|Coming soon: The History of Birmingham conveniently left out...|
EXT: CITY HALL: DAY
A "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" banner hangs over City Hall. Mayor Borg, Police Commissioner Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent exit from the building.
"I don't care how deeply in debt this festival is, I want a parade. I want hot dogs, balloons, the whole schemer.
We are going to celebrate this 200 year anniversary, proudly and publicly," says the Mayor.
"We may be celebrating this anniversary in bankruptcy court. This festival is already $250,000 in debt and we haven't seen one balloon," replies Dent.
"You fill this square with people, the businesses will come back here," says the Mayor.
"A lot of people might stay away. They are scared," answers Police Commissioner Gordon.
"They won't be scared when you get Grissom in that Court House, I promise you that," says Mayor Borg.
[This establishes that the community is terrorized by Grissom and his crime syndicate. They are so afraid that they won't even come out for a parade. Grissom's activities are the cause for businesses leaving the city, and thereby destroying the economy. The tax base is so small that the city government cannot even afford to hold a parade. The scene is designed to turn the audience against the criminals.)
Birmingham Mayor William Bell this morning is urging federal officials to award a Congressional Gold Medal honoring the four girls killed in the 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
Outrage over the church's bombing and deaths of the girls who were attending Sunday school created national outrage and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights of 1965. This year is the 50th anniversary of the bombing and other seminal civil rights events of 1963.
Congress has issued gold medals since the American Revolution that are awarded to honor distinguished achievements and contributions.
Each medal honors a particular individual, institution, or event, according to the House of Representatives official website. Congress broadened the scope of the medals to include a variety of categories including: actors, authors, entertainers, lifesavers, notables in science and medicine, humanitarians and public servants.
The state of Alabama this year is working to draw attention to events that cast it in a shameful light a half-century ago, events that led to sweeping gains in civil rights across the country.
The Alabama Tourism Department and the Alabama Department of Archives and History are helping promote the 50th anniversary of those events and explain their significance.
In Birmingham and across the state in 1963, racial intolerance and resistance to integration clashed with the fierce determination of those fighting for equality.
Brutality in defense of the segregationist status quo --- the Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls, the use of police dogs and fire hoses on children and peaceful demonstrators, the mass arrests --- helped change minds and build support for landmark civil rights legislation.
State officials say this year it's important to revisit that history.
The future growth of payday loan, title pawn and check-cashing businesses in Birmingham will be decided Tuesday when the Birmingham City Council votes on a proposed year-long moratorium.
The ordinance proposed by Councilwoman Lashunda Scales would ban any new title loan or payday loan businesses from opening for one year or until the city's comprehensive plan is complete.
Representatives of the payday lending industry say the proposed restrictions are unneeded.
But Scales, who is chairwoman of the council's Economic Development Committee, said Birmingham has been inundated with the businesses. "The law department has come up with an ordinance that will protect the citizens of Birmingham," she said of the proposal, which has been revised since she first presented it two months ago.
"With the law department's official input, it answers all of the questions that council members had."
The businesses' negative impact is twofold, Scales said.
She said businesses offering short-term loans have high interest rates that keep financially strained customers trapped in a cycle of making interest-only payments.
Secondly, she said, the presence of too many of these businesses repel other commercial development.
"Our citizens deserve first-class businesses at an affordable price," she said. "However, if you have a string of these kind of predatory lending agencies in those same communities, then the likelihood of those (other) businesses locating in that area is nonexistent."
Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford hopes a graphic DVD about "black on black crime" can help reduce the city's crime.
He showed the 18 minute film called, "A War for Your Soul", at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
It uses graphic language, images and video to suggest crimes committed by African Americans on each other in some way fulfills the goals of the racist forces of the past.Langford hopes to distribute as many as 500 copies to churches and civic groups.
U.A.B. sociology professor Dr. Gail Wallace feels the film can make an impact on Birmingham's inner city youth, but needs to be coupled with proper role models and community programs that give teens activities to participate in to stay out of trouble.
Leaders in Alabama's largest city have voted to make Florida teenager Trayvon Martin an honorary citizen.
The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to declare the 17-year-old an honorary citizen and voiced its displeasure over the way his shooting death has been handled in Sanford, Fla.
Black male members of the Birmingham council wore hoodies during their meeting to show solidarity with Martin. The youth was also wearing a hoodie when he was fatally wounded by a neighborhood watch captain last month.
Council President Roderick Royal says the main purpose of the display is to show that minority males often are invisible to people in positions of power.
City Councilor Steven Hoyt, who has made minority inclusion his political platform, amended the proposed ordinance on Tuesday’s agenda to remove language “encouraging a minimum of 27 percent minority business participation.” That percentage would have invited lawsuits that, in the past decade, have successfully overturned so-called minority set-asides; high courts have generally ruled them unconstitutional.
Instead, Hoyt advanced amended language that states in part, “As a matter of public policy, the City of Birmingham agrees to make opportunities available to the maximum extent possible, to actively include Historically Underutilized Business Enterprises (HUBE’s) such as architectural firms, engineering firms, investment banking firms, other professional consultant services providers, and construction contractors as part of business, economic and community revitalization programs.”
Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford issued his first veto today, rejecting a City Council resolution asking him to implement the results of the disparity study designed to prove a need for minority business initiatives. Today, Langford will read his veto message to the council.
The disparity study was commissioned by former Mayor Bernard Kincaid and drafted by former Denver city attorney Dan Muse, an authority in legal diversity policy. Muse has said a study proving disparity is needed before governments legally establish percentage goals on contracts given to minorities and women.
Following the report, another company, the Freeman Group, was paid $20,000 by the council to draft recommendations on implementing the disparity study.
Langford rejected the council's request, saying his office has not received Freeman's report after numerous attempts.
"The result is vague and ambiguous because it is unclear what Disparity Study results I am being asked to implement," Langford wrote in his veto message. "In fact, investigation by my staff has revealed the members of the Disparity Task Force do not have copies of "final report" performed by Freemen and cannot identify any specific recommendations made Freeman on behalf of the committee...If they do not know what I am being asked to implement, I cannot, in good conscience implement it."
What began as a routine business request for city incentives morphed into a debate over minority business inclusion and an admonition from the Birmingham city attorney that City Council statements put the city at risk for a racial discrimination lawsuit.
In the end, the council today approved $80,000 in sales tax abatements for new World of Beer stores including one already underway in Five Points South. But it was that request that sparked a heated discussion over support for minority businesses and the city's commitment to disadvantaged businesses -- issues that have been brewing for more than a week.
The issue first arose last week when Councilman Steven Hoyt, at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting grilled representatives of World of Beer about the company's ownership and construction contractors.
World of Beer officials said they used some minority companies in construction, which, after Hoyt pressed the group on specifics, turned out to be white women-owned companies.
That committee meeting then resulted in a legal memo delivered to each council member Friday by Chief of Operations Jarvis Patton, warning that the council puts the city in legal jeopardy with questioning such as Hoyt's.
"It's my sincere hope and belief that no councilor is seeking to unilaterally impose a personal policy in violation of the U.S. Constitution and also other federal, state and local law," City Attorney Thomas Bentley wrote in the memo. "In that spirit I am urging the council, while undertaking official business as councilors and in all their public and private pronouncements on the subject of the city's participation policy, not to make statements indicating illegal preference."
Bentley said failure to adhere to his advice puts the city at risk for discrimination lawsuits.
The issue was reawakened today when the World of Beer request for incentives was on the agenda, and Hoyt referenced the recent legal memo.
"Let me be very clear, you don't sanction me, neither do you censor me, particularly if we have an ordinance that speaks to minority participation," Hoyt said.
It's been a while since we've seen a major blow-up at Birmingham's City Council meetings, but today the council and Mayor Bell appeared to be making up for lost time.
It all started when Greg Calhoun, the owner of Montgomery-based grocery store chain Calhoun Foods, got up to give an update on negotiations between him and the mayor's office to try and bring a grocery store to so-called food deserts like downtown or Pratt City.
Calhoun said he wasn't getting much help from the mayor's office, and that's when city council members began to accuse the mayor of not wanting to help African-American-owned businesses.
"Unless there's a real reason, I don't see why we can't do business with this company, unless there's a real reason," said Council President Roderick Royal. "We practically give the kitchen sink to folk in this city."
"There seems to be a disdain for African-American businesses in this city, and there's something strangely wrong with that when the leadership looks the way it does," said Council President Pro Tem Steven Hoyt. "I'm not against white wealth, but I believe there should be some African-American wealth to go along with it."
Those comments got Bell's attention but he didn't speak up until Hoyt said Bell didn't call him after some members of his family were the victims of a crime.
"I do not play with people's families, that's what I'm trying to say," Bell said, raising his voice. "If I had known your daughter was involved, I would've been the first one down there on site. I didn't know your daughter had been attacked until you told me."
From there, Bell became enraged at the accusation his administration isn't helping minority-owned businesses, drawing the owner of Calhoun foods into the fight at one point.
"When you look at the hotel that's being built," Bell shouted, and at one point pounded his hand on the desk. "The majority of the people working on that project are African American businesses. And to say I disdain black businesses in this community? That is a flat-out lie.
And this man up here knows that it's a lie, and this man is just throwing fuel on stuff that is not true, and I'm not gonna stand for it. And I'm not gonna stand for you to come down here and imply that my staff, a black woman who's been trying to help more black-owned businesses than anybody else in this city ever has, and you're gonna try to impugn her character and that of this administration? I'm not gonna have it."
Bell then pounded his desk again as he said, "I'm just not gonna have it."
Shortly after that, Calhoun walked out of the meeting saying he's throwing in the towel on this project. But outside of city hall later he said he's still hopeful he and the city will reach a deal.
The mayor's office took the unusual step today of releasing a timeline detailing all of their interactions on the Calhoun project. Bell says Calhoun has canceled four meetings, Calhoun says he never had a meeting scheduled.
In the meantime, the future of a grocery store in any of these food deserts appears to be very much up in the air.
But at least Trayvon Martin is an honorary citizen of Birmingham... a city without hope, save for the continued spotlight to forever shine on 1963, serving as a guiding star away from the misery of 2013.