Mayor Profile--Mayor William Bell of Birmingham
Tell us about yourself: I was born and raised right here in Birmingham, Alabama. I was educated in both public and parochial school. I graduated from John Carroll High School. Later on, I graduated from the University of Alabama-Birmingham in undergrad as well as graduate school. I have a law degree from Miles School of Law. I have been involved in politics since 1977 and was elected to office in 1979. I served from 1979 until 2001. I came back on to the Council in 2005. In 2009, I was elected to the Jefferson County Commission and the seat for mayor became available in 2010. I ran for that position and I was elected Mayor of Birmingham. I feel that my tenure both in city and county government has led me to a better understanding of what government should do for the people in terms of services provided and doing it in a manner that is efficient and effective. That's what I try to do on a day to day basis.
On Birmingham's Comprehensive Plan: For some time now, we as a city have talked about the development of some sort of master plan or comprehensive plan that will help guide us in rebuilding our neighborhoods as well as developing infrastructure for growth here in the city. It's the desire of everybody to do that but you have to have a road map. When we took on that challenge we decided to not just do a comprehensive plan that will sit on the shelf. We wanted to get the public involved, to find out what ideas they had and how they envisioned their city and neighborhoods to grow and develop. Then try to put that in a format that will be a living document for the current government administration as well as councilors to work on towards the future. Some people think the plan can happen overnight, but in actuality it's a plan to guide you for the next 20 to 30 years if implemented correctly. Some recommendations are already under construction. Hopefully, once it [The Plan] is completed we will be under full operation towards using that as a guide for the redevelopment of the City of Birmingham.
On community clean-ups around Birmingham: Everyone wants to have pride in their neighborhood. It is very difficult to do that if you have abandoned homes, overgrown lots and people not taking care of the homes they live in. What we are trying to do is to get to a point where we clean up our neighborhoods and let the city know that as government we care about the environment they live but they should care about the environment they live in as well. We want to give them the tools and support necessary to clean up those neighborhoods. I get calls all the time from people saying there is an overgrown lot next to their house. There are many reasons why this happens such as foreclosures, the elderly and sick dying without leaving a will leaving the property with no responsible owner, and people just abandoning their properties. Well, regardless someone owns that property and they should be held accountable. We have to have more effective laws to deal with irresponsible property owners and we will have this problem until we do so.
Mayor Bell anticipates the completion of many projects in Birmingham: We have a number of projects going on right now. We are constructing the new Westin Hotel in the new entertainment district downtown. Some people think it's just to have a new hotel, but the whole purpose is to generate greater conferences and conventions here. A study was completed a while back that showed because we did not have a minimum of 1,000 hotel rooms in the vicinity around the BJCC that we were missing out on some 250 to 300 conferences and conventions a year. The whole goal was to build the hotel so we could hold those conferences and bring dollars back into our communities. If we increase our tax base and tax revenue, then we can begin to use those funds to revitalize our neighborhoods. Also, for a little over 20 years now the Birmingham Barons have been playing outside of the city Birmingham. We saw we had an opportunity to bring them back into the city, not just as a symbolic gesture but as a revitalization tool for all of the properties around where the park is being built with an eye on economic development and building the tax base. We want to bring business back to the inner city and hopefully the revenue generated can be used for positive improvements across the city. Downtown is the heart of whole region, and if you don't have the heart in good shape everything else will follow in its pattern.
Biggest challenge as Mayor of Birmingham: Being the Mayor of Birmingham calls for me to have many things going on at one time. From speaking with corporate leaders about bringing businesses into the communities to coming up with consistent ways to fill potholes. You go from one extreme to the other but it's all important to the image of the city. Being able to keep that balance to allow all things to receive the proper attention is always a challenge. Vital to all of this, you have to have a decent public transportation system. It is the key to everything. That has been one of my major challenges, to find ways to improve the quality of our transportation system.