Voting place confusion — July 17, 2001

City Hall

July 17, 2001

Voting place confusion

Mayor Kincaid announces a special meeting of the Election Commission to examine the designation of polling places in conjunction with the new council redistricting plan. The commission had added 19 additional polling places, but Jerry Wilson, consultant for Reapportionment Group 2000, the organization which drew new council district boundaries, was concerned that new polling places might cause confusion among voters. Wilson suggests that former polling places be kept intact, but the Mayor notes two “abhorrent things” regarding his request: Some polling places are outside the jurisdiction of Birmingham, which means city police could not be dispatched if needed. The other problem is that some polling places are now split boxes, holding two districts ballots.

Council President William Bell condemns the “rumor mill” as he denies responsibility for sending voters across the city to new polling places, creating enough confusion to discourage voting [Local political observers note that the Jefferson County Citizen's Coalition, which has endorsed Bell in the past, desires low turnout, confident that they can get their supporters to the polls.] Bell stresses that only the Election Commission makes such decisions. He also notes that past elections have included both polling places outside of Birmingham and split boxes.

Councilor Little says it is her understanding that the county is responsible for security problems at polling places. However, City Clerk Paula Smith explains that county law enforcement is only involved when city and county elections are held jointly.

Airport Authority compliance with “sunshine laws” questioned

Councilor Pat Alexander delays a resolution adopting the 2001-2002 capital and operating budgets of the Birmingham Airport Authority for two weeks. Councilor Johnson praises removal of the controversial $10 million that had been left in the revised version of the airport budget for a new runway. [The proposed parallel runway was the centerpiece of controversial future plans for airport expansion. It has been widely reported that representatives of the Airport Authority had indefinitely suspended immediate plans for the new runway, which called into question why $10 million was retained in the budget for expansion.] Johnson questions why other items in the budget rose “rather substantially” in the past three months, including a $5.5 million increase for the air carrier apron rehabilitation and $13 million increase for extension of Runway 24 [east-west runway]. Councilor Alexander, who serves on the Airport Authority, does not respond to Johnson’s queries about reasons for the increases. Councilor Blake protests that budget changes by the Airport Authority were not discussed in public. “It makes me wonder if they’re [Airport Authority] having secret meetings, which would be illegal,” says Blake. Alexander immediately snaps back, “We don’t have ‘secret meetings,’ Mr. Blake!” When Blake asks how the budget changes were approved, Alexander explains that the changes came from council finance committee meetings, which she says were all open to the public. Blake does not budge. “I’m gonna be very hesitant to support any budget that’s done behind closed doors and not in the public view,” he insists, as the audience in the council chambers applauds. “We’ve got too many signs of arrogance among boards and agencies in the city of Birmingham . . . and we need to stop that.”

Johnson questions why the council does not have power to amend the Airport Authority budget since the council does have the power to approve or disapprove the budget. City Attorney Tamara Johnson explains that the lease assignment and operating agreement between the city and Airport Authority states that only the Airport Authority can make budget changes. Councilor Johnson questions the city attorney’s interpretation, but the city attorney explains that the council is limited to only making budget suggestions. Councilor Blake ends the discussion when he notes that the Airport Authority has no budget without council approval.

Mosquito patrol ready for action

Councilor Blake addresses the severity of mosquitoes in the Birmingham area this summer. Street and Sanitation Department head Stephen Fancher says that the city has been spraying since early spring, both in regularly highly-infested neighborhoods and upon request. Fancher notes, however, that neighborhoods will not be sprayed when residents with health problems and “bee-keepers” ask the city to refrain. Councilor Don MacDermott praises Street and Sanitation for spraying the same day that his district’s residents made requests. Councilor Blake asks what type of insecticide the city currently uses, but Fancher explains that a new chemical is being used this summer, and he is not sure what the pesticide actually is.

Voting machine, ballot vendors continue to demand payment

The saga rages on regarding payment for providers of voting machines and ballots in the February 2001 referendum in which voters decided to give the public a voice in who should control Water Works assets. [Judge Art Hanes, Jr. ruled in the council's favor returning the assets to the Water Works Board, a decision Mayor Kincaid has challenged in court.] Kincaid notes that the Election Commission [which then included Kincaid, Council President Bell, and City Attorney Johnson] unanimously approved the referendum, making it legal. Councilor Little continues to call the referendum a “political game,” condemning Kincaid for past references to the referendum as a “pre-council election.” She says that it’s up to the Mayor to find the money to pay the bills. Kincaid replies that his referral to the referendum as a precursor to the October council elections does not mean the council can ignore the costs in holding such a referendum. Reiterating that the Election Commission approved the referendum, Kincaid notes, “Even though you didn’t like the outcome, you still have to pay it. Just as you’ll have to pay the bill for the October 9 [council election] whether you like the outcome or not.” Kincaid supporters in the audience voice loud approval.

An angry Councilor Johnson rebukes comments that the council should avoid paying the referendum’s costs out of fear that legal positions regarding Kincaid’s court challenge would be jeopardized. “The legal position that the city is jeopardizing is whether or not we live in a Banana Republic!” Johnson notes with obvious disgust. He admonishes councilors for ignoring “initiatives and referendum” as provided by state law that allows such referendums to take place when 10 percent of registered voter’s signatures are collected via petition.

July 24, 2001

Bobby Frank Cherry

Mayor Kincaid praises the peaceful tone of protests currently being held each morning in front of the Criminal Justice Building in downtown Birmingham. The protests focus on Judge James Garrett’s recent ruling that 16th Street Baptist Church bombing suspect Bobby Frank Cherry is incompetent to stand trial for murder. Kincaid is dismayed that “a Rule 11 technicality has shifted the burden of proof about the competency [of Cherry] onto the state.” The Mayor expresses hope that other opinions will be heard regarding Cherry’s mental faculties at the August hearing.

A coalition of local pastors and community leaders addresses the Cherry issue. “All of us got a virus, and it’s the Cherry virus. If you love justice, then you ought to have it to!” says Reverend Hagler. Local Nation of Islam representative William Mohammed calls the judge’s ruling “the irony of ironies,” and condemns the Justice Department because it “kept murderers from justice for 38 years,” and now calls Cherry incompetent.

Irate resident calls mobile home park “undesirable”

Birmingham resident Ethyl Hollaway complains to the city council about the “25 mobile homes of undesirable tenants” in the mobile home park where she resides. Hollaway says she is plagued with “five major illnesses” which make the loud music played in mobile home yards there intolerable. The elderly resident also complains about beer drinking in front of some homes. “It’s a shame and a disgrace where I have to live, and I’m too old to move,” says Hollaway. She adds that her undesirable neighbors “have no respect for me or my country!” Police Chief Mike Coppage says the residents in question are not violating noise ordinances, and confine beer drinking to their own yards. Coppage notes that the complaints have been checked out at all hours, day and night. He adds that the community is largely Hispanic, and says no one else has complained.

Persistent mosquitoes

Councilor Aldrich Gunn requests that the Street and Sanitation Department spray for mosquitoes in his district. Gunn is especially concerned about dead birds recently discovered in Collegeville, fearing possibilities that the West Nile virus that recently found in Georgia has invaded Birmingham. [The virus is transmitted from birds to humans via mosquitoes.] Gunn says it appears the birds “just fell over” and died. The councilor explains that the birds have been properly refrigerated until further examination for the virus by experts. Councilor Lee Loder warns that he heard such birds should not be touched, but Gunn says proper protection was taken in retrieving the dead birds. Councilor Blake urges the city to secure outside help if needed to combat the excessive number of mosquitoes infesting Birmingham this summer. “It’s a serious public health issue, not to mention just a hell of a nuisance,” says Blake. Street and Sanitation head Stephen Fancher says city-wide spraying is currently being employed, noting that it takes two weeks to spray the entire city with the four trucks available. Councilor Pat Alexander urges all citizens to simply stay indoors. &

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