How we’re overcoming distrust that has plagued Birmingham

Jennifer Andress
Jennifer Andress

Today’s guest columnist is Jennifer Andress.

The history of the Birmingham area is a complicated one, to put it mildly.

Regional strife led to thirty-five separate competing municipalities in Jefferson County, each operating for its own benefit.

Lack of trust and lack of working relationships hinder economic development and regional success. Many of our local political leaders didn’t know or trust one another, and they certainly didn’t work together.

But this began to change dramatically when the Jefferson County mayors agreed not to pilfer businesses from one other and to work together on projects to help each municipality, and improve our region.

And we’re reaping stunning rewards as our municipalities, Jefferson County, State legislators, and business community work together for our region.

From the success of the new Protective Stadium and the excitement of the World Games to the much-anticipated and long-delayed bridge project at Hollywood Boulevard over Highway 280, 2022 is shaping up to be the year regional cooperation becomes the standard in Jefferson County.

I am happy to report that Jefferson County, our Mayors’ Association and our Councilor Coalition are in full swing and working to improve our county’s quality of life.

I have reported in ComebackTown twice about our Jefferson County City Councilor initiative, modeled on the success of the Mayors’ Association. As our Mission statement explains, the Jefferson County Councilor Coalition was founded “to foster collaboration that enables our region to build and act on regional initiatives, maintain strong economic growth, and promote healthy, strong, and equitable communities.”

I’m thrilled to give an update on our progress as an organization, and report on our goals for 2022.

I last checked in during the spring of 2020, when COVID was shutting us down. As each municipality dealt with closures and mask policies, our City Councilors across the County consulted with one another for consistency, and to share thoughts and ideas.

We continued to meet monthly over Zoom, like the rest of the world. The relationships built by what we were then referred to as the Councilor Roundtable were important resources, as we governed in unprecedented times.

Jennifer Andress Group 2022
Meeting of the Jefferson County Councilor Coalition (JC3) in May 2021, along with the Community Foundation and Commissioner Steve Ammons

After municipal elections in 2020, and as we emerged into a more semblance of normalcy in 2021, we began discussions to formalize our group, much like the Jefferson County Mayors’ Association.

We received a grant from County Commissioner Steve Ammons to work with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. The Community Foundation has been a leader in the efforts to improve Jefferson County by way of regional cooperation, and we are thankful for its important work.

With the facilitation of the Community Foundation, we selected our Vision Statement, elected officers, and assigned a Liaison to the Mayors’ Association, to keep lines of communication open (you can follow our Facebook Page.)

We invited a representative from all 35 municipalities to join us, which remains our ultimate goal. We currently have 20 that are participating, including representation from North, South, East and West Jefferson County.

In December, we met to do a deep dive on County-wide issues that we want to take on in 2022, so we can hit the ground running. We spent several hours discussing our goals, as well as funding options and time constraints, all facilitated by Commissioner Ammons and the Community Foundation.

Our two main goals for 2022 are:

  • Trails Expansion; we believe strongly that trails and pedestrian and bike access county-wide improve quality of life for our citizens, and bring people to our area to recreate. This includes supporting the buildout of the Red Rock Trail System in the countywide plan. We hope to work with our Jefferson County Legislative delegation and County Commissioners to meet our goals for trail expansion;
  • Transportation; we will work on expanding state funding by advocating for changes to Alabama’s model for funding transit, and growing micro-transit services. The timing and urgency of this issue are extremely important in 2022 because of the World Games, and the need to move large numbers of people across the region expeditiously.

I look forward to updating you in 2022 on our progress. As our JC3 President, Hoover City Councilor Casey Middlebrooks said: “I trust the people making decisions in other municipalities, because of the work we have been doing together for the last few years.”

Relationships are the key to success in governing in my opinion, and I treasure the relationships I have made County-wide. It is an honor to work with each and every one of these Councilors, Mayors, Commissioners and State Legislators, to improve the lives of our Jefferson County citizens.

Each step forward increases trust.

And trust will propel our region forward.

Jennifer Andress is a Homewood City Councilor, and serves as the Chair the Red Mountain Greenway Recreational Area Commission. Jennifer is a member of the Board of Directors of Girls on The Run Birmingham, the Mountain Brook YMCA, 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. Jennifer is a graduate of the Leadership Birmingham Class of 2020. She is the Campus Visit Coordinator at Birmingham-Southern College; she and her husband Keith have lived in Homewood for 20 years.

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).

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Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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7 thoughts on “How we’re overcoming distrust that has plagued Birmingham”

  1. Thanks for writing this Jennifer. Success begets success!

    In our region, we, ourselves, have traditionally been our worst enemy. Regional cooperation is the ticket to our future. Prove Pogo wrong!

  2. An interesting and informative article, Jennifer, and well-written. Thank you for sharing this information with us. Because of your position and the knowledge you gain, may I suggest that you write such a column annually, as the cooperative governance yields more benefits?

  3. Thank you, Jennifer, for being the leader that Homewood needs! I’m so happy you’re on the council and are working *with* the other local leaders to build a better Birmingham.

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