The Birmingham News convened a panel of community leaders in April of 2011 to discuss the future of Birmingham. Included were corporate CEO’s, non-profit professionals, and top political leaders.
Each panelist made his/her remarks and then questions or comments were solicited from the audience.
After several audience members spoke, I took my turn. I said, “Birmingham’s biggest obstacle is poor government structure and unless we change that structure, we are stuck.”
I mentioned that we’re in competition with cities such as Nashville, Jacksonville, and Charlotte that have the advantage of a unified county-city government. But I added that the problem is much broader, including our lack of home rule.
I believe most people in the room thought I was saying our only solution is for Birmingham to combine the city and the county…which may or may not be the best answer. I just know we have to do something differently.
Here are the four responses I received from the panel and the audience…
Response #1: A corporate CEO on the panel said, “David, I respectfully disagree with you. It’s not likely we’ll ever get support for a unified government. We need to put our effort and resources into things that are actually possible.”
Response #2: A political leader on the panel said, “It’s a good thing our county and city aren’t combined. Many of our county officials are in jail.” (Of course, the reason they are in jail is Jefferson County didn’t have three branches of government—allowing outlaw Commissioners to do what they want with unchecked authority).
Response #3: A well respected member of the audience responded, “Birmingham’s time has passed to make meaningful changes in government structure. We need to concentrate on the items we can control.”
Response #4: From a Mayor from one of the smaller municipalities in Jefferson County. (There are 37 cities in Jefferson County.) “He came to me after the session with a smile on his face and said, “What are you trying to do, throw me under the bus for the betterment of our community?”
Maybe combining the city with the county is a good idea; maybe it’s not. But should we toss it or any other idea out because it might be difficult to achieve?
I believe one of the saddest lines in the world is, “Oh come now–be realistic.” The best parts of the world were not fashioned by those who were realistic.
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).