Councilors from Mtn. Brook, Hoover, Vestavia, B’ham, Bessemer and Homewood take action

Jennifer Andress
Jennifer Andress

ComebackTown is published by David Sher for a more prosperous Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is  Jennifer Andress.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

If you have lived in the Birmingham area for any length of time, you know its greatest limitation: 35 municipalities in Jefferson County alone.

That’s 35 separate governments, duplicating services to its citizens and operating for each’s own well-being.

If you have read even one post from “Comeback Town”, you know this is less than ideal, and can hamper regional growth and development.

I am a City Councilor for Homewood, one of these JeffCo cities. And I am thrilled to report that my counterparts across the region recognize this as a limitation, and have developed working relationships with each other to address this “silo” mentality.

We are following the example of our Mayors, who just this year signed a “Good Neighbor” pledge to eliminate poaching between cities and work together for regional development and business recruitment.

Councilor Roundtable--L to R: Homewood Ward One Councilor Andy Gwaltney, Mountain Brook Councilor Alice Womack, Homewood Ward One Councilor Britt Thames, Mountain Brook Council President Virginia Smith, Homewood Environmental Commission and UAB Sustainability Julie Price, Hoover Councilor Casey Middlebrooks, Homewood Ward Five Councilor Jennifer Andress, Cory Pettway in Councilor Darrell O’Quinn’s office, Vestavia Hills Councilor Kimberly Cook, Birmingham Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, Birmingham Council President Valerie Abbott, BR&R Rep Chris Bartlett
Councilor Roundtable–L to R: Homewood Ward One Councilor Andy Gwaltney, Mountain Brook Councilor Alice Womack, Homewood Ward One Councilor Britt Thames, Mountain Brook Council President Virginia Smith, Homewood Environmental Commission and UAB Sustainability Julie Price, Hoover Councilor Casey Middlebrooks, Homewood Ward Five Councilor Jennifer Andress, Cory Pettway in Councilor Darrell O’Quinn’s office, Vestavia Hills Councilor Kimberly Cook, Birmingham Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, Birmingham Council President Valerie Abbott, BR&R Rep Chris Bartlett

Our Councilor Roundtable, as we have come to be known, meets monthly to exchange ideas and discuss issues we can address together.

Councilors from Mountain Brook, Hoover, Vestavia Hills, Birmingham, Bessemer and Homewood are committed to seeing action and regional success come from our gatherings.

The initial idea for this group came from Hoover City Councilor Casey Middlebrooks, and we often have Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons as a guest.

The first issue our group took on was teen vaping. This past spring, the Legislature was considering House Bill 41, which prohibited the sale of vaping products to minors, outlawed advertising of vaping products near schools and offering them as a healthy alternative to tobacco, and required the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to regulate sales the same as tobacco products.

HB 41 stalled in committee, and our group was concerned it would die without a push from our cities. Vestavia Hills Councilor Kimberly Cook led our group in developing resolutions in support of the bill, and took them to Montgomery on our behalf. Happily the bill passed, and became law on August 1.

The next issue the Councilor Roundtable is tackling is single-use plastics and recycling. We have discussed ways to work with retailers in our cities to incentivize customers to bring their own bags to stores, and reached out to large retailers in our region for their assistance. Thanks to Birmingham Councilor Darrell O’Quinn for his leadership on this subject.

We have had several discussions about each of our recycling and hauling contracts, and last week we spent a half-day at the Birmingham Recycling and Recovery (BR&R) center in order to gain clarity on what happens when our recycling is hauled away.

The tour and follow-up meeting with BR&R staff and ownership was an eye-opening experience, and we learned a great deal. The recycling industry nation-wide is experiencing devastating losses. The demand for its product is extremely low, thanks to a near elimination of the Chinese market, and the supply is extremely contaminated, due to confusion on what is and isn’t acceptable to place in recycling bins. And our city governments are being charged for that contamination, which averages well above 30%.

That means no matter how pure our intentions are when we recycle, contamination can ruin an entire truck load. As a region, we have to control our contamination rates, increase our volume of good recycling products and cut our processing costs.

To improve the region’s recycling efforts, and the value our citizens receive for what they pay for this service, we are starting a city-by-city public education campaign on what is and isn’t recyclable.

The other Councilors and I will be hitting the media along with staff from BR&R, to inform and deliver quick recycling do’s and don’ts. I have already emailed the Ward that I represent with several recycling guidelines, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. People want to do the right thing, and we can assist, and improve the recycling experience and success rate region-wide.

I am grateful for the relationships we have forged on our Councilor Roundtable in just a few short months. I look forward to bigger projects to come (one day I will write a book about the ongoing Hollywood Boulevard/Highway 280 pedestrian bridge involving Homewood, Mountain Brook, Birmingham, Jefferson County, and the State), to benefit the entire Birmingham area!

Jennifer Andress is a Homewood City Councilor, and serves on the Red Mountain Greenway Recreational Area Commission. Jennifer is a member of the Board of Directors of Girls on The Run Birmingham, and the Woolley Institute for Spoken Language Education (WISE), a pre-school for children with cochlear implants and/or hearing aids, like her two sons. She and her husband Keith have lived in Homewood for 17 years. 

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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).

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7 thoughts on “Councilors from Mtn. Brook, Hoover, Vestavia, B’ham, Bessemer and Homewood take action”

  1. I applaud councilor Andress for a well written article, but especially, for her emphasis on giving HUGE credit to her fellow politicians (across the region and state) for their part in fostering cooperation. This has been a long time coming and is welcomed by those who recognize the importance of regional cooperation. The Birmingham region will explode with such cooperation.

  2. 1. Birminmgham’s problem and lack of growth is not due to fragmentation and signing a pledge won’t help. It’s an excuse or a “sham” if you will. A study done by the University of Pittsburgh shows that Birmingham is the 57th most fragmented metro. Many metros that are way more fragmented have seen explosive growth. https://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/local-governments-power-authority-for-metro-areas.html

    2. It looks like in your roundtable discussions, all you did was address environmental issues and teen vaping. How is this really spurring a cooperative among local municipalities to drive economic growth?

    3. Combining municipalities does not address or fix some of the biggest problems. Lack of educated talent that might draw or keep businesses. The truth is that Nashville, Atlanta and Texas cities have drawn the top talent from UA , AU, UAB, and Samford away leaving Birmingham kinda as a wasteland of educated talent.

    Don’t mention that UAB is a top institution. Yes it’s great! But it’s not terribly uncommon. There are UAB’s in most large metros.

    There are more open healthcare jobs per capita in both Nashville and Atlanta right now.

    Furthermore, Alabama is one of the only states losing population among college educated people in the past several years. You CANNOT thrive and move forward if you’re walking backwards among college educated young professionals.

    So you’re going to have to do something more than discuss plastic bags, not poaching from nearby municipalities, etc.

    That all sounds like I’m a hater right? Ha, nah.. I really like Birmingham the way it is. I know this page’s mantra is growth and overcoming and I like that too. But to me, Birmingham is a little gem all on its own and I’m not sure why we’re so obsessed with matching Nashville and Atlanta except you want to keep your kids nearby when they graduate.

    To that, I would say, just go ahead and plan on following them.

  3. Thanks for trying to have an effect!

    Now, tell me how ” (The) Hollywood Boulevard/Highway 280 pedestrian bridge involving Homewood, Mountain Brook, Birmingham, Jefferson County, and the State), to benefit the entire Birmingham area!” is going to benefit the entire Birmingham area.

    It’s just a 150 yard (?) bridge expansion between Homewood and Mountain Brook benefiting a minority population of walkers and bicyclists between these two upper crust suburbs.

    1. I’m still waiting on a reply about how visiting a recycling center is pushing forward this community involvement idea that they say is the reason the region isn’t growing.

      Next time, maybe they’ll join each others’ Iron Bowl tailgates or add each other on Facebook.

      I honestly think that deep down they know this is a farce. Just look at the link I posted above that clearly shows MANY other metros that are more fragmented. Fragmentation is not a death sentence, it’s an excuse for piss poor performance that you don’t want to admit exists.

      1. Alexander, Our Birmingham region’s fragmentation is much more complicated than the number of units administering common services and each government’s related expenditures. Jefferson County has 35 municipalities; Jefferson County has 5 county commissioners each representing a separate district & none elected county-wide; The City of Birmingham only represents 19% of of our metro so has no clout; and our state constitution does not allow home rule–so state legislators determine many local decision. There is no entity or elected official who represents our region. The link you referenced was from 12 years ago and many of cities listed have some serious problems. The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham completed a comprehensive analysis of Birmingham’s lack of regionalism and came to the conclusion that this is the primary reason our region is not competitive: https://togetherweprosper.org/. We are beginning to take some baby steps to build trust and work together. Let’s give the the process a chance to work. Please continue to comment. You obviously care about our region.

        1. Yes the link was from 12 years ago, but fragmentation doesn’t change very much very fast and most growth/lack of growth started 12 years ago anyway. Also, sure many of the most fragmented communities in my link are seeing troubles, but many are our largest fastest growing and most prosperous metros..

          Metros more fragmented than Birmingham that are doing pretty good:
          Pittsburgh
          Nashville (very similar)
          Philly
          Boston
          Houston
          Minneapolis
          Denver
          DFW
          Kansas City
          Atlanta
          Seattle
          Miami
          Louisville…

          I could go on. Each of those have more fragmented governments.

          Sure, it’s always more complicated than a simple number by some guy a while back. I get that.

          Also, the city of Atlanta holds a smaller % of the ATL metro than Birmingham. So, Birmingham should have more cloud and pull.

          ATL proper = 8% of the metro population (that’s half of bham)
          Dallas proper = 18%, the same as Bham yet thrives
          Seattle = 18% and has grown
          Memphis = 45% and it’s in the same no-growth boat as Bham.

          You can do that math all day with many different metros and you’ll find almost no correlation between “main city proper population” vs metro growth.

          Birmingham just needs to keep doing its thing and getting better and making OTM people want to come there (RR Park, Regions Field, Top Golf, restaurants, etc.) The more that happens, the more attractive it will become. Hopefully jobs follow because without good paying jobs, all this money spent to make things better will fail.

          All the things that make a city cool and vibrant MUST have underlying foundations. That is young professionals with disposable income. That’s a crowd that Birmingham has much less of than other competing metros.

          The YP’s that are there are getting older, having kids, moving OTM or moving to find better career opportunities.

          Does that mean you don’t try? Nope.. And, these efforts are not totally unfounded and useless, I get that. But , a meeting where about 12 people discussed teen vaping is not progress to write home about, you gotta agree with that.

          Best thing Birmingham can do? Give Regions a big hug and more tax incentives! AND, make a solid gameplan for if they do…

          I noticed you got some backlash for your previous Regions article. Bham needs to think about that and take action now. Love your page. Sorry to disagree but it makes us all stronger 🙂

          1. Alexander, I thoroughly enjoy your insight and I agree with much of it. I noticed two cities on your list that were included in the Community Foundation study: Pittsburgh and Louisville. Would you consider reviewing the report for those two cities: (You can find them in index). Both cities, as you will see from the report, were highly fragmented, but over the period since your referenced article are doing much better because of regional efforts. https://togetherweprosper.org/ We are starting at ground zero. Virtually no Jefferson County city was talking to another city. Now we have 23 mayors who have signed a business non-poaching agreement and some of the councillors are talking with one another. You’ve got to start some place. Again, please continue to participate.

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