Four unsettling comments

The Birmingham News convened a panel of community leaders to discuss the future of Birmingham

 

The Birmingham News convened a panel of community leaders in April of 2011 to discuss the future of Birmingham.  Included were corporate CEO’s, non-profit professionals, and top political leaders.

Each panelist made his/her remarks and then questions or comments were solicited from the audience.

After several audience members spoke, I took my turn.  I said, “Birmingham’s biggest obstacle is poor government structure and unless we change that structure, we are stuck.”

I mentioned that we’re in competition with cities such as Nashville, Jacksonville, and Charlotte that have the advantage of a unified county-city government.  But I added that the problem is much broader, including our lack of home rule.

I believe most people in the room thought I was saying our only solution is for Birmingham to combine the city and the county…which may or may not be the best answer. I just know we have to do something differently.

Here are the four responses I received from the panel and the audience…

Response #1:  A corporate CEO on the panel said, “David, I respectfully disagree with you. It’s not likely we’ll ever get support for a unified government.  We need to put our effort and resources into things that are actually possible.”

Response #2:  A political leader on the panel said, “It’s a good thing our county and city aren’t combined.  Many of our county officials are in jail.”  (Of course, the reason they are in jail is Jefferson County didn’t have three branches of government—allowing outlaw Commissioners to do what they want with unchecked authority).

Response #3:  A well respected member of the audience responded, “Birmingham’s time has passed to make meaningful changes in government structure.  We need to concentrate on the items we can control.”

Response #4:  From a Mayor from one of the smaller municipalities in Jefferson County.  (There are 37 cities in Jefferson County.)  “He came to me after the session with a smile on his face and said, “What are you trying to do, throw me under the bus for the betterment of our community?”

Maybe combining the city with the county is a good idea; maybe it’s not.  But should we toss it or any other idea out because it might be difficult to achieve?

I believe one of the saddest lines in the world is, “Oh come now–be realistic.”  The best parts of the world were not fashioned by those who were realistic.

David Sher’s goal is to create a conversation on how to fix our fragmented and dysfunctional local government.

David Sher is a partner in Buzz12 Content Marketing and co-CEO of AmSher Receivables Management. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (ONB), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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2 Responses to Four unsettling comments

  1. Don Ammons says:

    David,

    The water in the “regional government” well has been heavily poisoned.  Any mention of combining local governments brings derision and total shut down of any constructive thoughts about improving local governance.  Since this is the situation we are in it appears to me that we must work within the framework of existing governments and make improvements that can ge designed and implemented locally.  Every time conversation is raised about the lack of local cohesion people are inclined to throw up their hands and claim that our hands are tied by our State and federal governments — by statutes on the books and consent decrees that have created our current situation.  That thinking leads to a sense of futility for ever accomplishing any movement is gaining cohesion in the Birmingham Area. 

    There are many things that can be done to help improve the situation and the Panel of Community Leaders is one.  The Birmingham News recently held a second meeting of that Panel,  The News reported that the statement of the Panel’s chairman, Mr. Johnny Johns, President of Protective Life set the tome for future discussions/actions.  Mr. Johns said that the Birmingham Area should undertake and implement a big project just to prove to ourselves that we can do it; or words to that effect.  That may be a great suggestion.  If so, then that big project should be one that, together with proving we can do it,  will pave the way and facilitate future undertakings that improve our area. 

    I submit that that big project should be restructioning the government of Jefferson Coutny to provide a Chief Executive that is elected countywide and change the County Commission to a legislative body.  When this is accomplished accountability will return to the Courthouse and positive and constructive steps can be taken to establish “home rule” and to bring the Birmingham Area back to its reghtful place of economic and political prominence in Alabama.  Reams can be written and discussed about this proposal, but it will mean little until a written proposal for making the changes is on the table and the business community takes seriously its possibilities and opportunities.  Here I will mention only one.

    A County wide elected County Executive would be in position to contemplate the future of Jefferson County and the Birmingham Region in ways no other community leader can.  The countywide elected County Executive would be able to bring together business, political, social and religious leaders to seriously address and prioritize the problems that need to be confronted in our area.  This County Executive would be able to gain endorsement and support of far reaching initiatives and programs from the County Commission.  This Executive would be the VOICE OF JEFFERSON COUNTY in communications with our Legislative delegation as a whole and its individual members.  The Birmingham News and other media would be reporting on County and Regional initiatives rather that such things as proposed lie detector tests.  

    There is such a proposal!      

           

    • David Sher says:

      Don, thank you so much for your thoughts. Our goal is to educate people in the Birmingham region as to why we are not competitive with other Southerns cities and begin a conversation to generate solutions.

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