Who’s the mayor of our region?

Mayor Petelos & Mayor Bell at launch of BBA Blueprint Birmingham

 

We know it’s not the mayor of Birmingham.

The City of Birmingham represents only 19% of the population of the metro area.

And Mayor Bell, who I strongly believe understands the importance of regionalism, has said on numerous occasions, “I was not elected mayor of the region.”

If he’s not the Mayor of Birmingham, then who is?

There’s not even a close second. Some may say it’s the President of the Jefferson County Commission, but he’s elected from one county district.  That means he’s accountable to 20% of the population of Jefferson County and 12% of the metro.

It’s not our new County Manager.  He wasn’t elected by anyone.

And when an elected official makes an effort to do what he feels is best for our region he’s taking a huge risk of antagonizing his constituency. Tony Petelos when he was Mayor of Hoover was open-minded when he held hands with Mayor Bell at the dedication of Railroad Park. And he went beyond courageous when he did not actively fight the relocation of the Barons from Hoover to Birmingham.  Even though Mayor Petelos chose to do what he thought was right for our region, his actions left him vulnerable to criticism by Hoover residents.

I attended a victory party for a Birmingham City Councilperson.  The celebration speech was all about potholes, garbage pickup, and other neighborhood issues.  There was not a single comment about the future of the City of Birmingham or the greater Birmingham region.

Every elected official is concerned with his or her piece of the puzzle.  There’s nothing wrong with our politicians—this is the system we created for them.  They are doing what they are supposed to do—please their voters.

How are we to compete?

Who is steering our ship?  We have no captain.

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 Who’s the mayor of our region?

  1. Don Erwin says:

    David,
     
    You are exactly right: We have no Mayor of the Region. Your March 22nd article in the Birmingham News was also compelling.
     
    The City of Birmingham has more than its share of troubles, yet it represents less than 20% of the population. Unfortunately, the media focuses more on that 20% than the other 80% of the region, which is doing much better, so the news is more negative than it should be. Because of media coverage, the Birmingham city council members are almost household names, yet few people know the names of the Hoover or Homewood or Gardendale city councilors. If we could get the Birmingham News staff out of their downtown building and locate them in six regional offices, we might get more balanced coverage. Of course that is not going to happen. Neither is a consolidated government. The people in the suburbs don’t want to be associated with what they view as a corrupt and inefficient Birmingham government, with misplaced priorities. They also want to keep their independent education systems. The people in the central city don’t want to lose power and become a political minority again, so what do we do?
     
    In countries with a parliamentary form of government, the prime minister is the real power, but there is typically a President, which is almost a ceremonial position, but is still respected. Why can’t we apply that same concept here?
     
    Suppose we had a Metro Mayor position, which was largely ceremonial, but who could be the spokesperson for the region. For a number of years, the Alabama Development Office would refuse to comment about economic development matters, but Steve Sewell at the EDPA would give the press comments. After a while, the press started coming directly to Steve at EDPA for comments about economic development issues. The same thing could happen here.
     
    With the right person as Metro Mayor – someone who was positive and PR savvy and who always gave the metro perspective – media coverage might start to have more of a regional view. Also, people in the region might be better able to visualize what a metro government might be like. Since the Metro Mayor would have no real power, hopefully he/she would not be threatening to current local governments.
     
    The Metro Mayor might have a staff of only 2-3 people, who would focus on public relations for the region, and who might administer several standing committees to study possible consolidation of some aspects of government – police, fire, garbage collection, the possibility of a regional jail, etc. There have been so many “long lassoing” annexations, that many city services are inefficient. One example: The city of Birmingham has 32 fire stations for 150 square miles of land area. That’s less than 5 sq. mi. per station, yet each station cost money to build, must be staffed with people and equipment, and incurs yearly operating costs. Maybe that’s why the Birmingham fire budget is more than twice as large as Montgomery’s, even though both cities have the same size population and land area.
     
    This is just an idea to refined and debated. Maybe it has some merit. We need to start somewhere.
     
    Don Erwin

     

    • David Sher says:

      Don, you’ve obviously given this a lot of thought. Good for you.

      Let’s keep this conversation going.

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