By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, August 1, 2017, State Representative Rolanda Hollis (D-Birmingham) held a town hall meeting to show voters how their government is working for them.
The town hall was held in Birmingham’s Guiding Light Church on John Rogers Drive. About 70 citizens were on hand to hear the panel on government, which included Rep. Hollis, US Representative Terri Sewell (D-Selma), State Senator Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham), Jefferson County Commissioner George Bowman (D), Birmingham Mayor William Bell, Birmingham City Councilwoman Sheila Tyson, and former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington.
State Senator Linda Coleman (D-Birmingham) said that it is important for citizens to communicate with their Legislators, “All of our ideas comes from a citizen.” When I was on the City Council we proposed an idea and then asked then State Representative Demetrious Newton (D-Birmingham) to bring a bill. Most bills come from the citizens.
Jefferson County Commissioner George Bowman (D) said, “I represent District one. There are 131,000 people and 88,000 voters within district one. Most people interact with the county through the services that the county provides including: licenses, car tags, and sewer services. Water is handled by another board,” (the Birmingham Waterworks board).
Bowman said that he often hears complaints about rising sewer bills. “Every bill has gone up in the last year. Your bill will continue to go up for the next 37 years. Your bill will rise because it is part of the plan of adjustment made when the County left bankruptcy.”
Commissioner Bowman said that the county is also responsible for Cooper Green Health Services. Cooper Green used to be a hospital. They no longer have inpatient care. You can go there to get healthcare but if you need to be hospitalized, you will be hospitalized at one of the other participating hospitals. “We have plans to open a new state of the art facility on the site of the existing Cooper Green.”
Bowman says that the County government is getting more inclusive. We have an African American County Attorney for the time in the history of the county. The CFO is also an African American. Jefferson County is under a consent decree so they have to have more inclusive hiring practices. “You are seeing the face of the county change.”
Bowman said, “Economic development since the county declared bankruptcy has been our number one job. We are trying to encourage entire businesses to come to our county to create jobs.” Bowman, who is a retired General said, “I do not apologize for being a veteran I do not apologize for advocating for veterans.”
Senator Coleman says that the Legislators rely on the LRS (Legislative Reference Service) when they draft legislation to make sure that the bill is constitutional and is written so that it does what they intend for it to do without unintended consequences.
State Representative Yolanda Hollis said, “We challenge you to follow what is going on.” Email us, text us, call us. We are listening to you. Come down to the State House and knock on doors and tell us what you want.”
Sen. Coleman-Madison said that sometimes passing legislation can take time. “It took me ten years to pass the land bank bill.”
Birmingham Mayor Williams Bell said, We pick up the garbage, we put out the fires, we arrest the bad guys, and we try to keep the streets repaired. There are two ways to get more money for services like fixing roads: raise the taxes on items and the other is growth. Growth requires that you have relationships.
Sherman Collins represents District one on the Birmingham School Board. He said that the primary job of the board is to hire a superintendent and to set policy, hire a CFO and approve a budget. Our Superintendent is the primary person in charge of our school system.
Neighborhood Association Presidents Ken Johnson said we have many duties. There are 2515 homes in the neighborhood. One problem he faces is people parking cars in yards. That is illegal in the Birmingham City limits but is ok in Jefferson County and Centerpoint has a different rule, but all three jurisdictions are in the same neighborhoods. There is legislation pending that is working on giving the largest jurisdictions control of matters like that.
His neighborhood shares a zip code with Counterpoint. The Echo Highlands neighborhood is organizing a petition to get the zip code changed in order to help raise property values. Johnson said that they also have a problem with DHR selling kids.
Former Birmingham Richard Arrington said that Birmingham has a smart and hardworking Mayor, a County Commissioner who is also a General, and the smartest and prettiest Congresswoman ever.
Arrington said, “The 1964 Civil Rights act came out of what went on in Birmingham in 1963. I was just a bystander. I wasn’t out there marching. I wasn’t a foot soldier.” Some students came in and asked me to run for city council and that began my political career of over 30 years.
Arrington said, “A city is a business. You need to put the best people in office because if you don’t, your city can fail.” I have been working with a researcher at Vanderbilt on why cities fail, specifically why do Black cities fail? When I was in Detroit the population was 1.5 million. 20 percent of Blacks lived under the poverty line today 40 percent of Blacks there are living in poverty and the population has plummeted. We don’t have to go to Detroit. Fairfield is a failed city. Black folks have been in charge there, Brighton, Lipscomb, there are others. “If you don’t get the right folk in running your business your city will go down. Don’t think that Birmingham can’t go down.”
Arrington said, “We have a mayor council form of government. The Mayor is the only full time elected official.” “I thought I was smart, but I learned that I did not know everything. The Mayor has to have smart people around him.” If you need full time work do not run for the council. City Council is a part time job. I used to be on the council. We had 325,000 people when I was on the council. Today we have just 212,000. I made $15,000 for a part time job. Today we have council members who want to make $60,000. We don’t pay full time teachers, policemen and firemen that much! That does not make sense.”
Birmingham City Councilwoman Sheila Tyson said, “Alabama is a racist Republican state.”
Addressing Arrington, Tyson said, “We got way more crime. We got more problems than when you were on the council. I work fulltime,” on Council business. I can guarantee you that I work more than 8 hours a day and more that 40 hours a week. “Yes, we do deserve a raise.”
Tyson said that North Birmingham does have environmental problems and that Oliver Robinson (who recently pleaded guilty to bribery and corruption) sold out the residents of his district.
Arrington said that when he was on the council we had staff members shared by the whole council. Now they got 40 or 50 staff members. Run for Mayor if you want to have a fulltime job. The average person in Birmingham only makes $35,000 a year.
US Representative also addressed the group. Her account of national issues is here:
Rep. Hollis said we have two elections coming up. On August 15th is the Primary for US Senate. On August 22nd the city elections for Mayor and City Council were held.