Author: Glenn Stephens

Woodfin’s Budget: Money for Pensions, Paving; Changes for Education, Discretionary Projects

Mayor Randall Woodfin presented his proposed FY 2020 budget to the Birmingham City Council Tuesday, pointing to changes in city funding for education and councilors’ discretionary projects. At $451 million, the budget is the city’s largest to date — although, as Woodfin emphasized, several major financial requirements resulted in a “lean” approach to appropriating funding.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Woodfin highlighted what he called the “moral obligations” of the budget — fully funding the city’s long-underfunded pension liability and dedicating $8 million to street paving in all nine council districts. “The only disappointment I’ve had so far in this budget was that I wanted $10 million (for street paving),” Woodfin said. “But the pension said no, so we got to $8 million.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Woodfin spent significant time explaining to councilors his decision to cut certain “pet project” line items from the budget, arguing that this would be offset by $50,000 increases to their individual discretionary funds.

Woodfin’s proposed budget cut funding to a handful of organizations and events, including the Agape House, Children’s Village, Shadowlawn Cemetery, Magic City Smooth Jazz, the Ballard House, Bride Ministries, Red Mountain Park, Build Up Ensley, the Northeast YMCA and the Joseph House, among others.

But Woodfin specifically chose to focus on District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt’s Party with a Purpose, an annual event held in Ensley since 2007 that offers health, recreational and entertainment resources to residents. That event has typically received $50,000 from each year’s general fund; in the FY 2020, it receives nothing.
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Woodfin Highlights “Moral Obligations” of Proposed 2020 Budget

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin says his proposed FY 2020 operating budget represents a “fundamental shift” in how the city thinks about spending, with an increased focus on fulfilling his administration’s “moral obligations” — prioritizing city employees and neighborhood revitalization.

That means that even though the city’s projected $451 million budget is the largest to date, it’s also “as lean as they come,” he says, focusing on “needs, not wants.”

The budget still has to be approved by the Birmingham City Council, which received a full copy Tuesday morning. Because it is such an austere budget — addressing longstanding issues such as the city’s unfunded pension liability and putting significant funding toward neighborhood revitalization projects such as street paving and weed abatement — Woodfin says that negotiations may be difficult.

“There’s not a lot of wiggle room in this budget for people to tinker with it,” Woodfin says. “If you tinker with it, (funds) can only come from paving or the pension, because we took (that money) from everywhere else.”

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County Officials Field Questions About Sewer Rates From Hundreds of Jefferson County Residents

Updated — Wayne Wooley’s question cut to the heart of the Sewer Town Hall gathering Monday night at Regions Field.

“What did I do? What did my church do to deserve all this?” the 72-year-old Crestwood South resident asked. “Tell me why you’re putting all this burden on us? I’m on a fixed income. That’s to me illegal.”

Two and a half hours proved not to be long enough for the event, sponsored by County Commissioner Lashunda Scales.

More than 400 people attended the meeting, asking questions and listening to answers from Jefferson County officials about rising sewer rates that have left many ratepayers, including those on fixed incomes, questioning how they will shoulder the costs.

Reviews were mixed as people left the ballpark. Some were happy to have had an opportunity to ask questions and to have their voices heard. Many were displeased with responses.

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Scales, Tyson Seek Delay in Vote Over Giving UAB Responsibility for Indigent Health Care

Jefferson County Commissioners Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson took their effort to delay a vote on a UAB healthcare authority to the sidewalk in front of Cooper Green Mercy Medical Center.

The pair, backed by dozens of Cooper Green employees and some patients, held a news conference today to voice concerns about giving UAB responsibility for indigent care when the commission meets Thursday at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Bessemer.

“We’re asking the public to contact their own commissioners to let them know how they believe they should vote,” Scales said. “We still have a duty to the folks who put us in office.”

The healthcare authority will provide indigent healthcare in Jefferson County. Scales and Tyson said a document that was moved to the commission agenda on a 3-2 vote Tuesday is a business contract that doesn’t address the needs of the county’s poor. 

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Doug Jones’ story about the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and the prosecution of the Klansmen who did it, provides perspective on the past and present.

“Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Civil Rights” by Doug Jones with Greg Truman (St. Martin’s Press, 2019)

“Maxine McNair’s screams were primal,” Doug Jones writes in Bending Toward Justice. As McNair searched for her daughter Denise in the rubble of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church she knew, the way a mother would know, that the unthinkable had finally happened.

The 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that killed Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins happened because white Americans were angry. Birmingham’s public schools were integrated the week before the bombing, and as whites saw dents and cracks appearing in the wall that separated them from black Americans they became resentful and afraid. And a few whites, bitter losers clinging to the bottom rung of the white racial hierarchy, were willing to do more than just gripe about it. They were willing to commit murder.

“Bending Toward Justice” accomplishes what good history should accomplish. The book helps readers understand the past and the present. And the events of 1963 are relevant now because sometimes history does backflips. That’s not to say that history repeats itself, because it doesn’t really. But occasionally, without looking where we’re going, we jump back to a spot we thought we had left behind. And then we have to retrace our steps to see how it all turns out this time.

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After 14 Years, Dovertown Community Is Weary, but Still Fighting Strip Mining

For 14 years, residents of the Walker County community of Dovertown, near Cordova, have lived under a cloud. Coal companies have been wanting to strip-mine a nearby area along the Black Warrior River’s Locust Fork tributary.

The threat to the 200 people who live there is existential, they believe, as they’ve seen other small towns nearly fade away once the ground around them was shoveled away to get at a seam of coal.

At issue is whether the Alabama Surface Mining Commission will issue a new five-year permit to Mays Mining Inc. for the No. 5 Mine. Some of the people of Dovertown plan to speak in opposition at an informal public conference called by the commission for Wednesday, April 17. Read more.

Stay tuned for ruling on who is the legal mayor of Fairfield

A Fairfield resident angrily stormed out of the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Eugene Verin, slamming the door behind her, after the judge said Friday that it will be next week before he makes a ruling on whether Eddie Penny is the legal mayor of Fairfield.

The Fairfield City Council removed Mayor Ed May II from office, citing a state law, when May missed City Council meetings over the course of 120 days.

Friday was the second day that about two dozen residents of the city showed up in the Bessemer Cutoff Courthouse, hoping for an answer to the question of whether Penny, the former council president, or May is the legitimate mayor.

“If you all will just hang with me for another week, I’ll do the best that I can,” the judge said. “I can almost assure everybody here that what I say won’t be the last word. (The ruling) will be appealed.”

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MLB Youth Foundation Reassessing Plans for Youth Academy at George Ward Park

“It’s truly a sad day for Birmingham,” Birmingham City Councilor William Parker said Tuesday after revealing that Major League Baseball Youth Foundation was “reassessing” its plans to build a youth academy at the city’s George Ward Park.

The announcement preceded a long series of monologues from councilors, Mayor Randall Woodfin and members of the public, all of whom had differing opinions on what had scuttled the deal. Some councilors attributed the MLBYF’s decision to a racially charged campaign by residents who opposed the academy. But others, including Council President Valerie Abbott and several members of the public who spoke at the meeting, pinned the plan’s apparent failure on a lack of communication between the council and neighborhood associations.

Eventually, the council opted to set a public meeting with residents to clarify details about the project — which councilors said they hoped would save the deal with the MLBYF.

The Major League Baseball Youth Foundation had planned to construct a $10 million youth academy in the 120-acre George Ward Park, located in the city’s Glen Iris neighborhood. The academy, which would take up about 20 acres, would serve as a free, year-round training center — for baseball, softball, and “life skills,” according to the MLBYF’s proposed contract with the city — for the city’s youth. There are 11 such academies throughout the country; it would be the first for Alabama. Read more.