Why my excitement?
I attended Leadership Birmingham in 1992.
At our final session, the last speaker, a corporate leader, concluded his speech and asked if there were any questions.
I asked if we should consider doing something about our government structure.
He replied, “David, changing our government structure’s impossible. We need to concentrate on projects that are achievable that involve regional cooperation—like our successful Jefferson County Library System.
I accepted his comments at face value and didn’t think about them again for a long time.
That is until I happened to attend a panel discussion at The Birmingham News a couple of years ago on how we could turn our Birmingham region around. The panel was composed of top corporate, non-profit, and community leaders.
After the last panelist spoke, the moderator asked for comments or questions from the audience and I asked the same exact question I had asked at Leadership Birmingham many years earlier.
Johnny Johns, the President of Protective Life—and the then President of the Birmingham Business Alliance—responded with the exact same response–including the reference to our County Library System.
It was eerie, and I was stunned. Twenty years wasted and cities like Nashville, Charlotte, and Jacksonville had passed us by—all having County/City governments–and still no corporate leader would allow us to discuss.
Johnny Johns graciously agreed to talk with me privately at his office the next week, but he still felt any effort to change government structure would be a waste of time.
After our meeting, I walked into his lobby with a feeling of hopelessness—and then it dawned on me. Because of the Internet and social media maybe it was possible to have a conversation without the formal blessings of the corporate community or a political entity.
Since the first ComebackTown blog was posted in January, 2012, we’ve published about 100 blogs, 29 newsletters, and received over a quarter of a million page views—with thousands of comments.
And then to my surprise, I opened the August 23rd Birmingham Business Journal and saw this headline, “Birmingham 2043: Our wish list.”
Amazingly the BBJ’s number one wish for 2043:
“1) A new, regionally focused government structure. This is a change that could solve several problems that have plagued our region for years.
…there is no single elected body that’s looking out for our entire region. When many of our chief competitors have those regional entities, that’s a big problem for us.”
Well—knock me down! Maybe the conversation had begun.
Even though I’ve been criticized for not proposing solutions, the objective of ComebackTown has never been to find a solution–only to create that conversation. Many people assume my only objective is to create a county/city metro government, but I don’t know if that’s best for Birmingham.
However, maybe it’s time to start brainstorming.
Jeffrey Bayer, CEO of Bayer Properties, recently proposed we combine Jefferson County and the City of Birmingham—but not include other established municipalities.
There are numerous other options. Let’s put our thinking caps on.
We’ve got until 2043.
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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).