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Harness the knowledge of former mayors

The city of Birmingham and its residents are blessed in numerous ways – there is a thriving city downtown with retail stores and restaurants, including several new ones scheduled to make their appearance in the coming year. Residential neighborhoods continue to be a desirable destination for families of all ages, stripes and configurations, with property values and prices continuing to skyrocket. The parks and recreation department is investing in itself, upgrading its ice arena and continuing to improve the city's numerous parks. The public school district is one of the tops in the state. City government is well-managed, and there are so many dedicated citizens who volunteer for boards and commissions, not all are elected or appointed.

Birmingham also enjoys the benefit of a number of extremely knowledgeable and devoted former commissioners and board members, many still in the prime of their careers and life, who may have felt it was time to move on from city government and the intense time commitment it requires, but who still have much to offer. It would be foolish to squander the opportunity to tap into what amounts to hundreds of years of collective wisdom. Yet that is what it seems some members of the current Birmingham City Commission intend to do.

At a recent city commission meeting, city manager Tom Markus, someone who has, and recognizes, a great deal of accomplishment when he sees it, pitched the idea of developing an Emeritus Mayor’s Club to create a forum where past mayors can serve as a resource and think tank to provide strategic advice on broad ideas and topics facing city government. As Markus wrote in a memo to commissioners, many of whom are relatively new, “Members could provide a historical perspective of the commissioner’s role during the manager’s orientation of new commissioners. Members could provide valuable insight for a citizen’s academy. City staff and elected officials could call on members for historical perspective and advice on any number of issues… As a group, the members would retain their individual rights to express their personal views, however it is not expected that the club would engage in political activities, including political endorsement”.

He even suggested they could perhaps form a non-profit to fund future projects, with the city benefitting in all aspects.

Unfortunately, not all commissioners recognized the value proposition inherent in Markus' proposal – and likely saw it as threatening to their own self-perceived power base, so the idea was put on hold. Instead, wise commissioners should identify the opportunity to tap into an unending and diverse multi-generational talent pool of collective community wisdom.

Rather than a threat to the city commission or any individual commissioners, an Emeritus Mayor's Club extends the commitment of individuals who are passionate about Birmingham but are not seeking to upset the apple cart. They are not paid employees, and have the vantage of both perspective and looking at the long game.

There's an old adage to “not throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Let's hope Birmingham commissioners revisit the idea, and don't throw out wise ideas, especially due to egos.


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