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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

City Hall is Angry with Me

Updated: May 4, 2019

By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on April 22, 2019

On April 18 and 20, 2019, I published articles that were highly critical of Birmingham, Alabama’s mayor, 8 of its 9 city council members, and all 5 of the city's park board members for fumbling a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to partner with Major League Baseball (MLB).

I said these officials are small-minded, week-kneed, and incompetent because they allowed Council President Valerie Abbott to kill a $10 million project sponsored by MLB’s Youth Foundation that would have converted the five softball fields at George Ward Park into full-size baseball fields. MLB was also going to build an academy building on the site that would have provided low to no cost baseball and softball instruction and league play for young athletes. The world-class MLB Youth Baseball Academy would have also provided the attendees with academic and career training.

I also said these city officials effectively serve as “bellhops” inside City Hall for Valerie Abbott, who opposed the MLB project because George Ward Park is located in her council district. Residents in the adjacent Glen Iris neighborhood, which is predominantly white, opposed the project out of fear that it would increase the black presence in the park.

Abbot, who is very competent and who outthinks, outworks, and outmaneuvers all of the other city officials, used her intimate knowledge of City Hall and considerable political skills to kill the MLB deal. She knows better than anyone just how weak, lazy, unprepared, subservient, and incompetent the other city officials are.

After I blasted the city's mayor, the other 8 council members, and 5 park board members in my April 18th article, I received private messages from various City Hall “insiders” asking me to refrain from publicly criticizing this predominantly black group of elected and appointed officials. The tenor of the messages was that a black journalist should never portray black public officials in a negative light (even when they deserve it) because it tends to perpetuate negative racial stereotyping of these officials.

To me, that message was total “bullshit." I answered the request for a race-based form of protectionism from public criticism on April 20th in my very public, “Hell, No!” article. This response angered some of these officials, and they wasted no time in letting me know how they felt.

All of the sudden, these city officials have a developed a backbone. Now, they want to stand up and fight. Now, they want to be aggressive.

The trouble with their new-found courage is this: They don’t want to stand up and fight those who killed the MLB Youth Baseball Academy deal. That would require them to fight Valerie Abbott, who has proven she can whip their asses and humiliate them, at will.

They don’t want to fight, which is a white-owned media organization that also blasted their failed leadership on the MLB deal. Likewise, they do not want to fight former Birmingham News sports writer Kevin Scarbinsky, who is white and who also highlighted their gross incompetence in this deal.

Instead, these “do-nothing” city officials want to use their new-found courage and backbone to fight me, which is fine. They can take a number and get in line. There are a lot of distinguished adversaries and failed leaders in line ahead of this bunch of disgraced and incompetent city officials.

I am sick and tired of watching sorry groups of elected and appointed officials betray the trust and confidence of the people they serve. I had to speak out on the MLB deal, and I am glad I did so.

Say what you will about Valerie Abbott, but she delivered the results her Council District 3 constituents wanted. In contrast, Birmingham’s mayor, 8 of the 9 city council members, and all 5 of the park board members failed to deliver the MLB Youth Baseball Academy for their constituents. There is no excuse for this catastrophic failure of leadership.

I served as an elected member of the Montgomery, Alabama city council from 1979 to 1983. Montgomery and Birmingham share the same Mayor-Council Act. I also know first-hand how lazy, weak, unprepared, subservient, and incompetent the other 14 city officials had to be for Valerie Abbott to beat them in such a public and humiliating fashion.

Now, I am firmly convinced that all this group of inept city officials can do reasonably well is: (a) engage in the never-ending search for social media photo opportunities, (b) pat each other on the back for holding the government titles they possess, (c) attend sports event, entertainment concerts, dinner meetings, and out-of-town "workshops" (for free), (d) talk about me behind my back, and (e) participate in an endless series commemorative events that recognize the bravery of 1950s and 60s-era civil rights activists. All of these "feel good" actions and gestures are “safe” and will not offend Valerie Abbott, the Glen Iris neighborhood, or anybody else.

Meanwhile, their deserving constituents continue to suffer in a perpetual state of self-induced, multi-dimensional disenfranchisement. I will back off of these city officials only when they start representing the political interests of the people they serve.

PHOTO: Birmingham, Alabama Council President Valerie Abbott, the most powerful public official in Birmingham city government. She consistently outthinks, outworks, and outmaneuvers the city’s mayor and other 8 city council members, all of whom serve as her "bellhops" within City Hall.

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Apr 22, 2019

Some readers have asked me why I am not criticizing Council President Valerie Abbott for her role in killing the MLB deal. That’s a fair question.

Under the Birmingham Mayor-Council Act, each council member represents the political interests of his/her district constituents. The mayor represents the political interests of all Birmingham citizens. The 5-member park board represents the best interests of all Birmingham communities.

Valerie Abbott represented her constituents' various interests very well on the MLB deal. Her constituents were openly opposed to the deal (for reasons that were laced with racial overtones). They made it clear that this project was not welcomed in their neighborhood. The mayor, the other 8 council members, and all 5 members of the city’s…

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