December 19, 2000
Facing the dozen or so Birmingham Water Works employees attending this morning’s Council meeting to voice support for the return of the region’s water system assets to the Birmingham Water Works Board, Councilor Jimmy Blake expresses disbelief when Water Works employees are requesting that the city “not hold our assets hostage.” Blake promptly reminds the employees that the Water Works assets belong to all the people of Birmingham and are one of the most valuable assets the citizens have. Blake characterizes the employees’ gushing praise of the Water Works Board management as “naive,” and reminds everyone in the council chambers that not too long ago the Water Board wanted to turn the Water Works assets over to the city. He urges Water Works employees to avoid being used as “tools [of the Water Works Board]” and not to allow themselves to be “fooled.” Blake warns the public that the Water Board is a “highly politicized organization that used strong-armed tactics to get a resolution through this Council to essentially take the assets of the citizens out of the control of the city.” He further condemns the Water Board because it “has not been honest with the people of this city on a hundred different occasions,” according to Blake. Councilor Sandra Little shouts “Point of order!” as she tells Council President Pro Tem Aldrich Gunn, presiding over the meeting in Council President William Bell’s absence, that Blake is out of line because no one from the Water Works Board is present to defend themselves. As Gunn tries to hush Blake, the outspoken councilor shouts to the Water Works employees present, “Don’t be fools or tools!”
The Central Park Chargers 115-pound youth football team is present this morning to be honored for winning the national youth football championship in Daytona Beach, Florida. Central Park is a “split district,” divided by Councilors Little and Lee Loder, who have a few words of praise. “Thank you to this great football team!” Councilor Little tells the kids as she glows with pride. She urges everyone to support the Central Park league, emphasizing the improved conditions of the Central Park playing field due to recent upgrading from the Parks and Recreation Board. [Little is chairperson of the Parks and Recreation, and Arts Committee.] As a testament to the improved safety of the neighborhood, Little notes that she recently contributed money from her district discretionary fund to “secure the concession stand [at the football field] with burglar bars.”
Councilor Little complains to Mayor Kincaid about big trucks roaring down South Park Road next to the South Park Apartments, which are located in her district. “There are some 18-wheelers that’s going through there pretty fast, and we’ve been having this problem for about a couple of years,” says Little. The councilor notes that the addition of speed-breakers is not allowed, as such drastic measures to automatically slow automobiles and trucks would hinder emergency vehicles. Little says that she studied other city traffic dilemmas at seminars conducted at the League of Cities conference she and several other Birmingham city councilors recently attended in Boston [at last, evidence of something productive emerging from the notorious League of Cities conferences that councilors jet to at taxpayers' expense], and suggests erecting stop signs in place of speed-breakers to slow traffic flow.
John Garrett, head of the Traffic Engineering Department, tells Councilor Little, “Stop signs are not really intended as a speed control device. Their main purpose is to assign the right-of-way at intersections.” Garrett promises to look at the intersections along South Park to search out speed control methods that “might have an impact on those trucks.” Little cites the South Bessemer Housing Community as an example of stop signs in the middle of streets to slow traffic flow. Explaining that the use of stop signs at any location on a street other than an intersection is an “inappropriate use of a stop sign,” Garrett says the suggestion “would not comply with the national standards and things that we’re supposed to comply with.” Little argues that there are areas that do incorporate such stop sign practice, citing the aforementioned south Bessemer public housing [Little initially refers to the Bessemer community neighborhood as "the projects," but quickly switches the reference to "public housing."]. Acknowledging certain exceptions to stop sign placement, Garrett recognizes certain “public housing and private roads.” He quickly adds, “And with all due respects to Bessemer, they do not have a professional staff [laughs] of the type that Birmingham does.”
A resolution authorizing Mayor Kincaid to enter into a $150,000 contract with the Birmingham Construction Industry Authority [BCIA] to provide comprehensive assistance and certification of minority and disadvantaged businesses and enterprises is on today’s agenda. The encouragement of career opportunities for minority and disadvantaged students will be also be included through scholarships. Councilor Blake wants “somebody to define the terms minority’ and disadvantaged,’” a request that prompts Councilor Sandra Little to laugh uncontrollably. Council President Pro Tem Gunn smiles at Blake and says, “In this case, that’s you.” Sandra Little laughs even harder as Gunn continues his explanation to Blake: “You’re a minority on this Council. But you’re not disadvantaged. Disadvantaged is me when I get out into the public. I’m a minority when I get out into the circle of the world if, you want to talk about definitions and everything.”
At one time Birmingham had a program in place that set aside 20 percent of all city construction work for ethnic groups, most of which went to blacks, according to Mayor Kincaid. The Associated General Contractors filed and won a lawsuit against the city over the program. As a result, the city implemented the Birmingham Plan, a volunteer effort by general contractors to assist minority businesses and enterprises in securing subcontracting work. The BCIA coordinates the volunteer program.
Acknowledging that he understands the program, Blake responds: “My objection is this. We all are talking about pledges to end racism. And when we pass a law that is for the specific benefit of a particular race or gender group, we are perpetuating racism. We are flying in the face of that pledge [Birmingham Pledge] as it relates to racism.” Blake also questions restricting scholarships to students based on race. Mayor Kincaid replies, “You might not like what it stands for. You might not like the fact that it has a genesis in race. But it is the law.” Councilor Blake questions the propriety of citizens financing the program, to which an angry Kincaid answers, “Yes [they should], because understand this [speaking to Blake]. This city is 73 percent African-American by race, and blacks don’t get a fair share of the building!”
The vote is taken, with Blake voting “No” while the other two white councilors, MacDermott and Johnson, abstain. Council President Pro Tem Gunn resoundingly votes approval, practically shouting “Yes, to the second power!” Councilor Blake asks Gunn, “What kind of a vote is that, Mr. Pro Tem? A Florida vote?” &