Tag Archives: Mayor

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 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.” &

City Hall — Ready to Rumble


June 16, 2005

In lashing out at legislators who appear ready to change the makeup of the Birmingham Water Works Board, Mayor Bernard Kincaid may have kicked up more sand than rate-payers are prepared to swallow. Drawing lines in the regional sandbox that purchases water from the Birmingham system, Kincaid compared the plans of five Jefferson County state lawmakers to actions on par with “Jesse James.” The legislators—Jabbo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills; John Rogers, D-Birmingham; Eric Major, D-Fairfield; Jack Biddle, R-Gardendale; and Steve French, R-Mountain Brook—want to make the Water Works a regionally controlled entity. They insist that the board be expanded to include a more comprehensive representation of the area. Approximately 25 percent of the state uses Birmingham water.

The Mayor angrily dared surrounding municipalities to start their own systems if they didn’t want to purchase water from Birmingham. Apparently intent on taking jabs at every side, he then compared the contentious Water Works Board—whose outrageous salaries and unbridled rate increases have sparked outrage—to children. The Water Works Board voted unanimously on May 26 to increase rates by 6.5 percent, beginning July 1. Controversy has ensued, as the board claims rate increases are necessary because less water is being used. Several years ago, the board wanted to boost rates because too much water was consumed. Future rate increases are projected for January 2006 (8.75 percent) and January 2007 (7.75 percent).

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous to have two executives making $186,000 . . . Board members who are supposed to be providing public service are being paid for telephone meetings. Or to go and cut a ribbon and be paid. That’s ridiculous!” Kincaid thundered at a press conference following the June 7 City Council meeting. “You might have a sick child, and because you have a sick child, that’s of benefit to a lot of the community, you can’t have outsiders just coming in taking that child. And so you have to discipline the child, if it’s yours, to the extent that you can. The discipline is the tether that the City Council holds with respect to board appointments.” (Kincaid couldn’t resist taking a shot at the Council, either. Referring to the appointment process as “a circus,” he criticized them for not being able to get behind one candidate to put on the board.) The Mayor added, “You don’t go to the Galleria and tell them that you’re going to take over because you don’t like what they are charging. You might negotiate with the owners and try to see if you can get some concessions made on what’s being charged. But you don’t Jesse James the enterprise.”

“Anyone who thinks that they can take the Birmingham Water Works from the control of the city of Birmingham is sadly mistaken if they think they can do it without one heck of a fight,” Kincaid told councilors. “If the Galleria is based in Hoover and the majority of people that come and purchase from the Galleria live outside the city of Hoover, do you think it’s right all of a sudden for the Galleria to be divvied up among the people who shop there? The same thing pertains with the Water Works of the city of Birmingham. It’s ours! If individual entities outside of the city decide that they want water, and they don’t want to get it from Birmingham, they can start their own systems. But when they purchase from us, they do it because we have some of the best water in the country . . . . We are a provider. Individuals who get water from us are consumers. But it gives them no right for management, it give them no right for ownership. It’s ours.” As Kincaid concluded his call-to-arms, Councilor Carole Smitherman practically shouted, “Let’s get ready to rumble! Let’s get it on!”

From his bully pulpit, Kincaid may view himself as simply kicking sand back in the faces of local state legislators who dare to challenge Birmingham’s control of water. But if he’s not able to wrestle the Water Works into submission as a city department, as he tried several years ago, the Mayor may find his constituents choking to death when the suburbs start their own water system. With fewer rate-payers, Birmingham water may eventually become a little too expensive to drink.

Hatfields and McCoys Redux

The series of duels that have characterized the gradual split between the city council and Mayor Bernard Kincaid continued to dominate headlines the past several weeks. On July 16, the Council voted 6 to 3 [Council President Lee Loder and Councilors Bert Miller and Gwen Sykes sided with Kincaid] to keep the mayor’s limit on spending without council approval at $10,000. Kincaid had requested a $50,000 limit. The former council shackled Kincaid with the spending restriction 12 days after he took office, a move that was seen by many as revenge for then-Council President William Bell’s loss to Kincaid in the mayoral election. Former Mayor Richard Arrington had no such restraints during his tenure.Ironically, giving Kincaid more financial leeway to award city contracts was a campaign mantra for many of the present councilors. The virtual clean sweep of the council eight months ago signaled a new spirit of cooperation at City Hall, which had been plagued by councilors who refused to work with Kincaid during his first two years. But over the past two months the political honeymoon has slowly ended. And with Council Pro Tem Carole Smitherman’s announcement (within months of being elected councilor) that she was interested in Kincaid’s job, there may be some on the Council only too happy to see the political marriage end in a bitter divorce.

Controversy over the mayor’s spending ceiling first came to a head in May when Kincaid played a voice-mail recording for a reporter in which Councilor Carol Reynolds offered to vote for his spending increase in exchange for an appointment to the Airport Authority Board. Councilors condemned Kincaid for playing the telephone message. In June, approval of the 2002-2003 budget was threatened when Kincaid said the council would be in violation of the law by passing an unbalanced budget that Kincaid called “zany.” The council argued that the budget was indeed balanced. The threat of a third straight budget veto prodded the Council to compromise with the mayor, but councilors were outraged two weeks later when Kincaid gave raises totaling $100,000 to 19 members of his administrative staff. The raises were retroactive, prompting Councilor Smitherman to label them “government waste.” Other councilors expressed surprise at discovering how difficult it is to work with the mayor. Councilor Reynolds was especially disappointed, noting that she at one time considered Kincaid “my mentor.” Councilor Roderick Royal criticized Kincaid’s request for a $50,000 spending limit as “making someone emperor,” emphasizing that the raise would “damage what little communication we have” between the mayor and council. Councilor Valerie Abbott said that decisions made by “nine independent [councilors]” are better than those made by a single person. “If two heads are better than one, then nine heads are four and one-half times better than that,” Abbott surmised.

Now one of the old battles between the former council and Kincaid threatens to become a divisive element in 2002: the Roosevelt City fire station. It’s been more than a decade since residents of Roosevelt City were promised a fire station by former Mayor Richard Arrington. Two years ago, action was finally taken to fulfill that pledge. Led by former Councilor Sandra Little, who was defeated by Bert Miller in District Seven in October 2001, residents demanded that the fire station be built on Wintergreen Avenue in Roosevelt City. Kincaid refused, explaining that the poor quality of the building site would require as much as $850,000 in additional construction costs. The mayor’s choice of locations is the Bessemer Super Highway, which he supports because it reduces emergency response time to four minutes in Roosevelt City and Dolomite. There are also concerns that students at A.G. Gaston elementary school will be distracted by the constant sound of sirens responding to emergencies. The former council overrode Kincaid’s veto of the Wintergreen site, prompting an ongoing feud between Kincaid and Little.

Property for the Bessemer Super Highway site must still be acquired by the city, which owns all of the Wintergreen property. Two million dollars has been budgeted for the fire station, though land preparation costs could drive total spending for the Wintergreen locale to $2.2 million.

Wintergreen proponents staunchly remain committed to their site despite the land preparation hurdles, maintaining that its central location in the Roosevelt community is a plus. Kincaid argues that not having to make similar land preparation on Bessemer Super Highway means there is enough money left over to attach a police substation to the fire station, with another $300,000 remaining for a possible Roosevelt City library.

Meanwhile, angry residents continue to appear almost weekly to protest that construction has not begun anywhere in Roosevelt City. “We have been humiliated, ignored, and jerked around long enough about building our fire station,” said Calvin Elder, president of the Roosevelt City neighborhood. “The 6,000 residents of Roosevelt City are living daily unprotected with inadequate fire protection and medical rescue because of petty politics and selfish reasons.” Roosevelt City resident Brenda Jennings told the council at the July 23 meeting that residents have died while waiting for city paramedics to arrive. Jennings noted that money and land have already been secured [at the Wintergreen location], “so what is the problem with the fire station?” Angrily chastising city hall officials, she admonished: “If you have a personal favor you need to deliver to someone, you need to promise them something else besides our lives!”

Led by Bert Miller, the city council has finally begun to respond to residents’ concerns. Miller supports Kincaid’s choice of sites on the Bessemer Super Highway, and is urging Wintergreen proponents to forget their egos. “We’re not talking politics, we’re talking about saving people’s lives,” said Miller. Councilor Roderick Royal, however, isn’t buying Kincaid’s police substation caveat, which he defines as “a carrot.” Royal, who has said he “has no dog in the fight” [even though the Dolomite community that would be serviced by the fire station is in his district], doubts that a substation would do much to raise police presence in the area.

If the Birmingham City Council decides to build a fire station on the Wintergreen site, it will be one more move closer to the days when Kincaid and the former city council staged a weekly duel. That Sandra Little’s Wintergreen fire station is poised to once again become a wedge between Kincaid and the council must remind the Mayor how stifling a city council can be. &