Tag Archives: City Hall

The Gospel According to T.C. Cannon

Originally published in WELD on October 24, 2015

The Gospel According to T.C. Cannon




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

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

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

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

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

City Hall

By Ed Reynolds

June 27, 2000

Councilor Don MacDermott is absent tonight, presumably awaiting election returns in his Republican runoff bid for Jefferson County Clerk . . . Mayor Bernard Kincaid is a few minutes late to tonight’s meeting. He has no formal report but does express rage over insinuations that Birmingham school officials and students resorted to cheating in order to raise SAT scores. Council President William Bell and Councilor Lee Wendell Loder both agree with Kincaid. Only Councilor Blake suggests that reported low scores in reading but high scores in math and science indicate a possible problem somewhere in the standardized testing system . . . A resolution that would allow the city of Birmingham to pledge city resources to help repair Vulcan by leasing Vulcan Park to the Vulcan Park Foundation is up for discussion. Blake complains that several people on the board of the Vulcan Park Foundation are not Birmingham residents, though supporters of the Foundation’s board members indicate that all at least work in Birmingham. Councilor Bill Johnson and Blake continue their recent butting of heads, with Johnson angrily telling Blake that Vulcan is a symbol of the “community” and that the funds for the project will be coming from the “metro area,” not just the city. Considering how long the issue has been in the works, Johnson says he is “appalled” by the fact that Blake has not reviewed documents addressing the Foundation. Johnson reminds Blake that the statue is in Blake’s Southside district. Johnson also refuses to include an amendment to the resolution that would keep Vulcan from being moved from Red Mountain. Noting that he appreciates the Vulcan Park Foundation, Blake protests that Birmingham has put $1 million into the project over the past two years. The councilor notes that the city is also paying a monthly consultant fee in order to receive $2 million in federal money for the project. The resolution is approved, with only Blake casting a “no” vote . . . The controversial Solid Waste Disposal Authority is back on tonight’s agenda. A resolution is under consideration allowing the Council four weeks to look at alternatives to the deal between Masada Oxynol and the Waste Authority, which wants to lease the New Georgia landfill to Masada for $1 a year for 99 years. A $250 million processing and incineration plant designed to convert garbage to ethanol, a cleaner burning gasoline, would be built by Masada Oxynol. The corporation would be paid by the city to pick up Birmingham garbage. Councilor Blake continues to take issue with what he believes is a prearranged plan between Masada Oxynol and the Solid Waste Authority. Defenders of the Masada Oxynol relationship with the Solid Waste Disposal Authority tout the benefits of recycling, thereby saving what they believe is rapidly disappearing landfill space. Blake has a few questions for Councilor Johnson, who has upset some on the Council by siding with the usual Council majority that has sought to strip Kincaid of a variety of mayoral powers. Blake asks if the Mayor’s office or the Streets and Sanitation Department had any input in changes to the solid waste plan. Johnson says he doesn’t know of any of their input, but notes that it’s his understanding that the Solid Waste Authority instigated the changes in tonight’s resolution. Explaining that he believes the Solid Waste Authority was “put in place specifically for the benefit of Masada,” Blake questions the motivation behind proposals to alter Birmingham’s methods of handling city garbage. Answering his own query, Blake reacts with anger, explaining that the need was for “Darryl Harmes and Masada to gain a monopoly on the disposal of waste in the city of Birmingham!” He accuses Johnson of helping to orchestrate the deal, asking Johnson if he’s on the payroll of Masada or acting as a consultant for any of the corporation’s engineering, accounting, or law firms. Johnson angrily tells Blake he’s not at all affiliated with Masada, and is only interested because he is very impressed with Masada Oxynol’s technology. Blake and other critics of the Masada proposal are irate that no cost studies have been examined. “We are turning over all authority of the Council of the city of Birmingham to an unelected group of officials who can contract with anybody at any price to take care of our solid waste. I just don’t believe that is in the best interest of the city.” Blake wants to know how a pipeline will be installed to take the millions of gallons of water that are necessary for the garbage conversion process from the Cahaba River to the New Georgia landfill. No one is able to answer the councilor. Addressing a portion of the resolution that covers the toll taken on landfill space when population increases, Blake points out that Birmingham’s population has declined from 340,00 in 1960 to 265,000 at present. A representative from the Streets and Sanitation Department confirms that Birmingham has had an “exponential decrease in landfill waste.” Blake also warns that Birmingham could be the processing and receiving site for garbage from around the state. The councilor condemns the 30-day period for alternative proposals as a “scam.” Resounding applause from the audience fills the school auditorium. Councilor Loder voices his opinion on the waste plan, citing studies by California that have determined costs to convert waste to ethanol as being exceptionally high. Loder notes that the uncertainties of such new technology makes high investment an irresponsible action. Calling the Masada technology the future of garbage disposal, Councilor Johnson jumps back into the fray, defending the technology but concedes that a review period is needed to determine the present status of the area’s landfills. In sarcastic reference to Councilor Johnson’s recent acknowledgement that his degree in chemistry was a primary reason for his [Johnson's] support of the Masada plan, Blake says that he was also impressed by the technology even though “I don’t have a chemistry degree,” noting that he came close [Blake is a practicing physician]. Blake again condemns what he sees as an attempt by Masada to monopolize control of city waste as well as city land. Mayor Kincaid notes that he is perplexed by the rapid speed with which the Masada plan is moving, calling on the Streets and Sanitation Department to issue a report on the status of solid waste collection and disposal in Birmingham. Kincaid calls the 30-day study period “a charade.” He says the time period is “absurd” and gives the “favorite [Masada] a year’s leg up,” alluding to the year of preparation Masada has had to work out a plan with the Solid Waste Disposal Authority. “I don’t have a degree in chemistry either, but I do know you don’t need a degree in chemistry for this, you need a degree in alchemy. This is changing trash into dollars, and not for us [Birmingham].

Cash Flow

May 31, 2012

A selective list of funding requests approved by the Birmingham City Council.

(Dollar amounts and the name of the organization that received city funds are followed by text from the Council’s agenda explaining how the money is to be used.)

May 1, 2012

Item 35
$3,000 to the Birmingham Board of Education.
“to be donated to Princeton Alternative Elementary School for general education purposes to purchase/finance materials, resources, incentive books, field trips, professional development, parent education, reading programs, etc.”

Item 36
$2,000 to the Birmingham Board of Education.
“to help cover the costs of Huffman High School’s band uniforms.”

Item 39
$1,000 to Railroad Park Foundation.
“to help fund the Park’s ‘Relax by the Tracks,’ music series at the patron level.”

Item 41
$250 to Vulcan Park and Museum.
“to help fund the 2012 ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ show at Vulcan Park.”

Item 42
$1,200 to Vulcan Park and Museum.
“to help fund the 2012 ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ show at Vulcan Park.”

May 8, 2012

Item 15
$45,000 to Charles Williams & Associates, Inc.
“to provide basic architectural services for ADA Accessibility Upgrades at George Ward Park Project.”

Item 16
$20,200 to Building and Earth Sciences, Inc.
“to provide special inspection and construction materials testing for the Fire Station #14.”

Item 34
$136,650 to Battle Miller Construction Corporation, Hoover.
“for ADA Accessibility Upgrades for W. C. Patton Park.”

Item 35
$43,443 to Covington Flooring Company, Inc.
“for Crossplex Bleacher Padding.”

May 15, 2012

Item 32
$37,500 to Alabama Roofing and Sheetmetal Company, Inc., Anniston.
“for Rickwood Field Cupola Roof Repair.”

May 22, 2012

Item 33
$350 to the Vulcan Park and Museum.
“to help fund the 2012 ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ show at Vulcan Park.”

Item 34
$500 to the Vulcan Park Foundation.
“to help fund the 2012 ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ show at Vulcan Park.”

Item 35
$250 to the Vulcan Park and Museum.
“to help fund the 2012 ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ show at Vulcan Park.”

Total expenditures noted in this issue: $291,343

Total expenditures noted in this column since July 1, 2011, the start of the fiscal year: $30,932,554.92

Total expenditures noted in this column since November 22, 2005: $435,217,144.67

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.” &


Larry Langford’s wit and wisdom

Larry Langford’s wit and wisdom.


(click for larger version)


March 20, 2008

Visitors to the WERC 960 AM web site (www.960werc.com/pages/langford8Ball.html) will find a Magic 8 Ball flanked by two images of Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford. One is of Langford in his days as a WBRC Channel 6 reporter, complete with towering Afro. The other is the modern-day Langford, the savvy political animal we know, his hands folded as if in prayer.

Click on the ball to hear audio clips of various Langfordisms such as “Larry likes to move quickly without thinking,” “It’s gotta be something in hell we want, because we’re fightin’ so hard to get there,” “Mayberry R.F.D.—that’s all we are,” and “Do something, do anything.”

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. &

Who’s on First?

Who’s on First?

Your public official scorecard for the ongoing domed stadium debate.

April 19, 2007
As of April 13, Mayor Bernard Kincaid had no comment on the latest chapter in the ongoing soap opera involving Birmingham City Hall and the Jefferson County Commission about construction of a domed stadium, or “multipurpose facility” as Kincaid prefers to call it. Kincaid and Commission President Bettye Fine Collins had reached agreement a couple months earlier on a scaled-down version of the arena. Kincaid seemed confident that the facility would finally be constructed after more than a decade of debate. “When we met with the business leadership group, some of them wanted to see a business plan, which is being formulated as we speak,” Kincaid said at an April 10 press conference. “Upon its completion, I will then have them come back and present to the council, because it is a business decision, and hopefully at that point we can get the council to approve it.” The next day, the agreement between the Mayor and the commission president appeared to be crumbling when Collins announced that she would not support the arena unless the state legislature passes a bill that would keep in effect the county’s occupational tax. The tax is the county’s funding source for expansion of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

In February, Kincaid and Collins agreed on a facility smaller than the originally proposed 65,000 seats. The planned increase in exhibition space would be the same regardless of seating capacity. The BJCC board, which includes Kincaid and Collins, approved the proposal at a February 24 board retreat in Salt Lake City, Utah. Neither the Birmingham City Council nor the County Commission has approved the building of the proposed 40,000-seat arena.

Collins has previously opposed a domed stadium concept. She has since relaxed her previous opposition to football being played indoors at a multipurpose arena. Oddly, she refused to endorse the arena concept if the facility’s design allows for a future increase in seating capacity. BJCC executive director Jack Fields has said that

it would be too costly to retroactively increase the seating capacity if the arena was not designed with that option. Collins continued to balk at plans by Fields to spend $33 million of BJCC funds to add a 300-room extension to the adjacent Sheraton Hotel (also owned by the BJCC). Collins prefers that increased hotel space be paid for by private developers.

The Birmingham City Council had previously committed $8.8 million per year (for 30 years) for BJCC expansion when the facility’s proposed capacity was 65,000 seats. In February, after Kincaid and Collins found common ground for a smaller venue, Councilors Roderick Royal and Carol Duncan publicly supported the 40,000-seat facility. Councilors Carole Smitherman, Miriam Witherspoon, Steven Hoyt, and William Bell opposed the scaled-down arena (Smitherman has recently suggested that a “roof” be put over Legion Field). Councilors Valerie Abbott, Maxine Parker, and Joel Montgomery were undecided (Abbott and Montgomery opposed expansion proposals a year ago).

On April 16, the day before the County Commission was to vote on arena funding, several councilors elaborated on their stances. Abbott admitted she was leaning in favor of the project “if the sun, moon, and stars line up right,” adding that private investment for an entertainment district made building an arena more practical. Parker remained undecided, though she believed that it is not very pragmatic to limit seating to 40,000 with no expansion. “I don’t see what we’re getting for our full money’s worth with 40,000 seats,” noted Parker. Council President Smitherman has changed her mind somewhat. She now supports the smaller arena if improvements are also made to Legion Field. Witherspoon said she has not altered her position. “You always build a house with the anticipation of expanding,” said Witherspoon. “I don’t see the significance to building a domed stadium with a limited amount of seating without having the capacity to expand.”

The County Commission has committed $10 million annually, through 2008, to BJCC expansion. The commission also must approve the project, which would include extending the current annual payment until 2038. The county’s portion comes from an occupational tax that the state

legislature is considering for elimination. Commission President Collins said in the April 12 Birmingham News that it would be “foolish” for the commission to commit the money unless the legislature passes a bill guaranteeing the tax will remain.

Commissioner Larry Langford, a one-time proponent of a domed stadium, has stated he will not support a 40,000-seat arena that has no capacity to expand later. Langford has been critical of Kincaid and Collins for their newly formed close working relationship, since Kincaid failed to meet with him when Langford was commission president. Langford told the News that Collins and Kincaid had done little get their proposed arena accomplished since agreeing on the project.

Commissioner Shelia Smoot, who, like Langford, has voted for a domed stadium in the past, was initially undecided on the smaller facility, as was Commissioner Jim Carns. But after Collins began to back out of the deal, Smoot expressed her support for a domed arena. Langford reportedly now favors a larger arena with capacity exceeding 65,000. Carns shares Collins’ fear that the county cannot afford even the smaller facility without an occupational tax. Commissioner Bobby Humphryes has consistently opposed any domed stadium concept.

The cost for the 40,000-seat facility and related expansion is $505 million, whereas a 65,000-seat domed stadium would cost approximately $623 million. Governor Bob Riley has refused to commit state funds until the city and county approve the plan. As the time of this writing, the County Commission was scheduled to vote on April 17 on funding commitments for the arena. Neither arena proposals appear to have enough votes to pass. &

The Mayor fights the Council on a police pay raise.




The Mayor fights the Council on a police pay raise.


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

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

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

City under siege

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

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

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


Illustration by Nolen Otts. (click for larger version)

Kincaid disputes crime increase

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

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

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

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. &

City Hall


March 09, 2006

William Bell Is Finally Back

Councilor William Bell’s District Five election win over incumbent Elias Hendricks four months ago raised more than a few eyebrows around the city. After having been chosen interim mayor when longtime Mayor Richard Arrington stepped down in 1999 several months prior to the end of his 20-year reign (the council president is next in line for the mayor’s position if the mayor steps down), Bell lost a mayoral runoff to present mayor Bernard Kincaid. Purportedly, the plan was for Bell to run against Kincaid as a pseudo-incumbent. Bell’s loss essentially drove a stake through the heart of Arrington’s powerful political machine, the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition. Most figured Bell’s political career in Birmingham was essentially over. Everyone, that is, except William Bell.

In his years as council president in the 1990s, Bell’s theatrics ran interference for Arrington in the former mayor’s weekly showdowns with former Councilor Jimmy Blake. Among Blake’s complaints were his objections to minority preference in a city that is predominantly black. Blake never backed down from his premise that whites were the real minority. So it was with great irony that minority hiring would initiate a showdown between Bell and Councilor Roderick Royal at the February 28, 2006 Council meeting.

Bell has been surprisingly quiet during his current tenure, maintaining a low profile that fulfilled his promise of humility upon return to the Council. His suggestions at committee meetings and his grasp of how city politics function have been mildly impressive. Fortunately for those who report on City Hall, William Bell appears to have eaten his last slice of humble pie, returning to his former high-profile, ready-for-a-fight persona.

At issue was the city’s hiring of All Seasons Travel to facilitate travel arrangements for the 198 neighborhood officers attending the 2006 NUSA (Neighborhoods USA) Conference in Kansas City in May. Birmingham’s representation at NUSA has been a source of controversy in years past, primarily because the city has, by far, the largest delegation, and many local citizens regard the trip as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Other past controversies stemmed from fish fries held by delegates on the balconies of their hotel rooms, which did little to erase perceptions that the city was being represented by a bunch of country yahoos.

Bell questioned why All Seasons Travel was the only company the city sought bids from. Jim Feinstermaker, chief of the Community Development Department, which oversees the neighborhood associations, replied, “We’ve worked with All Seasons in previous years, so we just went back to them.” Bell asked that the resolution earlier approved in the meeting be brought back before the Council for reconsideration, to allow bids from minority travel agencies that might also offer cheaper rates. Councilor Roderick Royal, who acknowledged that “it’s important to find minority participation where we can find it,” said the city had worked with All Seasons for more than 15 years. “Certainly, if there was concern, we should have been addressing it a long time ago. And I hope that falls on good soil,” added Royal, in what appeared to be a slap at Bell. Royal at one time was Bell’s administrative assistant before a rumored falling out occurred between the two.

“You know what, Madam President? That little twerp over there, he needs to get a life!” Bell exploded in anger. “I mean, I’ve sat here and let him shoot at me all these years. Now what happened here 15 years ago, I asked Mayor Richard Arrington the same thing [regarding minority hiring]. I’ve been consistent. When you look at all of the minority participation bills [in the past], you’ll see one name on there. None of the [current councilors’] names were on those bills passed in the past. You’ll see one name on there: William A. Bell!” At meeting’s end, Bell apologized for not attending a recent function at Lily Grove Baptist Church. He then added, “And I may want to apologize for something else, but let me think about it a little bit longer.” With her usual dry sense of humor, Councilor Valerie Abbott deadpanned, “I want a definition of twerp . . . I truly don’t know what it is.”
Council Approves Wal-Mart Corporate Welfare

Freshman Councilors Miriam Witherspoon and Steven Hoyt have made minority contract hiring a priority regarding tax incentives and cash payouts to those who wish to do business with the city. Hoyt demanded 20 percent minority representation for sub-contractors building the new Wal-Mart in the blighted Eastwood Mall location. Despite protests from Councilor Joel Montgomery and some city residents that there is no guarantee that Wal-Mart would stay in the location, many believe Wal-Mart will be an economic boon for Councilor Carol Reynolds’ District Two. The $11 million cash deal to purchase the Eastwood Mall property for Wal-Mart was approved unanimously by the council on February 28. District One Councilor Joel Montgomery, who was absent from the meeting due to his claims that he was sick, set a City Council precedent when he phoned from his sickbed to voice opposition to the Wal-Mart deal via the council chamber’s public address system. Reynolds walked out in protest when Montgomery began speaking. Council President Carole Smitherman properly refused to allow Montgomery to vote and went so far as to tell him he didn’t sound sick.

Montgomery remains angry that Wal-Mart left his district a few years ago to build a Wal-Mart Super Center in District Two, an arrangement that has caused a rift between Councilor Reynolds and himself. Reynolds has been a cheerleader for Wal-Mart, despite complaints from many nationwide that the mega-corporation fails to pay wages high enough to provide health insurance for many employees. Reynolds, who is employed by the Birmingham Water Works and recuses herself from Water Works issues that come to a vote by the Council, has been vocal in the past about encouraging Water Works employees into a union. But despite her rallying behind Wal-Mart, she’s savvy enough to hedge her bets with the odd statement: “I’m not a huge fan [of Wal-Mart] I’m a K-Mart girl.” &