Leadership matters. The tone and tenor of a policy are often the reflection of the leader who presided over the period in which that policy took effect. And leadership matters the most, becomes most visible, and is looked to by others more often when crisis looms.

Noted author and lecturer Victor Davis Hanson said that “…the leadership of single individuals can still matter more than these seemingly inanimate forces…geniuses and inspired leaders who, when the planets line up, can still, by their own genius or lack of it, themselves either win or lose wars.” Birmingham has shown little of that in its leadership. To be clear, the leaders referred to here are the Mayor, City Council, the Birmingham City School Board, and the Housing Authority of Birmingham. It is a tragedy.

Let me start by noting how important Birmingham is to my own life. As an Army kid I moved much of my life. But one of the consistencies I had was my family in Birmingham. Granddaddy was a steelworker and I spent much of my summers running barefoot around Wylam, Ensley and out toward Pleasant Grove. My uncle was a VP at City Federal in its heyday. Iron Bowls, Baron’s games, Tuxedo Junction, concerts at the BJCC. Birmingham is as deep in my heart and mind as any place in the world. It is in trouble right now.

The Message translation of the Bible translates Proverbs 24:10 as, “if you fall apart in a crisis there was not much to you in the first place.” In Birmingham there is a multifaceted existential crisis ongoing. The combined effects of the coronavirus, the government’s shutdown of society, and racial and political intolerance, have all coalesced and the social fabric of the city is falling apart. We are seeing in real time that the leadership of this great city own the problems and have exacerbated them at every turn. The last 90 days have been leadership failures of epic proportions.

Economic failures – let’s start with TopGolf. Just four years ago city leaders were thrilled to provide economic incentives to TopGolf in return for a multi-million dollar investment by the entertainment giant in the downtown Birmingham area. With an estimated 10-year economic impact in excess of $260 million, 500 jobs, and full medical and retirement benefits for full-time employees, it was a coup for a downtown in need of revitalization. In April of this year, city leaders, having just ordered an economic shutdown that included TopGolf, announced that they were rescinding all economic incentives for failure to sufficiently diversify the subcontractors who built the facility three years hence. What did city leaders do with money instead? They poured it into their social project known as Birmingham Strong which thus far has provided 80 “paid volunteers” with $12 per hour to assist with coronavirus relief. To date, TopGolf has not reopened. Let all that sink in.

But the leadership failures don’t end with economics. Civil liberties have been placed on hold while city officials dither. How many were aware before the spring of 2020 that Jefferson County has its own public health officer whose directives mean more to the Mayor and Council than Alabama’s State Health Officer? On April 28th, Mayor Woodfin announced the enactment of an ordinance requiring every person in the city over the age of 2 to wear a mask outside of their car or house. Penalties of $500 and up to 30 days in jail were to be assessed. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall had to warn city leaders in writing that they were overreaching and creating impossible situations for both citizens and law enforcement. Then the City Communications Director announced that the “intent is not to arrest people”. The City Council has modified the penalties to make them purely monetary fines, but to date the Birmingham Police Department has issued no citations. Apparently the intent was merely to threaten and intimidate the people of Birmingham with the weight of public office for what amounts to a frivolous and unenforceable ordinance. In spite of this, the Birmingham City Council chose on June 10th to extend the mask ordinance well into July over the dissent of just one of its members.

But the insult and ignominy don’t end there. Enter the hypocritical weaponization of “like” when this week the Birmingham City School Board and the Housing Authority of Birmingham both voted to cut ties with Church of the Highlands. Allegedly the indignation supporting both votes stemmed from the interpretation that the church’s pastor had – wait for it – clicked “like” on a conservative pundit’s comments on social media. Never mind that Birmingham School Board member Mickey Millsap, a regular user of Twitter, posts constantly on his disdain for conservatives and tweets calls for the defunding of law enforcement. Nevermind that Dr. Anthony Hood, appointed by the Mayor to the Birmingham Housing Authority and employed by UAB, clicked “like” on a tweet by a racially inflammatory activist who calls himself a “Wypipologist” – an expert in “wypipo”, a derogatory slang term for white people. And never mind school board member Terri Michal who retweeted her disgust for Rush Limbaugh being honored by President Trump. They are each entitled to their personal opinions in true American form, but that same right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly is denied by them to others who differ from their views. And in the midst of all of this Mayor Woodfin has been silent.

It was just two years ago that Pastor Chris Hodges of the Church of the Highlands met personally with Mayor Woodfin and promised to do all that he could as the leader of his congregation to minister to the citizens of every – key word “every” – corner of Birmingham. From the pulpit, he told the tens of thousands of Highlands members that he was committed to supporting the Woodfin administration and the City of Birmingham. In response, Woodfin stated publicly, “The conversation is simple. Help us address these issues. You are sitting on a lot of resources. I know your heart is in the right place. You don’t have to wait on the City of Birmingham. You don’t have to wait on the school system to help a family, to help children, to feed people, to fight recidivism, to help people get jobs, to promote anything including your individual faith. But please help.” Since that time, Highlands has poured itself into disadvantaged communities across Birmingham by establishing free medical care, food distributions, ministry and counseling resources, and leasing public buildings for hundreds of thousands of dollars in doing so. Blood, sweat, tears and treasure have been devoted by Highlands to this community. But the mere sense of “like” for a conservative comment was enough for so-called leaders of this city to cast it all aside despite the fact that their own social media presence alienates many of their constituents. And Mayor Woodfin remains silent to this day.

Birmingham you are a great city – certainly greater than the pettiness, laziness and intolerance being exhibited by your leadership. The great metropolis of Birmingham has long been known as the Magic City. Today, unless we hold our leaders accountable, it could easily be re-characterized as the Tragic City.


MORE ON API in the Editorials

The Need for Education Reform Didn’t Die with the Defeat of Amendment One

When voters defeat a proposed state amendment, it is often thought that the matter is put to rest. That is often the case, but when Alabama’s voters went to the polls in March and shot down a proposal to replace the elected state board of education in favor of one appointed by the governor, they […]

Balancing Rights and Love of Neighbor

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has announced that our state is moving into an initial phase of economic recovery, known as “Safer at Home.” It relaxes restrictions on many businesses while keeping others, like restaurants, heavily limited for now. The hope is that all businesses will be allowed to resume a modified type of operation shortly. […]

Having Freedom is not Irresponsible

When Georgia’s governor announced that the state would allow some non-essential businesses to reopen, everyone had an opinion. What I heard and read most often, however, was how his lifting of restrictions was, “reckless” and “irresponsible.” I see a glimmer of hope in Governor Ivey’s recently issued “Safer at Home Order” as it lessens some […]

MORE ON First Amendment

MOBILE RADIO: Supreme Court Redefines “Sex”

API director of policy analysis Parker Snider recently appeared on Mobile Radio to discuss the Supreme Court’s recent redefinition of “sex” to include gender identity and sexual orientation through its ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. You can listen to the interview here beginning at the 44:35 timestamp. LA Catholic Mornings, Archangel Radio Mobile […]

Philosopher Kings on the Supreme Court Usurp Congress and the People. Again.

According to ancient Greek philosopher Plato, it is the great thinkers, or philosophers, who are best suited to govern society. Dubbed “philosopher kings” they use wisdom, Plato says, to determine how society should operate. Ours is not a country governed by philosopher kings. The Founding Fathers, instead, predicated our government as one of the people. […]

Having Freedom is not Irresponsible

When Georgia’s governor announced that the state would allow some non-essential businesses to reopen, everyone had an opinion. What I heard and read most often, however, was how his lifting of restrictions was, “reckless” and “irresponsible.” I see a glimmer of hope in Governor Ivey’s recently issued “Safer at Home Order” as it lessens some […]

MORE ON Good Governance

Sharing Our Self-Governance in Emergencies

Who rules us? For centuries, the dominant American answer has been that we rule ourselves. But there are alternative views. As long as there have been human beings, some have insisted that we should not have to rule ourselves, but should be free to do whatever feels right. Others have argued that we should be […]

Rural Broadband: It’s Past Time

As it turns out, we just thought we understood how much we needed better broadband accessibility in Alabama. Rural farmers, hospitals, and schools have been telling us for years that the inequality of our broadband infrastructure created two classes of Alabamians: internet haves and have-nots. State leaders mostly agreed and promised to address it…eventually. But in a […]

Cameras (AKA the Government) On Every Corner – A Crisco Sorta Slope

I remember the collective groan that went up from motorists when “red light cameras” became a thing. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if the police were around to see you push your luck with a changing traffic light. Big Brother always would. The heightened accountability at busy intersections felt a bit creepy and oppressive, but most […]

MORE FROM Phil Williams

The RESTORE Alabama Agenda

Read the full RESTORE Plan here. The 2020 Regular Session of the Alabama State Legislature is behind us. Did anyone notice? It was a Session marked more by what didn’t happen than by what did. One minute the lobbyists were being paid well to try and get marijuana legalized, state budgets were flush, and gambling […]

Points of Policy: The $1.25 Billion School Bond Issue

In this Points of Policy edition of the 1819 Podcast, API’s Director of Policy Strategy and General Counsel Phil Williams is joined by API’s Senior Director of Fiscal Policy Justin Bogie to discuss the recently enacted $1.25 billion school bond issue and whether or not such an act is good policy during a pandemic.   To listen, […]

Success in coronavirus response must be defined and coordinated

Isn’t it amazing to see the grandstanders who show up in a crisis that have the luxury of not having to own a plan? I’ve heard a bevy of pundits and those not actually in charge of anything (elected and unelected) shouting that the sky is falling. None of them have offered a solution other […]