I hate being a jerk

I feel like a jerk when I write a negative piece about Birmingham.

It pains me to criticize the community I love so much.

And it’s particularly hurtful when I get an e-mail from a community leader and friend chastising me like this one…

I don’t want to gloss over our problems, but I also think an overly negative self-image does nothing to help fix those problems.  In fact I think that a negative self-image can prevent us from solving problems, by giving everyone such a pessimistic attitude that we think it can’t be done.”

I feel even worse when I inadvertently cause the “Birmingham haters” to spew their negative comments.

But watch it, Birmingham haters—when I talk about Birmingham, I’m talking about our entire metro area, which includes Bibb, Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby, and Walker.

My intent is to convince folks in our region that we need better government.

So when I feature poor economic statistics, please note that these numbers impact everyone in our region—not just Birmingham.

The 2011 Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities Index ranks Birmingham 182nd out of the 200 largest U.S. metropolitan areas by how well cities create and sustain jobs for economic growth.

The Birmingham Business Journal says Birmingham ranks No. 34 among large Southern metros for small business vitality. (April 10, 2012).  I didn’t know there were 34 large Southern metro areas.

The Birmingham Business Journal says Metro Birmingham ranks 91st  in job growth of the 100 largest metros. (April 10, 2012)

And according to al.com, Birmingham ranks near the bottom of the nation’s 337 metros in construction jobs. (May 3, 2012)

Our region (not just Jefferson County) is a financial train wreck. It’s costing us jobs and hurting our standard of living.

Let’s improve our government and so I don’t have to feel like a jerk.

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David Sher is a partner in Buzz12 Relationship 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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11 Responses to I hate being a jerk

  1. Chris G. says:

    Well said, actually. You know, after a half-century of living here, I am really tired of the Chamber Of Commerce mentality that infects people. Just last week, I was in Denver. It’s a city with only a million more people in the metro population, but it’s a city that really has its act together. A great downtown area. Professional sports teams. Light rail. Good schools. The whole enchilada. 

    Walking through downtown, the question that came to my mind a good deal was this: “Why does Birmingham have to suck?” And by that, I mean the City of Birmingham and all the surrounding area. 

    Face it. We suck. And the shame of it all is that we don’t have to. We’re a city that’s filled to the rafters with intelligent, hard-working, conscientious people who would give their collective shirts off their backs to help others. 

    Yet the moment we begin to discuss our collective civic life, we turn into a bunch of knuckle-dragging halfwits. Halfwits who cling to whatever parasitic bedroom community we inhabit and pretend that Birmingham doesn’t exist. Halfwits who continue to vilify those of a different ethnicity. Halfwits who file into the polling station and vote for corrupt halfwits. Halfwits who tolerate a 10% sales tax to pay for our incredibly wasteful and redundant services. After all, how many fire departments and police departments do we need? 

    Is halfwit too harsh? Look at the past sixty years of history in this city, and decide for yourselves. The racial problems. The destruction of the trolley system and the train station. The continued division of the population into suburbs. The current idiocy with the Birmingham school board. Hell, we can’t even support a daily newspaper. 

    So while it is easy to point at other communities in our metro area, we are all guilty of being halfwits. White and Black. Young and Old. Republican and Democrat. And it’s time to stop. If you live within the city of Birmingham, it’s up to you to start electing politicians who give a damn. Your awful schools are your fault. 

    If you live in Mountain Brook or Vestavia or Hoover, it’s up to you to look beyond the end of your complacent little button nose and realize that you can’t simply snipe at the City of Birmingham in the comfort of your country club’s Sunday buffet. And if you live in the surrounding counties, you too are beneficiaries of Birmingham, whether you like it or not. As Birmingham goes, so does Oneonta or Jasper or Pell City. 

    So stop thinking of yourselves as citizens of Birmingham or Hoover or Pell City and start thinking of yourselves as the citizens of something larger. A metropolitan area that’s home to some pretty smart people who deserve to be governed smartly. 

    • David Sher says:

      Chris G, I’m going to have to abandon this blog and turn it over to you. It’s certainly true that we have a lot of shortcomings, but’s not overlook our strengths. Our people are generous, nice, helpful; and our region is beautiful. We just have never lived up to our potential. Would you consider subscribing to our newsletter, continue to comment, and encourage others to do so. http://www.thecomebacktown.com/enewsletter-sign-up/

  2. Shirley Hicks says:

    After spending three years learning about the state and the region, my observation is that the main source of the problem is the state governance structure. It’s far more difficult to make changes in local governance than it is in many other U.S. states. This slows down the process, getting state level actors involved, with plenty of micromanagement. 

    People can have the best intentions and character in the world, but poor system design can really get in the way.* 

    Good systems that are easy to use and easy to understand reduce workloads at all levels. It has to be a priority at the time of creation – and re-evaluated at regular intervals to keep it that way.

    *(Or, as the 1901 drafters of the state constitution intended, really slow down change, curtail local control, and keep power where they could comfortably wield it).

  3. Kevin Stump says:

    *Glad to see this David. I have had an ongoing discussion with the BBA about the efficiencies of a metropolitan government and the inefficiencies of 31 separate municipal governments but it seems it’s too sensitive of an issue. I, like you, hate to bash our community because I have lived here since 1977, raised a family here and love so much about our area. However, as a business man, it pains me to see such a waste of resources. 

    • David Sher says:

      Kevin, thanks for your comments. Actually there are 37 municipalities in Jefferson County–but who’s counting? My sense is BBA feels it’s an issue that can’t be won, so why try? However, we make those fights everyday with all the symptoms created by our redundant governments/no home rule and don’t win those either. So let’s fix the root cause.

  4. Rick Haberstroh says:

    *can anyone tell me why our state constitution has not been updated?

    • David Sher says:

      Simple response. Most people seem to be happy with the status quo. Until everyone understands the havoc created, we will make no progress. The more of us who speak up, the more people will pay attention.

  5. MIKE GILES says:

     I’M IN TOTAL AGREEMENT WITH ALL THE ABOVE OR ALL IN AS THE AUBURN FOLKS SAY. NOTHING WILL CHANGE UNTIL WE MAKE IT CHANGE WHICH WE CAN DO IF EVERYONE THAT DESIRES CHANGE IS WILLING TO GET ON THE BANDWAGON. I REALLY BELIEVE THAT THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE IN THE ENTIRE METRO AREA WANT THIS BUT DON’T WANT TO GET OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONE TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. DAVID, MAYBE YOU COULD START A PETITION ON YOUR SITE FOR ANYONE TO E-SIGN SO WE CAN DOCUMENT THE DESIRE FOR CHANGE. WHO’S IN ?

  6. David Sher says:

    *Mike I like that idea.  I will do some research.

  7. *I am” in ”  on “change.’” I am “open for business” as regards entrepreneurial advancement. As I have reiterated here before (avoid being like a cd that skips = “broken record” in the old days), let’s get the conversation off the ground with a movement that already exists, has been educating leaders in this region for over 25 years. . . a consistent process that has “legs.” Leadership Birmingham. And the Birmingham Comprehensive Plan has got legs as well. We don’t have to start from scratch.  

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