Playing Nice

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Birmingham al

It was one of the few moments during the tenure of the old Birmingham city council that there was no dissention. Everybody, including Mayor Bernard Kincaid, joined in to sing “God Bless America.”

The past several years haven’t been as harmonious. Some meetings have ended
with members storming out, names being called and even lawsuits being filed.

Of the nine councilors who sang last Tuesday, eight will be gone this
Tuesday. Only Lee Loder was re-elected. In a wave of anti-incumbency,
city voters overwhelmingly voted for change. Some voters don’t even care
who delivers it.

“I’m looking forward to something wonderful happening, yes,” said Gina Poole
from East Lake, who confessed she didn’t vote for a winner.

However, she is optimistic about whoever’s in.

“I would’ve looked forward to something if it would’ve been the same
council or a new one. I’m still looking for better things,” she said while
laughingly admitting that recent council meetings have been a circus in tone
and lack of cooperation.

“Yes it did. I hope that doesn’t happen with this new one. I hope
that doesn’t happen.”

Jonathon Ryer doesn’t find the city’s lack of growth funny at all. He
commutes to his downtown job from St. Clair County everyday. And he blames
the animosity between the mayor and council for economic stagnation. He
says he’s hopeful something can get done with a clean slate.

“It’s a start,” he said. “You can’t fix everything overnight. Time will tell.
And maybe they’ll make some changes and bring in some growth for Birmingham.”

But can there be a Tuesday morning council meeting where the mayor and
council members completely get along? The answer is no, says outgoing
councilor Dr. Jimmy Blake. And he cites the mayor as the reason.

“The reality is, Bernard Kincaid has never been a team builder and I’ve
said publicly, if the mayor could pick nine people to be his council, he
would’ve insulted and alienated all nine of them within three weeks. And
that’s what concerns me,” he said.

Dr. Blake said Mayor Kincaid could’ve cemented relations with the old
council, had he improved his communication efforts with certain members
after being elected.

But the mayor says no one would come to his door.

“And the one thing that staff knows and anyone will tell you, that the one
thing I would drop everything to do would be to communicate with a council
person,” Mayor Kincaid said. I would cancel appointments, not go to lunch.
The few times a council person wanted to meet with me.”

Mayor Kincaid says he’s already met with the new council and is optimistic
about meeting and working with them and finding common ground on a number
of issues.

“What’s different about the incoming council is at least we start with the
vehicle for communication. And communication, it seems to me, is what the
byproduct of the friendlier council is going to be,” he said.

But one new council member says it’s got to be a two-way street.

No one should be able to be exclusively in charge anymore. Former judge
and attorney Carole Smitherman defeated incumbent Pat Alexander in the
general election. She said it’s time for council members to get to work,
instead of getting political. “We can agree to disagree. There’s always
some way to get things done positively. And so I think that people are
saying. We want you to get together with the mayor…have your own opinion,
listen to his and then come to a conclusion,” she said.

And if anyone’s been practicing the power of communication and
accommodation, it’s district 7’s Bert Miller, who waits tables for a

He calls himself “the best waiter in Birmingham.”

Miller says he takes care of his customers and he’ll accommodate his
constituents and communicate with the mayor. Yeah. We gonna be alright.”
And his pet issues for improvement in the city? “Everything! I think I echo
my constituents also. We want to see everything change. If we didn’t want
to see everything change, we wouldn’t have ran (sic). And they made a
change and we’re going to work together to change everything. To the

Miller never stopped walking during the interview. He kept on moving with
the rest of his fellow council members. On a recent, breezy, Fall
afternoon, they were grabbing a quick lunch with Mayor Kincaid to better
acclimate themselves to all the new twists and turns of Birmingham politics
and City Hall.

In front of the towering granite building, leaves of all colors, which had
fallen to the ground, are being blown away by a cool breeze.

The seasons changed. But what about Tuesday mornings?