Government structure is killing us

3rd Ave N. looking east from 18th street; courtesy of the Birmingham Historical Society


After World War II, Birmingham and New Orleans were the top two leading cities in the South.  Now they’re at the bottom. New Orleans had Katrina.  What’s Birmingham’s excuse?

Birmingham’s centrally located in the South, is absolutely gorgeous, and has very smart, likeable people–as do other Southern cities.  Why have we performed so poorly?  Is there something in the water?

Our government structure is wreaking havoc.  No one single person or entity has the power or authority to do anything; not the Mayor of Birmingham; not the City Council; not the County Commission; not the State Legislature.  In stead, everyone is working against one another.

The political leader who represents the most people in the region is the Mayor of Birmingham and he represents only 19% of the metro area population.

According to the 2010 Census, The Birmingham-Hoover SMSA population is 1,131,070.

  • Birmingham’s population is 212,237 (less than 19% of our SMSA).
  • Nine City Councilors represent nine districts (2% of metro each)–only the Mayor represents Birmingham.
  • Jefferson County’ population is 658,466 (58% of our SMSA)
  • Five County Commissioners represents five districts. (each represents 12% of metro–no one is elected that represents the entire County)
  • There are thirty-seven municipalities within Jefferson County.
  • Jefferson County lacks three branches of government which allows Commissioners to make decisions that have landed many of them in jail.

The County Commission itself has limited authority because home rule is not allowed by our State Constitution.  Jefferson County depends on our State Legislature to make important decisions and four local Legislators or one State Senator can make the final decision.

No one’s in charge.  Everyone has conflicting interests.  How can we compete?

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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6 thoughts on “Government structure is killing us”

  1. (This comment was actually left by Wade Kwon, It was accidentally deleted and reposted by us)

    Correction: New Orleans was one of the poorest cities in America before August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck. It was also ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in America based on crime rate, even worse than Birmingham.

    So Katrina was not the cause of New Orleans’ fall, but served as a minor catalyst in bringing it back from the brink through massive recovery efforts. This despite a 24 percent drop in population between 2005 and 2010.

    Some citizens returned to New Orleans after Katrina. Most citizens who have left Birmingham proper are not returning.

  2. Wade, thanks for your comments. That being said, New Orleans has excelled in many ways & is considered a major U.S. City. The BSC Championship game was recently played there. The NCAA final four will be held there in March. The Super Bowl will be played in New Orleans next year. New Orleans has a NFL football team & an NBA basketball team. In Birmingham this week we are celebrating the groundbreaking of a AA baseball team.

    Birmingham is being left behind.

  3. David,

    I agree with you.  Birmingham is being left behind due to it’s poor leadership.  I have believed for a long time that the city government should encompass the entire SMSA of over 1 million people.  At least we would all be pulling in the same direction. There would be more money to build and improve the infrastructure.

    Here’s the question.  What do we do about it?

  4. So what’s the answer? A big county government like Cobb County with a county manager?
    Or does Birmingham just need to straighten up its act? I (like everyone else probably) am of
    two minds about Home Rule.Yes it probably holds us back on some things but do I really trust
    the prople we have had so far at the county level to make big decisions? Not so much. As long as
    you have the capacity for people to create little kingdoms where they have power, You will have what
    we have now. Can the leaders of this area and the state step out of their self interest and kingdom building
    to do what’s right for the people? I haven’t seen much of that kind of behaviour. Maybe a good first step
    would be to elect all of the county commissioners AT LARGE. That might make them a little less myopic.


    1. Gary, thanks for your thoughts. Conversation and education is what we’re looking for. “Why are we in the Birmingham region stuck and not able to compete?” Much of the problems we’ve had with County Commissioners is the government structure of the County. In my opinion, the reason we have so many County Commissioners in jail is because there were no checks & balances (executive & legislative). The Commissioners had total authority & power. This may have been corrected somewhat with a new County Manager, Tony Petelos, but we still have the problem which you mentioned that each is only accountable to his/her district.

      We have no single individual who has the power or authority to get anything done. No one is looking at the big picture. Until we can find a way to speak with one common voice, we will continue to fight & compete with each other.

      Please continue to contribute.

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