We started publishing the ComebackTown blog nearly a year ago to begin a discussion on improving government for metro Birmingham.
We had become completely frustrated because no community leader was willing to discuss better government. The response was always, “That’s impossible…so let’s concentrate on something that’s doable.” Of course, it’s impossible to achieve anything meaningful because of poor government structure.
I was beginning to think we were all alone when this editorial appeared in the Birmingham Business Journal. I love the BBJ!
Birmingham’s greatest challenges
Friday, December 7, 2012
Last month, we put an online poll on bbj.com asking our readers a seemingly simple question: What’s Birmingham’s greatest challenge?
In a metro area that’s unfortunately been the home to numerous public corruption scandals, it’s not a huge surprise that “leadership” was the runaway winner, securing 48 percent of the votes in the unscientific poll.
It’s a common refrain that having better leadership will help Birmingham solve many of its other challenges, such as a lack of regional cooperation (which got 19 percent of the vote), education (13 percent) and our external image (9 percent).
That’s a good point, but it begs another question: Do we have the best structure and processes in place to put the best leaders for our region in position to lead?
Unfortunately, the answer is probably no.
As we’ve noted several times before in this space, our fragmented governmental structure is not conducive to strong regional leadership.
We have plenty of talented mayors, commissioners and city councilors who do a great job for their constituents.
But they are tasked with tackling the future of their individual fiefdoms – not the performance of the metro as a whole.
At the end of the day, their constituents will judge them based on how their decisions impacted the city or area they were elected to represent.
That’s a formula that encourages competition between, instead of cooperation among, the many municipalities that make up our metro.
We’ve long said that Birmingham needs to follow the way of successful other places like Nashville, which has a metro government.
Ultimately, that’s the best solution to both our leadership challenges and our lack of regional cooperation.
But we’re realistic enough to know that a wholesale switch from our current system to a metro government is unlikely in the short term because of concerns about school systems, government consolidation and other factors.
Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t begin taking baby steps in that direction.
For that to happen, it will be incumbent on the business community to take charge and demand a better governmental structure for our region.
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David Sher is a partner in Buzz12 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).