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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