Jabo Waggoner: Good intentions—Lousy idea!

State Senator Jabo Waggoner
State Senator Jabo Waggoner

Longtime State Senator Jabo Waggoner from Jefferson County is a friend.

I like and respect him, but no one bats a thousand.

I’m sure Senator Waggoner has good intentions, but last week he introduced a bill that will set the City of Birmingham back 50 years.

I’m taking an unpopular position, but from a business perspective, I know I’m right.

In 2015, the Birmingham City Council voted to raise salaries for themselves from $15,000 a year to $50,000 beginning after the August election this year.

I’m not saying $50,000 is the right amount and I’m not comfortable with the way the legislation was passed, but I strongly feel it was the right thing for Birmingham.

Senator Waggoner’s new bill effectively blocks that pay increase from going into effect.

I think most people agree that we would like for our government to be run like a business.

Successful businesses recruit good people and pay them competitive wages.

Birmingham City Councilors are not only underpaid, but they haven’t had a pay increase in over twenty years.

The City of Birmingham is a very large business with a budget of $420 million.

I heard an interview on WBHM by one of the current Council members when the wage increase was passed in 2015. The Councilor said he/she had never worked at a job where he/she earned more than minimum wage.

It would not be fair for me to criticize the financial capabilities of that Counselor because I don’t know him/her personally, but in general I think it would be a safe to say that most private companies wouldn’t trust a $10 million, $100 million, or $400 million budget to a minimum wage employee.

Birmingham will never be able to attract strong qualified candidates for public office with substandard pay.

Birmingham now seems to be attracting good candidates

In the past month I’ve had substantive conversations with two young professionals who plan to run for City Council.  They are bright and educated men who would be welcomed in leadership positions anywhere in our region.

I didn’t ask them whether the pay increase encouraged them to run, but it’s obvious few qualified candidates would run for public office  if they were paid less than minimum wage to struggle in the topsy-turvy world of Birmingham politics.

I’ve been told that the number of potential candidates for Birmingham City Council has grown exponentially for this upcoming election in August.

If we take away the pay increase, we will eviscerate the number of qualified candidates.

It’s ironic that our State Legislature is drowning in problems from budget shortfalls to prison reform, but instead of putting 100% of its efforts into fixing our state, they choose to micromanage Birmingham.

Good leadership is critical to Birmingham’s future.

You get what you pay for.

Birmingham deserves more.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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12 thoughts on “Jabo Waggoner: Good intentions—Lousy idea!”

  1. The pay increase was ridiculous but that is Birmingham’s deal, not the state’s to figure out. And I don’t agree government should be run like a business. It’s not a business. It has a completely different mandate.

  2. It’s an interesting thought, and I especially see your point, David, when you think about trusting employees with a $450 M budget to a group of people making $15 K.

    With due respect to Liz, and to David, I’m wondering if running the city is like a business as David suggested but also not your traditional business as Liz suggest. To me, I think of it as a nonprofit. Business is conducted in a different way, usually with a focus on community benefit, but still has to be run as a business with varying levels of leadership, input, and goals.

    I’m not sure the pay increase is what is attracting new people to run as I leave room for it being concerned citizens who think they have something to offer different from what we have. I do like the idea of paying them more so being on the council could be their full-time job. I met the Honorable Valerie Abbott recently and was surprised to learn she has a full-time job and the council is her side gig. I would like to see councilors be able to spend all their time and effort to making Birmingham better.

    Considering we put so much expectation, faith, and hope in our councilors, I think paying them $50 K is a bargain.

  3. I think Douglas nailed it. Run with the discipline of a business from a goal setting and fiscal point of view but with actual goals and approaches to achieving goals in line with the desires of the citizens who elected the city officials. The pay for the job should be fair for the effort required, the level of responsibility and the importance of the outcomes. 15k is not enough.

  4. Wow, Mr. Sher, you and I are in 100% agreement on this issue. Perhaps this scenario will offer you a tiny glimpse of why it is so important to live in the city of Birmingham. When Birmingham has a higher share of the metro population, it has more representation in the legislature.

  5. You nailed it David, absolutely nailed it. Now, if we can only get rid of what can only be called ‘ward politics,’ we might actually be getting somewhere.

        1. I was aware of the different municipalities fighting but didn’t realize there was that much going on between districts. I hear some griping from time to time about downtown getting things other areas don’t and stuff like that but nothing I took too serious. Is there much to it? Anything that can be done?

          1. it is a real problem, and can only change if Birmingham decides to change how it votes.

  6. It’s not just about the pay raise. The Alabama legislature is dictating and mandating more and more to local elected official what they can and cannot do although they are elected by the same constituents. Birmingham is growing and things are happening. When the guards changed years ago people said that there would be more white flight and Birmingham would become a ghost town; that did not happen. As a matter of fact people are moving in and businesses are looking to make Birmingham home. As a legislator, I see it close and up front; Birmingham is being controlled in many ways from Montgomery. For those of us who actually live and represent Birmingham, it’s a diligent fight every day. The sad part is that we are being sabotaged within by some members of the Jefferson County delegation who sponsor bills that hurt Birmingham and other cities in Jefferson County. This is counter-productive and self-serving. How is that we can tell local government how to manage their budget, what they can and cannot do when the state can’t pass a budget without cutting services, or find a solution to diminishing general fund revenues which pays for all state services except education, or keep Medicaid afloat while insuring that we have safe, solid and decent correctional facilities. Our state employees have not received a raise in almost 10 years, guess it’s not just Birmingham. We don’t even appreciate those who make our jobs as state legislators easier. The state legislature has enough on its plate without interfering with local affairs (unless it’s something they ask for assistance with). It’s like saying to your representatives in Montgomery, if I’m in a fight with a bear– don’t help me, help the bear.

  7. larger issue, the state legislature should NOT be dictating local issues. To really address this unfortunately requires a state constitutional amendment though – home rule – and we voters don’t have much effective leverage we can use to get it done.

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