, or can build a large facility?”

“We must have about 17 different projects going on in this city,” Royal continued. “Now, I’m not a very smart guy but I will say this: we may need to stop and look at and evaluate how far we’re come. And whether or not any of those projects have really moved. Rather than just continuing to promise out and promise out. I don’t think that’s good fiscal management.” Royal proposed that the council “wait until we get the budget in hand so we can assess our fiscal health for next year and perhaps the following year. And so that we can also look at the evaluation of the 15 or 16 other projects that have been proposed and the Council, either tacitly or formally, has approved.”

Langford denied that money for the domed stadium is going to be used for Fair Park improvements. “The minute they let bids on this stadium, payments will become due 12 to 18 months later,” said Langford. “This city has the fortunate benefit today to be able to use those funds now to do these projects.”

Councilor Montgomery supports Langford’s Fair Park proposal because the money is available. “Councilor Hoyt, this is in your district, and I support you on this. And I don‘t care who likes it,” said Montgomery. “The bottom line is we need economic development in this city. There’s no question about it. That area has been neglected for the longest time. Now you can spin it any way you want to and try to make this look like we’re overspending up here. I don’t vote to overspend taxpayers’ money in this city!”

Council President Smitherman agreed that the council should seize the opportunity to redevelop the Five Points West area. “If we don’t take this money and put it over to the side, then we will never see a new Fair Park,” she said. “It won’t happen. We’ll just take that money and say, ‘Oh, we can go and repair some streets with that.’ Sure. We need it anyhow. Or we can go and we can do some other kind of economic development. And you look up and that money will be squandered all over the place.”

Smitherman believes that the Fair Park development will “spread development over in my area just like it will in everybody else’s area. It may be in Five Points West, but it’s going to have a ripple effect throughout the whole city of Birmingham . . .” She said that Fair Park will show critics that the council can do more than “bring a Wal-Mart.”

Councilor Royal later objected to Smitherman’s lack of adherence to proper parliamentary procedure. “And that means you are out of order again. And you just need to chill out. And that’s what I think,” Royal told the council president. Smitherman replied, “I think I need to use a gavel on you.” Royal again called for “point of order” once more, asking, “Madame President, is that a threat or some kind of assault?” To which Smitherman said, “Nah, I don’t go there, like you.”

• • •
Holy Rollers

At the April 8 Birmingham City Council meeting, Mayor Larry Langford announced that he had ordered 2,000 burlap sacks for use at a citywide prayer meeting to combat crime. Langford displayed one of the burlap bags and said he will ask area ministers to participate in a “sackcloth and ashes” ritual as the Bible commands. “When cities—in the early part of the world’s history—when they had gotten so far from God, begun idol worship and all kinds of crazy stuff that we’re doing even today, that community came to its senses,” explained the mayor. “And the Bible tells us that they [wore] sackcloth and [put] ashes on their faces and they prayed. And God heard their prayer . . . To get this community back on the right track, we need to understand the power of prayer.”

Langford has worn his religion on his sleeve during his first four months as mayor and has led a Bible study group each Friday morning in the city council chambers. “I got a call from someone saying that I need to quit mentioning God’s name so much,” said Langford. “And so I politely asked them what in hell did they want? Because there must be something in hell we want because a lot of us are working real hard to get there . . . If you’ve got a problem with God, take it up with Him.” &


City Hall — In the Land of the Absurd


In the Land of the Absurd

May 03, 2007

In recent months, the Birmingham City Council has found numerous ways to while away the first hour of its Tuesday meetings before addressing any substantive city business. (Birmingham residents can witness this on Bright House Cable’s channel 4 at 7 p.m. on Tuesday nights.) After Birmingham Police Chief Annetta Nunn recaps recent Birmingham crime statistics, the council passes out awards to various civic groups and area residents or observes presentations made by the same groups. True city business takes a back seat to what are usually fluff presentations. The council, however, defends placing such activity at the beginning rather than at meeting’s end (as has been done in the past) by saying that children have to get back to school and adults have to get back to work. Those residents in attendance concerned with more serious issues must simply be patient. Presumably, their jobs are less important to council members.At the April 24 meeting, the council recognized about a dozen Birmingham high school teens for their cooking expertise (it was National Healthy Schools Week). In addition to devoting more than 10 minutes to just one of several ceremonial displays, councilors voiced various “ooohs” and “aaahs” after each teen introduced themselves and named their favorite food to prepare. “Hey, my name is Shalita Irvin. My favorite dish is the breakfast casserole,” said one student. “Ahhhh, well all right,” said Councilor Steven Hoyt. Another girl said, “My name is Amber Jackson and my favorite dish is actually dessert, which is called Punch Bowl Cake.” This prompted Councilor Roderick Royal to say, “That’s some fancy cooks!” At least one student had a sense of humor. “My name is Erica Thomas and my favorite food is the cookie!” Councilors had no response, only blank expressions. Near the end of council meetings, but before local residents are each allowed a few minutes to address the council, each councilor spends anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes talking about events in their district or anything that strikes their fancy. In the months leading up to an election, councilors often use this time to climb on soapboxes and vent about various issues. Councilor Steven Hoyt frequently complains about the lack of minority participation in city contracts. He has recently expressed concern that bond agencies and banks with which the city deals do not have enough minority employees. During his 10 minutes, Hoyt denounced a local black attorney who stated that there were only four outstanding black attorneys in Birmingham. The councilor would not name the offending attorney in public. Councilor Roderick Royal shared Hoyt’s irritation and read a list of more than two dozen black Birmingham attorneys who in his opinion are well qualified, including Councilors Carole Smitherman and Miriam Witherspoon. After he had finished, a look of horror crossed Royal’s face as he realized he had left out the attorneys present at the meeting who work for the city. Royal quickly began adding their names to his list. &

City Hall — Dawn of The Living Dead


March 23, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Last of the Showgirls

Last of the Showgirls

Local TV family bids goodbye to matriarch Daisy Dean.

February 09, 2006
A locallyproduced, shoestring-budget operation known as “Dean and Company” appeared on television screens throughout the Birmingham area. Matriarch Daisy Dean, daughter Dana (rhymes with “Hannah”) Dean, and granddaughter Deanie Dean featured an assortment of tap dancers, 9-year-old karate kids breaking boards in half with their feet, singers, a trained rabbit, ballet dancers, and a trio of puppets often up to no good. The program was a crude mix of “Captain Kangaroo” and “The Ted Mack Amateur Hour.”On January 24, 2006, Daisy Dean died at 94—that’s the family’s best guess at her age. Her birth records were destroyed in a fire at the courthouse in Havana, Kansas. At age 10, Daisy watched as her mother and grandmother were murdered in front of the family general store after moving to Sedan, Kansas. According to Daisy’s daughter Dana,“Some kid high on dope came along and blew their heads off with a double-barrelled shotgun.” Daisy’s sister Opal Sparks went to New York City, where she joined the original Rockettes when they danced at the Roxy Theater before moving to Radio City Music Hall. Daisy soon followed and found work as an actress at Paramount Studios. She was chosen as a member of WAMPUS stars, the name given to young future starlets that the motion picture industry was willing to invest in. She appeared in a short film called The Noose with Barbara Stanwyck and Ann Harding, and Daisy’s husband was one of the chariot racers in the original silent movie version of Ben-Hur. “My father said there weren’t many regulations in the film industry back then,” explained Dana. “They lost a few people filming the chariot races.”

An original Rockette and motion picture starlet, a glamorous Daisy Dean is captured in her publicity shot for Paramount Pictures. (click for larger version)

“Dean and Company” remains local television’s reigning program, since “The Country Boy Eddy Show” was put out to pasture. “Dean and Company” is still vibrant enough to appear every Monday evening at 7:30 on Channel 4, for viewers lucky enough to be in the Bright House Network cable market. The cable-access show spares no expense; The Caribbean and Acapulco are favorite “on location” sites. In Hawaii, Podo the puppet (he’s a dog) interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger at the opening of a Planet Hollywood restaurant on the island of Maui, during which Schwarzenegger introduced wife Maria Shriver to Podo. In Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the family shot snow footage for their annual hour-long Christmas special, including Dana’s attempts at skiing (“I was hoping not to be the next Sonny Bono,” deadpanned Dana).

The show’s weekly introduction hasn’t changed in a more than a decade. “I’m Dana Dean . . . I’m Lesley (Deanie) Dean . . . I’m Daisy Dean . . . You could see your relatives . . . or your friends . . . or it could even be you!” Then the show begins. Dana and Deanie croon “Thanks for the Memories,” changing the lyrics to celebrate the Alabama Theatre’s 50th birthday. Nine- and 15-year-old brother and sister karate experts teach Dana a few moves. Deanie and the puppets (all puppet voices are done by Dana) hold a discussion about life with a group of children. Then it’s time for Marie Gillespie and Gene, an elderly woman and her middle-aged son (who bears an eerie resemblance to the late comedian Wally Cox) to do their “Philosophical Thought for the Week” segment:

“What saying have you got for today?” Gene asks his mother in halting tones as he pets CJ Bunny, a trained rabbit who can sit up on command and obligingly wears whatever costume they put on him. “Keep trying. Unearth the worm and its mobility increases,” is Marie’s pronouncement. “Yes, we do agree,” responds Gene.


The ladies of “Dean and Company” From left: Dana, Daisy, and Deanie Dean. (click for larger version)

Before show’s end, Deanie’s husband, Charlie Gee, the NNT (News Now and Then) weatherman, discovers white flecks falling from the ceiling and deduces that it is snowing. Upon closer scrutiny, he realizes it’s paint and screams, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” in his best Ernest T. Bass impersonation. “Well, I’ll be dadblamed, I must be psychotic! You know, one of them fellers there who knows everything before my mouth says it!”

Sinatra songs filled the chapel at the memorial service for Daisy Dean. Photos of Daisy posing with daughter Dana and granddaughter Deanie surrounded her open coffin. Judy Garland sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the curtains closed for the family’s final viewing. Within minutes, the curtain reopened to glorious fanfare as Sinatra belted out “New York, New York.” It’s too bad a Rockette didn’t dance across the stage in front of the closed casket. Podo or D.D. the French monkey puppet could have delivered the eulogy. Daisy would’ve loved that. &


City Hall — Kincaid Expresses Doubt About Police Roadblocks


January 12, 2006

Approximately five years ago, Birmingham police routinely set up roadblocks at various intersections to check driver’s licenses, verify vehicle tags, and, presumably, scrutinize drivers who might appear intoxicated. Oddly, as soon as thriving business establishments opened at two of the several inspection points, roadblocks stopped. Eventually, other roadblocks ceased after former police Chief Mike Coppage left the city to go to work for the state.

With the city of Birmingham’s 2005 homicide rate nearly double that of 2004, and the number of muggings and armed robberies in the Southside and Lakeview districts (some in broad daylight) on the rise (police and city officials dispute that armed robberies and muggings have gotten worse), roadblocks would seem to be a common-sense approach to perhaps getting control of an ever-present danger.

The first two days of 2006 included two more homicides, and police have recently been quoted as saying they have no control over what people who carry guns do with them. Mayor Bernard Kincaid has noted on several occasions that most of the homicides are domestic-related and questions whether police can deter disputes that occur in homes between acquaintances. “Some of the issues seem to be beyond our control,” Kincaid said at a January 3 press conference. “The chief [Birmingham Police Chief Annetta Nunn] reports to me that there were two phenomena that characterized what happened in 2005. First of all, the crime rate in the city was down at last report. Secondly, that homicides went up, and there were two disturbing factors about that: The large percentage of those homicides were black on black. And that they were acquaintances, they were not strangers killing strangers. If any intervention is sought, it has to deal with interpersonal relationships—anger management and conflict resolution.” Kincaid said Nunn is currently working on a proposal that will be unveiled the second week of January.

When asked if roadblocks would ever be brought back into regular use, Kincaid said probably not. “That’s fraught with a lot of issues that I wouldn’t want to sanction at this point,” explained the Mayor. “The issue of whether roadblocks are deployed becomes an issue of whether or not it’s the beginning of racial profiling. All of that issue came up before. The negative side of that seems to outweigh the positive benefit. We have things like project ICE—that’s ‘Isolate the Criminal Element.’ Stiffer penalties are attached to gun crimes and that kind of thing, the illegal possession of guns.” Kincaid added that the city has also been working with the Drug Enforcement Agency to see what the city’s role should be in conjunction with the DEA and other task forces. &



December 29, 2005

Mayor Bernard Kincaid is insulted by a current butting of heads over a railroad park proposed for construction between 14th and 18th streets along First Avenue South. The city of Birmingham and Friends of the Railroad District [FORRD] are engaged in a power struggle over who will oversee development of the park which will include a two-acre lake, restaurant, small beach area, railroad museum, picnic areas, and a carousel. At press time, Giles Perkins, president of FORRD and a member of Birmingham City Council President Carole Smitherman’s recent re-election campaign, said the city and FORRD were not far from reaching an agreement.

“Perkins e-mailed my chief of staff [Al Herbert] . . . and said that we’re not very far apart,” said Kincaid. The Mayor has bristled at notions that FORRD should control the project. “But for Bernard Kincaid, we wouldn’t have the master plan that gave us this . . . We birthed this into creation. Not that I’m trying to take ownership, but I birthed this baby. And I’m not about to give it away. I’m willing to work with anyone to help me raise it. . . . I have invested an awful lot into its creation and guiding its creation.” At the December 13 City Council meeting, Councilor William Bell told Kincaid, “If we’re going to allow private developers—or a private group to come in and work on this, then they need to be given a free hand to the extent that they can go out and raise funds, to the extent that they can make decisions without—no offense—getting bogged down in the bureaucracy of city government.” Bell explained that there is no reason to work with the FORRD group if the city wants to control the project. “I’m a proponent of if we’re going to bring in private dollars, then we need to give them the kind of free hand that they need,” added Bell.

Kincaid responded that many investors will not fund the project if the money does not go to the city, especially the $2.5 million the Jefferson County Commission pledged on December 15. “What’s at issue, quite simply, is control. It is a city project, it’s city-owned property,” said Kincaid.

We didn’t start this project with someone else taking charge of it. In my opinion, that’s the tail wagging the dog. We welcome others helping us to raise funds to consummate the project, because it can not be done just out of city funds. We’re going to need private sources . . . So it then becomes incumbent upon us to strike an agreement such that those funds that can come to us, and they come to us because there is the perception that there is some oversight on our part and some guiding of this project by the city of Birmingham and its professionals.

The County Commission invited the entire Council to a December 15 presentation by the city to the County Commission, which in turn approved its $2.5 million match to that of the city. Only Councilors Joel Montgomery and Miriam Witherspoon attended the meeting, though the entire City Council is in support of the railroad park, with reservations. At the December 13 Council meeting, Councilor Roderick Royal complained that projects without the County Commission often do not work out. “I’m not at all against the project,” said Royal. “I think my biggest problem is that we’ve had so many arrangements that the city always gets caught holding the bag . . . We had the zoo. We had the regional thing that we were going to turn it over to the Friends of the Zoo. We’re still funding the zoo.” Royal added that the Friends of Avondale Park never wanted to take over Avondale Park. “Nobody wants to be a Friend of Legion Field. If you really want to do something, help Legion Field.” The comment brought a run of snickers from the Council chambers.

Giles Perkins, present of FORRD, told the Council that the project was modeled after a contract in Asheville, North Carolina, that he was alerted to by members of the Mayor’s steering committee, who planned the railroad park project. Perkins agreed with Councilor Bell that “to raise private sector money we have to have the appropriate authority to commit that the dollars are going to be spent the way that they have been pledged.” Negotiations have gone on for a year. Perkins, an original board member of the Birmingham Zoo when it went private, told councilors that his group is committed to the vision of consultants hired by the city to make preliminary designs of the park.

At the Finance and Administration committee meeting on December 12, Perkins told the Mayor and Council that FORRD would be happy to develop it and turn it over to the city. “That’s just the reciprocal [sic] of what should happen,” Kincaid said at the Council meeting the next day. “The city should develop it and then do as we did with Vulcan Park Foundation or with EBI—the zoo. We did it! We got it where it needed to be. We ushered it through all the processes, then we turned it over to an entity, not the reciprocal [sic]. And that’s what’s being asked for now.”

The Council voted to put $2.5 million into the project with stipulations that the Mayor update them on negotiations with FORRD by January 16, 2006, before presenting a final agreement by January 30, 2006. &

City Budget Almost a Done Deal

City Budget Almost a Done Deal

July 14, 2005

Five days after the city of Birmingham’s fiscal year 2006 began, the City Council and Mayor Bernard Kincaid have apparently reached an accord on the city’s 2006 budget , which totals $303 million. This year concludes with City Council elections, so politics perhaps dictated the Council’s refusal to give in to Mayor Bernard Kincaid’s proposal to slice $1 million from schools or from designated social services that are financed by the city.Kincaid presented the budget to the Council on May 17, three days before it was due. By the end of June, the administrative and legislative branches of Birmingham government remained at odds. The Mayor and Council had decided to focus on two shared priorities: economic development, and jobs and programs for area youth. Kincaid, however, included a two-percent pay raise for city employees [$3.8 million], with the city eating the five-percent increase in health benefits [$1,440,000]. Councilor Elias Hendricks, chair of the Council’s finance and budget committee, argued that the pay increase was introduced later and “wasn’t one of the tenets on which we built our budget.”

Two days following the recessed June 28 Council meeting, Councilor Roderick Royal criticized the Mayor’s office for not having an updated budget available; the one after the Council had made its proposed changes. “To me, I think it was an effort [by the Mayor] to embarrass us,” he said. Since agreement on the 2006 budget was not finalized by July 1, the 2005 budget remained in place.

The drama in the final days of the 2005 fiscal year took the form of an exchange of memos between the Council and the Mayor’s budget team. In a June 30 memo to Kincaid from Councilor Hendricks, the councilor indicated that the Council had passed a proposal to eliminate 92 currently vacant positions that might be filled later in the year ($3.6 million total).

Kincaid’s budget team responded to the Council’s budget amendments the next day, when the 2006 budget was to go into effect. Their response criticized the Council for elimination of the 92 jobs “permanently,” including 32 public-safety positions at a total cost of $1,360,791. [Elimination of the 92 positions would save $3.6 million.] At the June 28 council meeting, Kincaid had criticized the City Council for adding the $1 million taken from the proposed 2006 budget. “The Board of Education, financially, is in much better shape than it was when the city stepped in in the past and took care of some of these things on an emergency basis that now has been deemed to be entitlements.” The Mayor added that the Board of Education budget “comes pretty close to ours with about half the number of employees.” Kincaid did originally leave $707,000 for student safety, crossing guards, and workforce development.

In the past, the city has depended on “salary surplus” [using money designated for jobs that might come open later in the year but that often do not] to make up for budget shortfalls. “We have moved away from the paradigm of doing shadow financing and relying upon salary surplus,” said Kincaid. Salary surplus was originally forced on the city when a six-percent employee pay raise for city employees was included in a past budget.

High on Councilor Roderick Royal’s list of restored funding included education issues. “I do think that we ought to continue the tutorial and adult literacy and other things, because Alabama trails the other states in terms of literacy,” said Royal.

At the July 5 City Council meeting, Kincaid said the Council’s latest proposal “would really cripple the city.” The Mayor said librarian assistants would lose their jobs, and some branches would be forced to lock their doors early, and that parks and recreation facilities would be closed. The Council again recessed for the second week in a row as Kincaid and councilors retreated from the council chambers to hash out differences to adopt a 2006 budget. A consensus was reached, and the Council will vote on the 2006 budget at the July 12 council meeting. The compromise includes keeping the 92 vacant positions originally targeted by the Council. In exchange, money for schools and other programs are back in the budget, including an immediate $200,000 for housing authority community centers, $270,000 for high school coaches and band director salary supplement, $200,000 for reading programs, and $112,000 for professional development. Kincaid said he would locate $1.3 million for these and other immediate additions to the budget by the time the Council votes July 12. By mid-year another $1.1 million will be identified. “This is a fair compromise, partly because the Council is not asking that all of the funds be found up front,” Kincaid said after the meeting.

In an interview after the majority of the Council found a compromise with Kincaid, Councilor Joel Montgomery, who had commended Kincaid for many of his budget cuts, said, “This is what’s been going on up here at City Hall for the longest time . . . This is salary surplus. It is money that is set aside for unfilled positions that never get filled.” Montgomery added that the City Council had caved in to the Mayor, granting him control of the $3.6 million that the Council should have locked into place so Kincaid could not touch it. “We can’t touch that money now because [the Mayor] recommends [how it's spent]. That is state law . . . He’s the only one who can recommend what to do with that money now.” &

Crime on the Increase in Southside

Crime on the Increase in Southside

If you know anyone who lives or works on Southside, then you probably know someone who knows someone who was robbed this year.


November 03, 2005

For the past six months, Birmingham’s Five Points South and Lakeview districts have been plagued by a series of armed robberies and muggings. In July, Matt Whitson left the Upside Down Plaza at Pickwick Plaza in Five Points South on a Sunday evening around 11 p.m. As he descended the stairs next to Cosmo’s Pizza on Magnolia Avenue, two black males approached. He assumed they were panhandling. “Being the nice dude that I am, I already had my hand in my pocket to give them money if they asked for it,” Whitson recently recalled. “Instead, one dude pulled out a gun and put it in my stomach, and the two of them forced me back up the stairs.” Whitson handed over his wallet and pocket change. The assailants asked for more, so Whitson offered up his keys, cell phone, and cigarette lighter.

Whitson said that Birmingham police arrived “almost immediately.” However, he later complained in an interview that descriptions of his stolen items were not accurate on the incident report.

On Sunday, June 25, at about 10:50 p.m., Kristie Pickett and a female friend were leaving The Garage, a popular bar located between Highland Avenue and The Nick that as been praised by GQ magazine as one of the “top ten bars in the world worth flying to.” Pickett’s automobile was parked approximately 50 yards down the street from the bar in front of an apartment complex. She had just unlocked the passenger door and was walking around to the driver’s side when the two heard running footsteps behind them. Suddenly, two black males appeared next to her car, one slapping his hand on the vehicle. “One of them said, ‘I’m not going to hurt you,’” said Pickett, who re-locked her car and began to scream to attract the attention of patrons outside The Garage. The tall, thin robber pulled out a pistol and she put her hands in the air. The assailant demanded her purse, which she surrendered, as did her companion. Garage customers came running as the thugs dashed off with the women’s purses.

(click for larger version)


Pickett complained that it took between five and 10 minutes for police to arrive [the Southside precinct is three blocks away] and noted that the squad car arrived without emergency lights flashing. The police told Pickett that the reason it took so long is because the 11 p.m. shift had just come on duty.

On August 21, a white male arrived at Bailey’s Pub in Five Points South after parking in front of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church next door. He noticed a white male and white female standing near a bag on the ground, its contents strewn about. He entered Bailey’s at midnight to meet a friend, who did not appear. Less than five minutes later, he left the bar. Suddenly, he felt a gun placed to the back of his head. It was the man he had noticed with the woman minutes earlier in front of the church. The woman stood nearby. The victim guessed that the pair were in their mid- to late 20s. He said Bailey’s employees told him that the woman had been seen panhandling and possibly “hooking” in the area recently. The victim added that the bar’s employees had begun patrolling the area themselves, which they said had resulted in a reduction in muggings in the high-crime area.

Perhaps the most dramatic mugging this past summer was a brazen assault that occurred on July 26, in broad daylight, during peak traffic hours on 20th Street. A white male parked his pickup truck on 14th Avenue South near the entrance of Cobb Lane at 5:30 p.m. As he shut off his engine and placed his keys on the seat, preparing to exit the vehicle, a black male who looked to be in his mid-20s appeared at the driver’s window, asking for directions. The vehicle was locked but the windows were down. When the victim responded that he couldn’t help, a second male appeared at the passenger window, leaned into the truck, and pointed a gun. The victim told the robbers they could have whatever they wanted and offered his wallet to the man with the gun. Meanwhile, the assailant on the driver’s side punched the victim, cutting his face as the other attacker with the gun ran off with the wallet.

At that point, the victim opened his door quickly, slamming it into the remaining robber, then falling onto the ground while exiting the truck. The assailant began kicking the victim repeatedly in the body and face, but the victim somehow grabbed the robber and began punching him, finally managing to restrain him and call the police. He kept the assailant subdued until police arrived.

Six weeks ago, McDaniel Wyatt, a bartender at The Oasis, in the Lakeview District, was closing the bar at 4:45 on a Friday morning with bartender Kelly Pierce and another worker. Pierce was in the restroom when a black male in a ski mask entered the bar through a rear window. The intruder knew where the cash register was (Wyatt assumed the intruder had cased the bar earlier) and pointed a .38-caliber revolver at Wyatt and demanded that he put the register’s cash in a plastic bag. Wyatt then tossed the keys to the assailant, telling him that he was going into the restroom and to take what he wanted. “I had already put most of the money in the safe, so he didn’t get much from the register,” said the bartender. “The guy looked like he hadn’t done too many robberies, and I was scared he was going to shoot himself in the foot.” The incident lasted a little over three minutes, according to Wyatt. Pierce said she stayed in the restroom in order not to scare the man, which might have prompted him to start shooting. Wyatt said it was the first robbery in the five years that he’s been at The Oasis, but added that crime has increased “dramatically” recently. “All the employees here have had their cars broken into in the past year,” he added.

According to Wyatt, the police said Silvertron Cafe, which is not far from Lakeview, was robbed the same night. Silvertron management denied that any incidents have occurred there, however.

Repeated calls to the Birmingham Police Department’s public information officer to confirm events in this story were not returned. &


Dr. Lawson Has Left the Building

Dr. Lawson Has Left the Building

His office never had a computer, and his patients were treated in chairs placed in the upright position. After 52 years as a dentist on Southside, Dr. William Lawson retires.

July 14, 2005Fifteen years ago I made my initial visit to the dentist office of Dr. William Lawson. I recall the very first words he spoke to me (while he tugged at a root stubbornly lodged in my novocaine-numbed mouth), “You ever tried to pull a nail out of a 2 x 4 with a pair of pliers, and it just won’t come out?” After practicing dentistry on Birmingham’s Southside, Dr. Lawson has decided it’s time to put away the dental tools he deftly wielded, with deadpan humor, for 52 years.

Dr. Lawson sported a red clown nose when he greeted me on a recent morning as he cleaned out his office. He pointed to a painting of Robert E. Lee on one wall, one of several depictions of Confederate generals that adorn the waiting room. (One has a cut-out photograph of Lawson’s head superimposed alongside the officers.) “That’s not a good picture of Lee, too stylized,” he said. “Lee wasn’t a Joan of Arc character, and that’s how they’ve got him portrayed.”

Despite being on the ethics board of the American Dental Association for two decades and past president of the Alabama Dental Association, Dr. Lawson was an anachronism, a throwback to an era when relations between a dentist and his clients were closer. “A successful practice is knowing the people and having a successful relationship with the patient,” Lawson explained. He’s perhaps proudest of the third generation of patients that stayed with him as they entered adulthood. His office never had a computer, and he worked on patients in chairs in the upright position, as opposed to the modern procedure in which patients recline.

He reflected on changes in the dental world during his half-century of practice. “Back in the late ’50s, early ’60s, there was no dental insurance. A dentist competed with television payments,” he recalled. “People’s teeth are in much better condition now with insurance. There are fewer and fewer people over 65 wearing dentures.” The intimidating drills used to bore out cavities are now high-tech, air-turbo devices with diamond drill bits that whirl at 100,000 rpms as opposed to the earlier contraptions operated by pulley systems attached to a motor that peaked at 4,500 rpms. “Those old drills got hot pretty quick,” he laughed. The drill upgrade took away a favorite trick Lawson employed to distract children as he worked. The dentist would attach a piece of red cotton behind a piece of white cotton to the drill’s pulley cable. He instructed the kids to “watch the fox chase the rabbit,” as the cotton pieces chased each other along the cable.

Dr. Lawson also used other methods to put patients at ease. The walls of the examination rooms were lined with huge murals of soothing Caribbean beach scenes or mammoth photos of the earth taken by an astronaut during a moon landing. He and daughter Barbara, who worked for him for 25 years, recalled a routine the two developed when taking X-rays. Dr. Lawson would take the wooden block that held the film from a patient’s mouth and, without turning away from the patient, toss it over his shoulder to Barbara, who was standing in the hall to catch it.

Sometimes his entertainment was unintended. He used to perform magic tricks while working, pretending to pull coins from children’s ears, then doing the same trick with the tooth he’d just extracted before the child realized the tooth had been pulled. “One time this lady was in the dental chair—she knew about his magic tricks and stuff,” his daughter Becky remembered. “Dad felt a little weight in the sleeve of his lab coat, and the next thing you know, he’s pulling a bra from his sleeve that had gotten stuck inside his coat from static electricity when my mom had done laundry.” The woman in the exam chair grabbed her chest and said, ‘My you’re good!’”

A baby blue jay that Dr. Lawson found outside the office was adopted by the Lawson family. “Melvin” stayed at the dental office during the day. “We kept him in the lab,” laughed daughter Betty. “If little kids came in, Dad would bring Melvin in for the kids to see. Melvin was really attached to Dad. The door to the lab was occasionally left open, and Melvin would fly into the room where Dad was working on a patient, and Melvin would land on his hand just as he was about to stick it in a patient’s mouth.”

His children told of his wicked sense of humor. “He’d be working on us on weekends when it didn’t interfere with his making a living,” Lawson’s son, local radio personality Dollar Bill Lawson, remembered. “He’d put us in the chair and chant, ‘I’m gonna get me a bucket of blood, I’m gonna get me a bucket of blood.’” The younger Lawson also recalled the acrylic imitation pink gum with tiny red fake capillaries used with dentures. “My dad would fix everything with that pink plastic. He’d fix the refrigerator door, anything. Even fixed my glasses. I’d have to go to school with this fake pink, human gum-looking stuff holding my glasses together.”

Friends would bring fish they had caught to the office and ask the dentist to install human teeth, complete with gums. He once fitted a bass with tiger fangs, which was proudly displayed at the famous Ollie’s Bar-B-Q restaurant located on Greensprings Highway.

Dr. Lawson even worked on himself on one occasion. He was due to leave town for a convention when a filling came out the night before. His daughter Barbara held one mirror, while he held the other. Injecting himself with novocaine, he drilled on the tooth and installed a plastic filling. “It’s very difficult to do,” he admitted.

“I think he really just wanted to see if it was possible,” said Barbara. “He doesn’t really like dentists in his mouth, anyway.” &

City Council Approves Sears Building Purchase

City Council Approves Sears Building Purchase

June 30, 2005 

On June 14, the Birmingham City Council voted to spend $1.525 million to purchase the former Sears building in downtown Birmingham. Joel Montgomery was the only councilor to vote against the transaction. The dilapidated building, owned by Barber Properties, has been appraised at $3.05 million. The Birmingham Entrepreneurial Center, currently housed in the former Tillman-Levinson building, will pay the remainder of the purchase price. The Entrepreneurial Center will combine with UAB’s Office for the Advancement of Developing Industries [OADI] to move into the Sears structure after $12 million in renovations have been completed.

UAB has decided to close OADI, currently located in Oxmoor Valley. OADI Executive Director and Entrepreneurial Center President Susan Matlock said it has been difficult trying to attract to Oxmoor Valley any emerging businesses that result from technology commercialized by UAB. She added that UAB faculty affiliated with OADI had complained that the distance from campus to the Oxmoor location was a detriment to the process. Al Herbert of the Mayor’s office echoed Matlock’s observations about proximity, adding, “The tenants [at OADI] are displeased with the amount of travel time from the facility to downtown [Entrepreneurial Center].” OADI and the Entrepreneurial Center have been associated for approximately two decades.

Upon finalization of the transaction, the city will deed the purchased Sears property to the Entrepreneurial Center, according to guidelines stipulated in securing the $12 million loan. Part of the funding involves new market tax credits, which require that the Entrepreneurial Center spend all the funds by the end of the year following the one in which the money is borrowed. The city has the right to buy out the Entrepreneurial Center’s half of the initial $3.05-million purchase should the business incubator fail to secure the loan. If the Entrepreneurial Center sells the property to an unrelated third party, the city is entitled to recoup its investment plus 3 percent interest.

“I think $2.5 million to get 1,000 people to working is pretty good numbers.” —Councilor Carole Smitherman

Matlock said OADI and the Entrepreneurial Center have generated $1 billion in economic impact when applying economic multipliers, in addition to the revenue produced by industries in the business incubators. The “multipliers” reflect money turning over in the local economy, according to Matlock. Once the two incubators move into the Sears building, income of the expected 65 businesses that would be housed there is projected to be $334 million, with an additional $664 million when economic multipliers are factored in. Matlock said more than 1,200 are expected to be employed by the incubator. When asked how the new Entrepreneurial Center would be affected should businesses from OADI relocate elsewhere upon closure of the Oxmoor facility, Matlock said there have been 70 to 80 applicants per year for the business incubators over the past 20 years that the entities have been in operation. She did not feel that filling the new incubator should be a problem.

“I think $2.5 million to get 1,000 people to working is pretty good numbers,” said Councilor Carole Smitherman, who had been skeptical of the project during the June 6 finance and budget committee meeting. “If we’re going to capture the creative class and give them a place to work, to invent their ideas and make them work, I want to make sure that Birmingham is that place. What we are doing is fighting a battle every day to keep our young people in Birmingham.”

Councilor Roderick Royal questioned the wisdom of paying the fair market value for a property no one wants. (The Sears building has been an eyesore for well over a decade.) Royal, who supports the project, suggested, “I don’t think we ought to be paying for something, certainly at the appraisal price, that nobody else wants or has any use for at this time.” Councilor Joel Montgomery had asked for information from the city’s revenue department on June 10, regarding which graduates of the business incubators were paying property, sales, and occupational taxes to the city. As of June 20, Montgomery still had not received the information he requested. &