Leadership Birmingham is a diverse group of Birmingham citizens who are selected each year to study Birmingham’s problems and opportunities and then go out and make a difference.
I was in the class of 1992 and when I graduated I asked the business leader who was delivering the commencement speech, “Why doesn’t Birmingham consider combining its city and county government?”
The speaker’s response was that a unified government was not achievable and we should put our efforts into goals that are plausible. He said we need to develop programs where our multiple municipalities could work together and build on those successes such as our County-wide library system.
I asked the exact same question twenty years later to another business leader and amazingly, got exactly the same response. Please note that nothing had changed other than Birmingham had slipped further behind.
I think we can safely conclude that our various municipalities will never work together in any meaningful way.
For years Irondale, Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, and Homewood have been discussing the advantages of building a common jail. The discussion continues, but still no jail.
Mary Lee Rice, the current President of the Vestavia Hills City Council, shared the following story with me in the fall of 2011:
“On April 27th there was significant tornado damage throughout Vestavia Hills, especially in the Cahaba Heights area. In response, the City had to devote its public works manpower, equipment and other resources to storm clean up and repair. This focus on storm damage lasted for about two months, resulting in a backlog of routine road maintenance projects and damage to a major piece of road equipment.
It was known that some Jefferson County’s public works equipment was sitting idle, due to the County’s financial problems and shortage of operational funds. To help solve Vestavia Hills’ public works backlog, the Mayor of Vestavia Hills contacted the Jefferson County Engineer to request a loan of a large piece of (idle) equipment for road repair. The Mayor hoped to use the equipment in Vestavia Hills to repair City roads. To make the request appealing to the County, the Mayor offered to also repair County roads that ran through the City. The Engineer advised the Mayor he was not comfortable loaning out County equipment.
Several other Jefferson County Mayors were also willing to make the same deal with the County. During a recent meeting with their state representatives, he mentioned the idea. The Mayors and legislators were advised by the County Attorney that the County could not lend out its equipment to its municipalities. Thus problems with city and country roads remain unresolved.”
Not even a tornado can get us together. Anyone want to be optimistic about local government cooperation?
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).