There’s no way in hell we’ll ever work together

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).



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7 thoughts on “There’s no way in hell we’ll ever work together”

  1. Wonderful idea. Birmingham is a disaster and the surrounding small cities are never going to give up their fiefdoms. Makes too much sense and would be incredibly efficient. Will not happen in our life-time.

  2. David and Phyllis,  Just found your blog.  It’s terrific, and I’m delighted to sign up for it.  It’s hard to see
    how to get past the govt structure issue. For years I hoped that LeadershipBirmingham would produce a kind of parallel government, a group of people who knew how to get things
    done and how to work toward concensus.  Hasn’t happened.  There are so many bright people, happy people, 
    people who love this town.  Why can’t we harness their energy.  Maybe the News is right.  Lets just solve one
    big hairy problem to show that we can.   

    It may well be that democracy as we think of it is permanently broken.   It’s hard to find a functional level
    of government.  City, county, state, DC.  are really all the same.  I’m with Olympia Snow.  The partisanship has
    become so frustrating, and there is no end in sight.  We can’t retire from being citizens, though.  What’s next.
    Best Wishes, Cameron Vowell

    1. Cameron, thank you so much for your well thought out comments. You have always been a role model for me and I very much appreciate your passion for Birmingham and your efforts to improve our community.

      Our region has many shortcomings, but it’s not because we don’t have bright, committed citizens. But our government structure makes it impossible to get anything done.

      Because of digital media, such as this blog, we have an opportunity to educated and listen to those of us who are sick and tired of not being able to compete with what used to be our peer Southern cities.

      Please consider letting others know about our efforts and encourage them to give their opinions, make comments, and offer solutions. There’s power in numbers.

  3. David, thank you so very much for this tremendous service & labor of Love in this project. Like you, I LOVE Birmingham and want to see her restored to her former “Magical” self. I am appaled, outraged and down-right embarrased by the county vs municipality disaster and the example you cited shows just how much NEEDS to be done. PLEASE consider me on board and counted in to help in anyway I can w/this Necessary & very Important endeavor 🙂

    1. Cutressa, your note is why I love you so much! Your passion for Birmingham is always evident. Please continue to comment and let others know about our efforts. This will make it so much easier for you when you become Governor.

  4. I’ve always thought to myself that one unified city within Jefferson county would be the best thing for our community. How could we get the irondales mountain brooks s and home woods of this county to want to be apart of something that would be so much greater. Also after reading Henry’s response and talking with my friends, a lot of the confusion begins with most people seeing the city of Birmingham and Jefferson county as the same.

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