City Hall — June 19, 2001

It has been awhile since Councilor Jimmy Blake launched verbal missiles of malcontent at both Mayor Bernard Kincaid and Council President William Bell during the same council meeting. Blake’s preemptive tirade and the two municipal leaders’ return fire are the featured entertainment this morning as Kincaid vetoes council amendments to his Fiscal Year 2001-2002 operating budget.No toilets, dumpsters spell doom for Fall Fair and Spring Fling

Council President Bell’s 6 percent pay raise proposal for all city employees [the only avenue available for raising public safety salaries] ignites the morning’s first debate. The across-the-board raise is deemed irresponsible by both Kincaid and Blake. The Mayor cites “devastating effects upon the city of Birmingham and its long-term health” as his reasons for vetoing the budget passed by the council at last Tuesday’s meeting. “By placing employee pay raises at the center of the budgetary process, the budget adopted by the council decimates vital funding for city departments, virtually eliminates the city’s contingent liability account, and jeopardizes the city’s financial reserves unnecessarily,” warns Kincaid.

The council approved a three-year contract with United Shows of America in August 2000 to conduct the Fall Fair and Spring Fling, obligating the city to provide up to $65,000 per event for promotion and sponsorship, as well as covering costs of portable toilets and dumpsters. The removal of $265,000 in funding for management fees associated with Fairgrounds events means the end of the carnivals, according to the Mayor, resulting in economic suffering for Five Points West area merchants.


Blake calls city hall “a chamber of buffoonery”


Councilor Blake characterizes city hall as “a vacuum of responsible leadership in this city that everyone is playing a role in.” Blake shouts down the council budget as nothing more than an “irresponsible, childish, vindictive–it don’t [sic] even add up–budget.” He notes that each budget process he’s endured in his eight years on the council gets “worse and worse and worse.” For a politician not seeking re-election, Blake is on a roll. “I tell you, sitting down on this city council is the most frustrating thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he notes as audience members applaud. “The Mayor won’t meet with anybody. [And] William Bell? Talking to him is like talking to a wall, because his boss don’t [sic] stay in city hall anymore. It’s ridiculous!” Blake, infuriated that the Mayor’s lack of understanding political processes allows Kincaid’s enemies to destroy his administration to the point that “people see city hall as a chamber of buffoonery,” scoffs at Kincaid for “refusing to learn anything about anything,” The councilor again hurls insults at the council, bellowing, “And God knows, the only direction coming from the council office is who can hand the most to the most of their friends. It’s an outrage that we have to choose between corruption and incompetence in the city of Birmingham. WE NEED A THIRD WAY!” He abstains from approving the budget, declaring, “It’s time to wipe the slate clean!” Blake notes that only the “biggest fool in Alabama” would support the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition, represented on the council by Bell, Bandy, Little, Gunn, and Alexander.Kincaid, Bell tag team “Blake the Snake”

Metaphorically armed and dangerous, Kincaid and Bell waste precious little time counter-attacking Blake. Council President William Bell, admitting that at one time he had a reputation as a “hot-head,” fires the first round as he thanks Blake for teaching him restraint over the years. “He has pushed every button possible. He has attacked me, he has attacked my family . . . I guess he thinks that because he yells ‘corruption’ so much and so often, that people believe it.” Bell continues: “Now ladies and gentlemen, I’m not smart enough to be able to outwit the federal government and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I’m not smart enough to outwit all of the people who look at my actions as an elected official. And I still sit here today despite all of what Dr. Blake has said in the last election [1999 mayoral election in which Kincaid beat Bell decisively].” Bell aims a side volley at Kincaid when he references a song called “The Snake” by soul singer Al Wilson, noting that the Mayor “brought a snake into his campaign, and he listened to that snake. That snake has given him advice and helped him to get to where he is. And now that snake has turned around and has bit him!” Councilor Alexander is suddenly moved to shout “How many times?” while Councilor Bandy yells, “Tell it!” Some members of the audience scream “Go ‘head on!”Mayor Kincaid embraces the gospel ambience as he takes his turn. “Now, I’m no snake charmer,” as Citizen Coalition councilors shout their approval of Kincaid, a rare occurrence. “But the way the song went, ‘You knew I was a snake when you picked me up!’” says the Mayor as he glares at Blake. Kincaid notes that Blake is acting this way because the Mayor wouldn’t meet with a group of neighborhood leaders assembled by Blake. Past condemnation by Kincaid of Blake’s desire to be mayor surface again. “Behind the Mayor’s desk [there] is not a chaise lounge. It doesn’t have room for but one person. It’s a chair. And [it] does not have enough room for a committee to sit behind the Mayor’s desk! And that offended some people [presumably Blake]. Some people that, by the way, I did not ask to support me for mayor!”

All over but the pouting

Councilor Loder [rumored by some Birmingham political observers as Kincaid's number one challenge in the 2003 mayoral election should former mayor Richard Arrington fail to assemble a Jefferson County Citizens Coalition majority in the October council election] gives credit to Arrington for leaving the city in sound financial condition. But he refuses to support council budget proposals due to the possibility of depleting the city’s savings. Loder disagrees with Blake’s assessment that there’s a lack of leadership in Birmingham, focusing instead on “unique styles of leadership.” He says he’s willing to trust the voting public’s decision in the October election. “I’m willing to respect the decisions that the public makes, and we move on. That’s what life is all about. No use in pouting about it.”

Science fun with Aldrich Gunn

Despite statements from the chairman of the Birmingham Airport Authority last week indicating that proposed construction of a parallel runway would not proceed, Councilor Alexander [a member of the Airport Authority] says that no final decision has been made in that regard. Councilor Bill Johnson wants the $10 million in the airport budget for the new runway removed before he’ll support budget approval. The proposed runway would wipe out East Lake Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Councilor Aldrich Gunn insists he was against the airport expansion before his council district was re-configured to include the area that would be decimated. In response to Gunn’s query about where the water in the park’s lake would go when “thousands of cubic feet of concrete” are poured to fill up the lake, a man in the audience hollers, “Evaporation!” Gunn doesn’t miss a beat as he coolly responds, “Yeah, but it still comes down, even in evaporation. I’m not a scientist, but I understand the process.” The item is delayed for one week until the fate of the $10 million can be studied more closely.

June 26, 2001

It’s a lackluster Tuesday for the Birmingham City Council. Most of the interesting sparks are saved for the segment at the end of the meeting when area citizens address city officials.

Birmingham’s Hollywood future

In an attempt to woo movie stars to Birmingham, the council is mulling the creation of the Birmingham Film Commission, a proposed entity designed to recruit the film industry and develop the city as a hotbed for creating big screen entertainment. The council votes to wait a week before deciding on the film commission’s fate.

An amendment to a resolution passed by the council two weeks ago is approved. It will allow Mayor Kincaid to enter into a $20,000 contract with Osiris Chess Club, Inc. to teach Birmingham children how to play chess. The instructional effort is expected to raise intellectual abilities and self-esteem, according to city officials. Some city employees laugh that it’s the perfect way to prepare Birmingham youth for day-to-day “adult bureaucratic games” at city hall.

Parking meter accused of stealing time

Today’s meeting finally gets interesting when Birmingham residents take turns launching attacks on the various factions running city business. The first speaker is a woman named April May who reads a lengthy, rhyming discourse she composed that scolds the council for not giving Mayor Kincaid a chance to run the city. Included are references to the amount of time spent bickering, the council “making too big a deal out of the Mayor’s car [the Lincoln Town Car he demanded when he was elected],” and “problems with the street lights and prostitutes walking day and night.” Councilor Gunn immediately responds, “Paid political advertisement.” Council President Bell interrupts, “Now hold it, Mr. Gunn.” Gunn later apologizes and admits he should have just referred to the woman’s oration as “a poem.”

Lee E. Loder, father of Councilor Lee Wendell Loder, urges the Mayor and council to “lighten up.” The elder Loder, who was defeated in a bid for the Jefferson County Commission by Rueben Davis, says he voted for Bell for mayor, but “I’m dissatisfied with what I did at the time.” He points at Councilor Loder, saying, “That’s my son. He’s not my child. He’s a child of God! My son does not know how to play the tricks like some of us do to get things passed.”

Geraldine Jackson, who frequently marches in front of city hall urging the defeat of all on the council seeking re-election except Councilor Loder, complains about downtown parking meters “stealing time.” Jackson says she recently had three hours on the meter where she parked, but returned less than three hours later to find a meter violation ticket on her windshield. She then turns her attack on the council’s re-election bids, yelling, “I think you need to go! We are tired of you! We want you to get out of city hall!”

Otis Jones stands before the council with a homemade placard shaped like a road sign covering his torso. The sign reads: LUKE 10:27. Jones lashes out at councilors, noting, “Don’t know what road we’re on, but we’re on a wide road going nowhere!” Jones is a regular at council meetings, constantly videotaping or snapping photos of proceedings. Councilors frequently joke that Jones has no film in his camera.

Community activist and radio talk show host Frank Matthews calls the master plan detailing the future of the Birmingham International Airport a “disaster plan” that is nothing less than “diabolical.” Matthews tells the council a strange story about a foul odor he once encountered each time he drove his car. One day he finally looked under his automobile and found a dead gopher. Matthews relates this anecdote to the irresponsibility of the airport’s plans to expand, and says that “tree-huggers” from the Cahaba River Society have not reviewed how expansion would affect the environment at the airport. &