Today’s guest columnist is Jennifer Andress.
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I’m writing on behalf of a group of elected officials from disparate Jefferson County cities that are doing what many people might have thought impossible.
I’ve been looking forward to updating my piece about our City Councilor Roundtable initiative, promoting regional cooperation, but we had some local issues in Homewood that took all of my attention.
And then, WOW. The world turned upside down.
I was unsure what I could possibly add to all that was being reported on in regards to the global pandemic we are facing.
But then it hit me: our City Council Roundtable is more pertinent than ever during these days of COVID-19. I’ll catch you up on what we had been working on before all of our attention turned to coronavirus, and then fill you in on where we are day-by-day during this pandemic.
To recap: at the suggestion of Hoover City Councilor Casey Middlebrooks in January 2019, and with the facilitation efforts of County Commissioner Steve Ammons, a regular group of City Councilors from Hoover, Birmingham, Mountain Brook, Bessemer, Vestavia Hills and Homewood have been meeting on a monthly-ish basis.
These were at first more getting-to-know you lunches, but in the late spring they turned to action-oriented efforts.
We first collaborated on our individual city’s resolutions supporting the vaping regulation bill that was stalled in the Alabama Legislature during last year’s session, which eventually passed.
We then turned to improving our region’s recycling efforts, and launched our Inter-City Recycling Challenge, a multi-pronged effort to educate our respective constituents on do’s and don’ts, why they matter and how to reduce contamination and recycling costs in our cities.
By this January, we began looking at alternative recycling options, and before the world stopped, we were meeting with a start-up company called NeoWaste. I recommend you look at this promising new technology; we will pick this up again when life returns to normal.
We were also sharing ideas on how to drive Census 2020 participation, as it is vitally important for Alabama to have strong numbers of our people turn out; once again a friendly competition between us was born.
And then in March, coronavirus descended on our area seemingly overnight.
As each of our respective cities began trying to deal with the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, our Councilor Roundtable communicated several times a day. That continues to this day, as things change hourly with this dire matter.
We have had frank discussions, learned from each other, and shared knowledge resources from our respective cities. Jefferson County is wealthy with smart people in a plethora of critical industries, and we have been busy connecting those people across city lines.
I am so grateful for the professionalism, wisdom, and thoughtfulness of my peers in our neighboring cities. If a Councilor poses a question to our group that we can’t answer, another immediately does research and quickly reports back. Even as I type this, text messages are coming in; things are changing so fast.
Our Commissioner Steve Ammons has suggested we formalize this relationship, as our Mayors have done with the Mayors’ Association. This way our network remains in place no matter who the officeholders are. Indeed, a large number of us are up for re-election this summer. This is a wonderful idea that we will explore when we can turn our attention to other matters.
I sincerely pray for the day that we can focus once again on solving our recycling conundrum, quality-of-life issues like new trails and traffic solutions, and supporting our region’s non-profits such as the Birmingham Zoo, Vulcan Park and Red Mountain Park.
Until then, I am profoundly grateful for the leadership in each of our County’s municipalities (as well as our County Commissioner!), and even more thankful for their friendship.
I also welcome other Jefferson County City Councilors to join us at any of our monthly meetings. Together we make a stronger region! Email me at email@example.com for information on future gatherings.
Stay safe and healthy, everyone!
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 18 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).
Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.