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The First 100: Council wants to weigh public opinion; excellent!

11.19.2007 by André Natta · → 4 Comments

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Mayor Langford stated during his campaign that he had a reputation of being a bull in the china shop. Many would view that as his desire to move his city forward after sitting on the sidelines for so long. However it appears that the bull is about to meet his match in the form of the Birmingham City Council.

While the major story over the weekend was the fact that the Council members did not think that the mayor’s revitalization plan would be passed on his timetable, the bigger story would have been if the Council had decided that they would pass it without bringing the issue before the people that elected them into office two years ago.

The mayor can claim a mandate from his election – there is no questioning that; the issue is that this council has set a precedent of involving the public in its decision making and attempting to make the happenings in City Hall much more transparent than it has been in the past.

Council President Smitherman has prided herself on making sure that the public has input involving any plans that come before the sitting council. Despite episodes from some members that can be considered grandstanding for the cameras, the other councilors share her desire to bring things to light and engage in a dialogue.

The public must let the elected officials know what they would like to see happen as this public debate will be settled by elected officials in a public forum. Some of the comments that have appeared online have some thinking that this will make or break the city. While it’s definitely a fork in the road for the city, it will certainly set the tone for what’s to come during at least the next two years. The Perpetual Promise has been here and will remain so long as there are people that wish the best for the region.

There is one thing that is interesting to look at as this dialogue begins. There are people that will drive outside of the city limits to purchase items that could be purchased within, claiming that the lower cost is the reason for the need to drive long distances, many times 15-20 minutes. Some of these folks are willing to drive 1 – 2 hours away to “save” money. Are people willing to continue driving outside of the city for goods and services if gas prices continue to rise? Are they willing to speak with their wallets that some of these businesses need to locate closer to home so that our environment and economy in fact benefit? Some may believe that we have become too attached to the automobile to think that anything will pry us away from them and the independence that they represent. $4 may be the magic bullet that gets us to start thinking; some folks thought it would be $3 though.
The taxes already being paid in the form of gas taxes do not have residents complaining. The fact is that the easiest way for our state governments to raise the capital needed is through imposing higher sales tax that many would argue is regressive. The problem is that the best way to increase government revenues would be through doing something like raising area property taxes – something that people are not as quick to agree with. Of course the best way to fix this is by making the necessary changes to our state constitution (but that’s the topic of another post).

The crazy thing is that the success of this proposed 6-year 1¢ tax is based on a leap of faith by both the city’s citizens and the City Council in the plans of our mayor. It is also a leap of faith in ourselves, saying that we’re willing to take a hit for just a little longer in order to see a city that we constantly dream about. That may sound all pretty and idealistic, but the real question is can we afford to do it or can we afford not to? And that question is meant to be asked in all of the ways that you think it is…

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. To submit letters in response to this commentary or to contact for general information, use any of the methods listed on our contact page.

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