By David Sher
According to Birmingham Lede “Jefferson County lost nearly 4,600 people between 2021-2022.
Even the Birmingham Hoover Metropolitan area lost population.
How’s it possible to be located in the center of the Sunbelt, the fastest growing region in the U.S. and be shrinking?
Here’s a tested plan that could move us forward.
A civics lesson from elementary school
Our Founding Fathers wrote a Constitution that provided for a separation of powers by creating three separate branches of government.
Every nation has a president or prime minister.
Every state has a governor.
Every city has a mayor.
Jefferson County has no executive branch
Jefferson County has no independent executive branch–only a legislative branch composed of five County Commissioners elected by district with none elected countywide and a judicial branch.
Jefferson County does have a County Manager, but he’s appointed by the County Commissioners and he can be fired by them. He is certainly not independent.
Let’s follow the lead of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham commissioned a study in 2017 through the Public Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) to review four U.S. cities to see how each overcame fragmentation and have since prospered.
One of the cities PARCA studied was Pittsburgh.
According to the PARCA study, “Greater Pittsburgh is arguably the national champion of fragmentation with 130 general purpose governments and 43 school districts in its central county of Allegheny. It’s configured a lot like Birmingham, a core city built on an industrial base ringed by suburbs, which captured most of the population growth in the second half of the 20th century.”
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania executed a plan 25 years ago that has helped turn Pittsburgh and Allegheny County into a powerhouse.
Just like our Jefferson County, Allegheny County did not have an executive branch. There was no county executive elected countywide who was accountable to all voters.
However, Allegheny County did something about it.
In 1998, voters in Allegheny County approved a home rule charter that replaced its three-member county Commission with a county council, elected by district, and a chief executive elected countywide.
Because of this legislation and other collaborative efforts Pittsburgh now boasts “a flourishing arts and cultural scene, new sporting venues for professional sports franchises, expanded trails and parks, and an energized technology sector which hosts regional offices for tech companies, such as Google, Apple, and Uber.”
According to the PARCA study, the three most powerful elected officials in Pennsylvania currently are the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Mayor or Philadelphia, and the Mayor of Pittsburgh. Previously Pittsburgh had no countywide executive and therefore no seat at the table.
PARCA documented other benefits of having a County Executive:
- “A single individual is accountable for the performance of county government.
- The executive serves as the chief economic development officer and advocate for the region.
- The county fund balances and bond rating have improved; outstanding debt has been reduced.
- Through consolidation of departments, attrition and careful management the county’s workforce has been reduced over the time.
- Cooperation with other governments, including the City of Pittsburgh, has increased.
- Sharing resources saves taxpayers money, improves accountability and reduces redundancy.”
The next logical step
The U.S. Constitution establishes three separate but equal branches of government: the legislative branch (makes the law), the executive branch (enforces the law), and the judicial branch (interprets the law).
We should consider creating a third governmental branch for Jefferson County with an executive who is elected countywide.
No need to combine cities.
No need to combine schools.
This will gives us an opportunity to create a strong Jefferson County.
A strong Jefferson County will bring us a strong Birmingham and a strong Birmingham-Hoover Metro.
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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11 thoughts on “The next logical step for our Birmingham region”
Why Birmingham has not grown much despite being in the heart of the Sun Belt is because of has a Rust Belt economy. Birmingham has done well considering this.
Pat, I don’t think we have a rust belt economy. I think we have a rust belt mentality.
Public facilities matter. Public spaces matter. Public education matters. Public transportation matters. If our region wants to join Charlotte, Nashville, Greenville, and other Sunbelt successes, we need to continue to focus on the services that drive younger people to want to live and work here. Our natural resources are superb. Our dedication to making the most of them, not so much.
Regrettably, we can’t control what Montgomery and the rest of Alabama does. (Though we could demand that our Legislative delegation work better together.) Other Sunbelt cities have prospered despite being located within their own versions of Alabama. We can too.
Also like David’s recommendation for
REGIONAL EXECUTIVE leadership!
Maury, education matters but a government monopoly on education has been proven to be a bad idea, and we need a separation of school and state. We need vouchers.
I agree. If not vouchers, then something with a similar effect. The problem with any monopoly is that without competition, nothing gets better, likely simply more expensive. Do it and see the level of excellence rise.
Pittsburgh had every bit of a Rust Belt economy (they were arguably the “buckle” of the Rust Belt), and as they serve as the example in this article, that argument holds no water. Pittsburgh experienced a renaissance and most is largely due to its residents cooperating to save it. Even as I am opposed to regionalism and multilayered government bureaucracies, no other solution will work, unless the need for Birmingham to somehow be a hypocritical standard bearer for traditional values (as a bulwark against the “woke” agendas flourishing in places like Atlanta and Charlotte) outweighs the need for Birmingham to remain economically competitive or even relevant.
Questions remain: what do many detractors want to see happen in Birmingham? What is their plan to bring that about? If they do not care for Birmingham, then how will their community somehow benefit if Birmingham is no longer there?
Good thinking, positively toward working thoughtfully toward improving the basic qualities that help cities advance. Keep going
Hey Y’all, Population counts have gone down all over the nation, especially in Red States due to the COVID Pandemic. The death rates in Red states were 38% higher than that of Blue States. All cities of any size have seen population counts total lower because of the Pandemic. Nationwide, over 1.15 Million people died as a result of the disease. To date, Alabama has lost 21,133 lives to this illness, ranking 24th in the nation. Still, there is so very much great hope and pride in this number – there have been 106,511,738 COVID Cases nationwide since the beginning. Of this number, 104,376,817 people LIVED!!! Anyone have anything to say about our medical professionals related to this???? I sure hope so. Please understand, I am not i any way trying to disparage Republicans. Everyone, and I do mean everyone lost someone they knew and loved. I lost the only relative I would have even considered talking to. She was also one of the funniest people I ever knew. Losing Herman Cain was hard for me. There was no better debate partner. We liked to get a topic going when we happened across each other. We shared a mutual respect for each other. Never at any time was one word of disrespect ever spoken about each other when we got going. A few of these became very spirited and lively. Herman was a true REAL Gentleman in everything he did. I miss him greatly.
Following Pittsburgh’s lead is a good idea. Birmingham has done this in the past, though I don’t think that the label “Birmingham – the Pittsburgh of the South” really fits any longer. In fact both cities have greatly diversified far away from steel and coal over the past 25 years.
We don’t hear as much from Pittsburgh currently, which these days is a good thing. Of course, Pittsburgh is still home to best hockey team on the planet – The Pittsburgh Penguins!!!!
What have y’all got to lose???? Give it a real try. Never know what might come about. Beats the Hell out of saying, “Maybe we should have……..” yet again. Y’all take care.
Thank you, David. A good idea which requires a lot more understanding than I can bring to the situation. I wonder how the county executive in Allegheny County interacts with the mayors in the various cities? She/he presumably has no “power” over any of them or over the city school systems.
For the idea to get legs, our County Commissioners and our county legislators would need to support this idea and then seek wording for a suitable constitutional amendment. Unlike Birmingham and Jefferson County, I am not aware that Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have the same race issues that seem to pervade much of what happens in Jefferson County and in Alabama generally, although sometimes poorly concealed.
What did the Community Foundations efforts to breathe life into the idea receive? A cold shoulder?
(PS, I am using my personal email account, to make it clear these views are mine alone and not those of any of my partners or colleagues at my employer.)
I wonder if someone might have the chance to research the origins and continuation of something that put Birmingham is quite a position of widely know leadership: the Neighborhood Associations. I believe this memory is correct: back in the Seventies when I was living in Washington, D.C., such an organized approach to citizen participation was created. The second one was Birmingham. I first heard about Birmingham’s version when attending a national conference. A young lady from the planning office gave a presentation about it. You should have heard the loud applause! Well, she was good but so was what she said. How is it now? Such positive steps of improvement should be of great value.