Today’s guest columnist is Trussville Mayor Buddy Choat.
On May 19, our Jefferson County Mayors Association endorsed an agreement that has the potential to fundamentally change our region forever.
I’m going to tell you a story you may find difficult to believe.
This story takes place in a political climate where our country is divided and it’s almost impossible to get anything done.
And it takes place right here in Jefferson County where it’s assumed there are too many competing governments unwilling to cooperate and paralyzed by a lack of trust.
Up until two years ago Jefferson County cities would spend millions of dollars a year to pay local companies to entice them to relocate to their municipality or to prevent them from relocating to capture their sales tax dollars. This practice created no new businesses or jobs since companies simply moved from one municipality within the county to another. This is money that could have been better used to recruit new businesses to our area, invest in education, fight crime, or to improve our amenities.
But then in April, 2019, 22 of our 35 Jeffco mayors did the unexpected and signed a groundbreaking agreement to end the wasteful practice of poaching businesses. Two months later a 23rd mayor added his signature.
This initiative was born out of a 2017 Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) study, Together We Prosper, commissioned by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. The Community Foundation helped facilitate this process by working with the Jefferson County Mayors’ Association (JCMA).
The Mayors Association has always provided a platform for collaborative efforts, but this new process gave us an opportunity to have more substantive conversations about our region as a whole – and to think more collectively and strategically about how to create a prosperous future for all of Jefferson County.
Now comes the miracle part
None of us knew if this agreement would hold.
But the mayors who signed the pledge have successfully cooperated with each other on questions of relocation.
And with new mayors having recently been elected, who knew if the agreement would survive?
But I am pleased to announce that, after reviewing and discussing an updated Good Neighbor Pledge, at our most recent deep dive, the mayors voted unanimously to adopt the pledge as an Association and use it to guide our collective efforts for economic development throughout the county.
In addition to the adoption of the Good Neighbor Pledge, members were updated on a number of other regional cooperation priorities the Mayors Association has undertaken including:
- Interstate lighting – JCMA Executive Director, Jack Fields, and a committee of mayors are working with ALDOT and Alabama Power to assess interstate lighting maintenance issues and develop solutions for the affected municipalities.
- 911 Consolidation – JCMA has been working on the consolidation of Jefferson County’s 15 independent 911 services. Significant progress has been made in consolidating efforts.
- Jail Cooperation – JCMA and the Community Foundation contracted with the PARCA to study potential for regional cooperation around jail facilities. The study shows that Jefferson County has one of the highest per capita number of jails of any county in the nation. The report, Jefferson County Municipal Jail Cooperation Survey and Findings was completed in January and is being reviewed by the Association.
- Census Complete Count – In the 2020 , mayors prioritized a support of the Census count. JCMA hosted presentations for municipalities on strategies to boost Census participation. As a result, Alabama had one of the higher self-response rates in the South. Because of the strong Census count, Alabama will keep all seven congressional seats and is expected to retain over a billion dollars in federal funding.
- Human Trafficking – JCMA is advocating for all cities in the county to join the anti-human trafficking movement by affiliating with the “Child Trafficking Solutions Project” which provides training for law enforcement and other responders. A number of municipalities have already had their employees undergo this comprehensive training.
Additional regional cooperation priorities the Association identified to work on in 2021 include:
- Improvement of ambulance services throughout the county – in many areas response times can range from two to three hours.
- Pursue options for consolidation of trash and recycling services among municipalities.
- Improvement of disaster relief support, particularly for smaller cities that lack the resources to assist their citizens.
You have to admit this is some kind of miracle.
In a divided world, 35 mayors are working together to make a more prosperous and livable Jefferson County.
I’m honored to serve as the president of JCMA this year and I look forward to working with this great group of mayors as we move forward with our efforts to improve the lives of all of our citizens.
Buddy Choat, Mayor of Trussville and President, Jefferson County Mayors Association
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. 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 for free about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.