5 questions with William Bell

5 questions with William Bell

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Mayor William Bell is running for reelection in Birmingham. We asked him a few questions addressing matters in the Magic City. You can read his responses to those questions below.

What is Birmingham’s biggest challenge in the next 4 years and how do you plan to address it?

Birmingham's biggest challenge over the next four years is to provide training and employment opportunities for those individuals who are seeking employment but who have not been able to find or make the transition for the types of jobs that are being created in the field of technology. Technology is the next industrial career field that has replaced those low tech jobs formerly found in the steel mills and coal mine industries. We have to find ways to harness those individuals' talents that are now deemed destined to remain in those lower paying wage brackets with no viable opportunity to move into the middle class.  By providing more diverse opportunities, we can in turn, help resolve some of the social ills that are negatively impacting our neighborhoods and communities. If we want a city that treats its citizens fairly, we have to make sure there are opportunities for everyone. We must address income inequality by raising our citizen's incomes with real, and sustainable job growth and economic development.

Has Birmingham’s downtown revitalization and growth been well-managed and how can the city take that momentum and continue it into other parts of the city?

As mayor for the last eight years, I made a commitment to turn Birmingham's living room; the downtown area, and our main business hub; into a productive and thriving area that would attract people and businesses back into the city proper.  It is my firm belief that the financial stability of any city is the foundation upon which success is built. We have achieved that success through ingenuity, innovative, and creative public-private collaborations. This, in turn has made downtown a great place to live, work, and play. The reason this initial investment was important is that we can now utilize this prototype to redevelop other areas of our city and use the same public/private partnerships to rebuild our communities throughout the city of Birmingham. A parallel comparison is the investment that the city made in the Uptown Entertainment District that has yielded successful development of the Westin Hotel, family oriented restaurants, and other businesses that have prospered. The proposed investment in the Ensley area to refurbish and revitalize the ten story building, commonly referred to as the Ramsay-McCormack building, can yield similar results in revitalizing the entire Ensley community by bringing new job growth and economic development for our citizens. Pratt City and the development of OnePratt will also be a catalytic economic development similar to Railroad Park which helped spur growth in jobs, housing and economic development.

What would you do to foster better cooperation with surrounding municipalities in an effort to leverage our region rather than just the city?

I have established strong ties and relationships with all of the surrounding municipalities since I became Mayor through the Jefferson County Mayor's Association.  Through the years, the city of Birmingham has offered assistance and support for many surrounding municipalities including the cities of Bessemer, Fairfield, Midfield, Centerpoint, and the city of Clay as well as many others. We work closely and join forces with the Mayor of Hoover to also strengthen our metro area. The city of Birmingham is the major economic engine that has helped Jefferson County out of its previous bankruptcy status. We will continue to work with those municipalities by continuing to work in all areas of mutual interest for the common good.

How do you plan to increase transparency in city government and the agencies and utilities it appoints members to?

My administration has developed  and is currently implementing an open government data portal that allows all of our citizens to access any area of operation or financial expenditures through this process. All records and other information are at each and every citizen's fingertips. This open data portal will also allow citizens to communicate any issues or concerns that exist in their neighborhoods. The utilities boards and agencies are separate and independent entities.  However, we will encourage them to create their own system that will allow citizens to access this type of information.

How would your administration address our city’s crime problem and please be both as specific (how much $, where it’s spent, etc.) and philosophical (your holistic approach to crime prevention/officer retention/training, etc.) as possible.

The City of Birmingham has embarked on several projects and initiatives to fight crime in our city.  Public safety is our priority. As you know, there has been an up tick not only in Birmingham's crime rate but crime has increased across the nation.  To that end, the city is actively recruiting additional police officers and has doubled the number of police academies that are held each year to provide more police recruits.  In the past legislative session, we asked and received from our state lawmakers, the authority to rehire retired police officers without impacting their pensions. Making our community a safer place to live cannot be accomplished by police alone, and solving the crime issue is not merely a matter of having more police officers, we must also use various approaches to attack the social ills and educational deficits that lead individuals to enter a life of crime.  We are currently focusing on helping individuals through the Violence Reduction Initiative program.  This approach balances strong consequences for street groups involved in crime with a firm commitment to help individuals who want to turn their lives around.

Birmingham is also part of the Justice Department's National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. This program is designed to develop best practices  and training for our police officers and community leaders to facilitate better means of communication and interaction to reduce crime in all areas of our communities.  The City of Birmingham is also expanding its Community Policing and Revitalization program that has proven to be effective in several areas of our city.  We are also spending several million dollars to expand our shot- spotter program network to reduce indiscriminate gunfire within our communities.

The best way to reduce crime is to invest in our educational system. Not only must we invest more in early childhood education as an intervention tool, we must provide more funding for reading programs. Nothing will define a city more than the quality of the school system that serves its community. In the past, I have proposed to add millions of dollars to the Birmingham City School System for the advancement of a quality reading program to help those struggling students who have not learned to read at the third grade level and have not mastered basic reading skills after they leave the third grade. There are well over a thousand students who are entering high school this fall, but are reading at a fifth grade level.  I will continue to offer mentoring programs, fixing poor education, providing more  job opportunities and eradicating income inequality by utilizing a holistic approach  and getting the public, private and educational sectors more involved in various solutions to reduce crime.

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