Playing Nice
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By Steve Chiotakis. Aired November 23, 2001.

(BIRMINGHAM) -- 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 living. 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 positive." 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 season’s changed. But what about Tuesday mornings? ©2001 WBHM-FM. All Rights Reserved.