Jefferson County Commission

Jeffco Commission Approves $500,000 for USFL, Plan to Adjust District Lines

Commissioner Sheila Tyson speaks at Thursday’s Jefferson County Commission meeting. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

The Jefferson County Commission on Thursday unceremoniously approved providing $500,000 to help bring the United States Football League to Birmingham.

With much more consternation, commissioners settled on a plan for redrawing commission district lines.

The USFL money, which will pay for personnel to operate Protective Stadium on game days, was passed without discussion, along with 48 other resolutions on the agenda. The City of Birmingham also will provide $500,000 to aid the USFL operation.

During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Commissioner Joe Knight was asked from what county coffers the money will come.

“It has not been determined, but it’s being run up the flagpole, the flagpole being our Witt O’Brien consultants,” Knight said after the meeting. “The last I heard is they needed some more information. There’s no rush to get that money. It’s a pay on the backside. There isn’t a rush, so we’ve got time to vet it.”

Most of the meeting was comprised of a public hearing discussing three options for redrawing commission district lines to reflect changes in the population of the districts. Lines are adjusted every 10 years to keep populations of the districts as even as possible.

After six persons spoke to the commission and there was some discussion on the dais, Commissioner Steve Ammons moved that Plan 1 be approved.

Commissioner Sheila Tyson seconded the motion, which passed 4-1. Commissioner Lashunda Scales cast the lone “no” vote.

Ammons said later that Plan 1 did what was needed without making additional changes. He noted that Districts 3, 4 and 5 were the same in each plan.

“With Districts 1 and 2, they basically maintained their current lines and then just took in sections of Districts 3, 4 and 5,” Ammons said. “That seemed the most equitable overall. It kept the current districts as they were, for the most part, where they needed people, and it just left the other three districts to let it go.

“Plans 2 and 3 dealt with Districts 1 and 2 redistributing, and they were the ones that were needing people and not just kind of redistributing,” he added.

Barry Stephenson of the Board of Registrars said that under Plan 1, districts that need to add population will get it from surrounding areas; those that need a smaller population will give up some territory to nearby districts. Plans 2 and 3 had precincts flipping between commission District 1 and District 2.

Under Plan 1:

*District 1, represented by Lashunda Scales, picks up a Center Point box and a portion of East Birmingham from Commission District 4.

*District 1 picks up the Minor Fire Department Precinct and Dolomite from Commission District 3.

*District 2, represented by Sheila Tyson, picks up the Homewood Community Center precinct and Homewood’s Afton Lee Community Center in Rosedale from District 5. It also picks up the rest of the Oxmoor Valley box at the Wenonah Oxmoor Community Center, as well as Grant Street Baptist Church and the voting box at Bessemer Civic Center from Jimmie Stephens’ District 3.

The Rev. Tyree A. Anderson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ensley, speaks during hearing on redrawing of Jefferson County Commission district lines. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Stephenson said Plan 1 also included putting a portion of unincorporated Jefferson County and a small portion of Warrior in Commission District 3 to even out the population among the districts.

Citizens who spoke during the public hearing all live in or represent Ensley.

George McCall wore a shirt that read, “Justice for Ensley.” He and the Rev. Tyree A. Anderson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ensley, supported Plan 1. So did Alice Westry, co-chair for the Community Affairs Committee, and Johnny Gunn, president of the Belview Heights Neighborhood and Five Points West Community.

Developer Brian K. Rice, president of the Ensley Business Alliance, didn’t pick a plan but appealed for support for Ensley. He said Ensley has been excluded from opportunity zones, there have been property tax increases of 400% to 500% in downtown Ensley, and there was a zero-dollar appraisal on his eight buildings in downtown Ensley.

“(Whoever represents the area), we need to stand up for Ensley,” Rice said. “Right now (Districts) 3, 4 and 5 are together and 1 and 2 are divided. We have to get you all to work together. Ensley is the one that’s hurting the most. Whichever way you choose, we need you to stand up because I know there has not been any justice for downtown Ensley.”

Scales denied claims she said were circulated that she was distributing charts and maps concerning redrawn districts. All of that material was made available by the Board of Registrars, she said.