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.
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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