We in Birmingham join in mourning of the passing of the legendary South African leader, Nelson Mandela, who died last week at the age of 95.
It’s ironic that we are currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of our Civil Rights struggle the same year as Nelson Mandela’s death.
Many renowned speakers came to Birmingham this year and emphasized that Mandela was inspired by the Civil Rights struggle here in Birmingham. It’s clear that Birmingham played a key role in changing the world.
Birmingham has come a long way since 1963, but most would agree we haven’t lived up to our potential.
Many people blame this lack of progress on poor leadership.
Is lack of leadership the problem or is it a system of government in metro Birmingham and Alabama that leaves no room for leadership?
Let’s assume metro Birmingham had a visionary-selfless leader like Mandela who agreed to run for public office.
What office would that be?
It’s certainly not the Mayor of Birmingham. The Mayor of Birmingham represents only 19% of our metro population.
Mayor Bell is quoted as saying, “I wasn’t elected Mayor of our Region. I was elected Mayor of Birmingham.” (Birmingham’s Mayor represents less than one out of five people)
And if Mayor Bell tried to act like the Mayor of the region he would be voted out of office and be criticized for his megalomania.
Also note there’s no Mayor of Jefferson County—only five commissioners who represent five separate districts. The only major County official elected county-wide is our Sheriff—and he’s not empowered to manage our county.
And even if we did have one county-wide elected official, then that person couldn’t do his/her job because our State Constitution allows no home rule—which leaves the critical decisions to our State Legislature—not our County government.
There’s no one elected official with the geography, constituency, or resources to develop and implement a plan to move our region forward.
A world leader said this week, “Nelson Mandela fought for human rights and left his mark on the war against discrimination and racism. He was a strong proponent of democracy, a valued arbitrator, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and above everything he was a builder of bridges of peace and dialogue.”
Mandela overcame overwhelming odds to change South Africa–but at least it was possible for him to be elected to a top executive position–a position that does not exist here.
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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising Agency and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).