Is Birmingham mayor crazy?

Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin jumps from airplane

I’m impressed with Birmingham’s new Mayor–Randall Woodfin.

His first few months in office have been a whirlwind of positive energy.

He’s surrounded himself with good people, sought feedback from anyone who will talk to him, and slowly and methodically identified and prioritized Birmingham’s problems and opportunities.

Heck, he’s even proposed legislation establishing term limits for himself and the mayor’s office.

Then he had the spunk and moxie to jump out of a perfectly good airplane at 10,000 feet during Navy week.

Jumping from a plane might seem crazy, but there’s something else he’s done that might be even crazier.

He ran for the office of mayor of Birmingham–and with a lot of hard work and smarts–actually won.

Fixing Birmingham is not for the faint of heart

According to Woodfin’s own Transition Report “Birmingham’s economic and population growth has been anemic compared to our peer cities…Fully 30% of Birmingham and nearly 42% of women and families are living in poverty.”

WalletHub ranked the 182 largest cities in the U.S. for finding a job and Birmingham came in 178th.

The city of Birmingham is suffering from decaying neighborhoods, high levels of crime, a poor educational system, and inadequate public transportation.

Woodfin forced to go it alone

I’ve heard Mayor Woodfin speak several times since he was elected.

Often his audience is people who don’t live in the city of Birmingham–which is not unusual since less than one in three people in Jefferson County’s actually live in the city of Birmingham; and less than one in five metro Birmingham residents reside in the city.

I hear folks from the suburbs ask pointed questions…

“Mayor Woodfin, how are you going to deal with crime?”

“What are you going to do about public education?”

“How are you going to get along with the City Council?

It would be disingenuous to criticize people who don’t live in the city since I live in Vestavia Hills–but I want to make a point.

How can those of us who don’t live in Birmingham have high expectations of Mayor Woodfin when we are going to get in our cars after his talk and drive to our bedroom communities–and none of our bedroom communities are going to support Birmingham financially or in any other way?

Mayor Woodfin’s dilemma

Mayor Woodfin won election based on promises he made to Birmingham citizens that he would redevelop neighborhoods, improve public education, and reduce crime.

But he has responsibilities to our broader community.

Woodfin was elected the mayor of Birmingham–not the mayor of our region. So who should he serve?

Birmingham funds millions of  dollars for amenities enjoyed by our entire region– such as our airport, Museum of Art, and Birmingham Zoo—and recently committed $90 million for the proposed football stadium at the Civic Center. This is money that could be used to hire more police or educate Birmingham children.

The solution is not to combine cities

It’s not practical to combine our Jefferson County cities, but we should urge Jefferson County mayors to proactively work together.

We are competing with cities like Nashville which has county-city government. That means that Nashville has one mayor. We have 35.

I attended a breakfast panel discussion of six Jefferson County mayors sponsored by the Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ) at the Harbert Center last month. If all of our mayors had attended, they would have needed six tables.

Our region must find a way to work together as a team, or we are the crazy ones–not the mayor.

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.

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9 thoughts on “Is Birmingham mayor crazy?”

  1. David
    I like the public persona of the Mayor who is exactly what we need for leadership in the City County and the State. His skills, programs, appointees, and cabinet are impressive. He is humble, a man of the people. He really cares.
    The greatest recommendation that I have ever heard was from a local University President who was effusive in his praise for what this fellow has quietly accomplished in his life.
    I have every confidence that Mayor Woodfin will achieve far more than what his high standards dictate.

  2. “How can those of us who don’t live in Birmingham……. cars after his talk and drive to our bedroom communities–and none of our bedroom communities are going to support Birmingham financially or in any other way?”

    With all due respect David, this statement is misleading. Everyone who works in Birmingham, and lives outside of the city limits still pays employment taxes to the city of Birmingham directly. So, for the past 30 years, most of which I have lived outside the city limits I have paid taxes to the city of Birmingham. All of this goes to the BMA, airport, schools, etc. I also support my local school system with higher property taxes. So the notion that the City of Birmingham does not benefit from those who work there who live outside the city limits is just wrong. I have 14 employees, and none of them live in the city, but pay the taxes. So in effect, we are subsidizing the school system and other operations of the City of Birmingham.

    1. Hi, David:
      As you know, I read your blog, regularly, and, most always, like what you say!
      There was a recent comment by Pat Trammell that caught my eye. As I recall, Mr. Trammell took issue with your analogy that businesses/residents /governments , outside of the City of Birmingham, don’t pay their fair share for metro services/facilities mainly financed by the City of Birmingham. As I understood it, Trammell pointed out that his employees, though many reside outside of Birmingham, do ,in fact, pay employment and other taxes ,like occupational taxes, directly to Birmingham. This may be a fair point, but, those taxes, alone, won’t make a big difference. In fact, I believe the City of Birmingham may get better net results if they found an alternative to the occupational tax! For years, now, standard requests from buyers/renters that come across my desk seeking new business locations, most always “exclude properties within the City of Birmingham”. This is very disheartening, David, but, it is REAL! When I ask “why”, mostly blame the OCCUPATIONAL TAX! So, my message is that maybe the City of Birmingham should consider reducing or eliminating or re-structuring that tax in order to attract more new businesses, which will trigger: more jobs/ more pay roll /more family income/more sales taxes/ more property taxes/ more new construction/ and GROW THE ECONOMY OF THE CITY OF BIRMINGHAM!
      David, I admire your long struggle for Metro unification, and I think you can ,without apologies, call on THE CITY of BIRMINGHAM’S political leaders, themselves, to stand tall…as an example of progress for its neighbors…and DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO MAKE THEIR CITY MORE VIBRANT!
      Years ago, my mentor, Bill Engel, told us: NOTHING HAPPENS UNLESS YOU MAKE IT HAPPEN!
      Best and keep swinging!

      Jerome S. Leader
      Leader Realty Company
      1900 Twentieth Avenue South
      Birmingham, AL 35209
      OFF 205-933-0300
      FAX 205-933-0606

  3. If Mayor Woodfin is as sharp as I think he is, he will cure the government education problems by using education vouchers. The current government monopoly is no better than monopolies in private enterprise.

  4. Let’s also recognize that those who work in Birmingham and live outside the city limits depend on certain city services when they are at their workplace. For example, the Fire Department if you needed them. Perhaps they access their place of employment via a city maintained street. Also, as David mentioned, many people from the entire 5 (or 7) county MSA rely on the airport for business travel regardless of the location of their office within or outside of Birmingham. I moved into the city 19 years ago from one of the suburbs. And, I must commend the city for providing many excellent services. I’ve had to call 911 a few times and they responded in less than 5 minutes each time. I’ve also worked in the city for the past 5 years and I see the presence of police officers on patrol much more frequently than I did in the previous 13 years that I worked in an adjoining city. So, I would say that the occupational tax paid by people from both inside and outside the city very likely subsidizes the services they would be most likely to utilize and would expect to be available.

  5. Good points Deborah. Also, I would like to commend our Airport. I travel multiple times a month to East coast cities (DC, NY, etc) and generally five or six time a year to the West Coast, and generally once internationally. I have never been in as efficient and hospitable an airport as our own Birmingham-Shuttlesworth. They do an outstanding job.

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