Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Monday, August 15, 2011

In a League of His Own--Mayor William Bell

Birmingham Mayor William Bell is doing his level best to sidestep any taint from the Walter Energy contamination in north Birmingham by claiming that “until spring of this year he’d never been notified of soil contamination.” Bell’s coziness with the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), the entity who lured *Walter Energy away from Tampa where they had been headquartered since the end of WW II, makes us wonder if he’s being truthful about what he knew and when, or slyly covering for the generous corporate campaign and event sponsor at the direction of the BBA.
*entry #243--"I wish they were all this easy," said a beaming Jim Searcy, vice president of business and industry retention at Birmingham Business Alliance.

William Bell has always been a team player, but it's questionable whose team he has been a member of all these years--the one that benefits him or the one that steps up for his constituent's interests. Why isn't he going to bat for his citizens in north Birmingham? All we're hearing from him is excuses of why no one should put the bead on him for any responsibility in the toxic mess.

(On a side note, Walter Energy is up for takeover after their CEO of three months decided to call it quits. Watch for the next corporate owner to be hailed as yet another big bucks entity coming to Birmingham.)
In a recent CBS 42 “Deadly Deception” clip, Mayor Bell incredulously claimed that he was not permitted to even communicate with the EPA about the decades-old issue in north Birmingham or anything else EPA related:
“The EPA still had the Mayor of Birmingham, not William Bell, but the Mayor of Birmingham listed as being banned from being able to communicate any form, way shape or form, with the federal government, in particular the EPA.”

What Mr. Bell was referring to, and twisting to suit his purposes, is a move by the federal government in 2009 that came after former Mayor Larry Langford was indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges, which placed him on a federal “Excluded Parties List:”
Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford no longer has the authority to sign federal grant applications or enter into agreements that involve federal money as a result of his indictment on bribery and conspiracy charges.
Langford's name was placed on the federal government's Excluded Parties List -- a list of people and organizations barred from conducting business with federal agencies -- by the Environmental Protection Agency in March. Langford received a notice of the action in late February.

That action by the feds was to prevent Langford from having any more authority over federal grants and monies. It did not mean that Bell was "barred" from communicating with the EPA like he would have everyone believe with his recent statements. Unless he wants us to think that the EPA would not be willing to take a call from him that should have gone something like this:
‘I need help over here in my city Region 4, my residents are sick and dying because of a nearby coal plant. I'm hearing from them every day. We have three schools in the area and I am really worried about the children. Could you please send someone over here to do some testing and let’s see what we have going on over here?’

Bell never made that call and he’s never shown any concern for those residents until CBS 42 pulled back the curtain on the whole deal through their investigative reporting. Has anyone with CBS 42 put two and two together and questioned, among themselves, the validity of what Mayor Bell is now offering as an excuse?

Giving Bell the benefit of the doubt, that he really didn't understand, is not any more comforting because it suggests he isn’t sharp enough to comprehend the 2009 decision. The leader of a large metropolitan area should be quick on their feet in the critical thinking department and possess an ability to fully understand the detail and meaning of any federal actions directed at his city.

Blaming his inaction on Larry Langford's misdeeds is a lame ploy. And Bell knows it. He's a savvy political player who's well-versed in the game of misinformation and distraction.

We think he's playing the ‘I didn’t know’ card for political duck and cover in a publicly embarrassing situation while following the scripting of certain corporate interest coaches.

Much like the Birmingham News, who won't break themselves of the habit of protecting Walter Energy's misdeeds by continuing to use words like "voluntary cleanup," in addition to allowing Walter to continue the incessant parroting of their "good neighbor" and 'not our fault' nonsense.

We also find it ironic that Walter Energy teamed up with the Birmingham Barons and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute for Jackie Robinson Day earlier this year. The Mayor has an on and off reputation for favoritism to minority rights and figures when it seems to suit his own agenda, financial interests and publicity stroking.

It’s a proclivity he often forgets when it comes to the Big Mules and the BBA’s pie-in-the-sky ideas. He’s way too caught up in his chameleon-like changeability of ‘I’m for my people until someone else has an economic scheme that will bring in the money and elevate my importance.’ Luring the Barons to Birmingham is high on Bell's list of importance.

With the Robinson tribute he got the trifecta--he appears (albeit selectively) racially sensitive, Walter Energy grateful and Birmingham Barons bone-throwing all rolled into one. But what has he done for those north Birmingham residents who have been suffering for years so far? Absolutely nothing, because there's no glory in it for him, and he knows he'll get a sackful of angry corporate cats (aka Walter Energy and the BBA) if he gets too involved with the little people.

It's a shame really, because he could have had his own Robinsonesque moment, if only he'd managed to call up enough courage to get on the right team just once in his long and often controversial political career.

Jackie Robinson’s contribution to baseball and his people deserved to have that honor in April, we won’t disagree with that, but of all the sponsors who could have been approached for the event the city chose Walter Energy. The same company who is the number one alleged suspect primarily responsible for the toxic poisoning in the minority neighborhoods of Collegeville and Harriman Park since 1989.

What would Jackie Robinson have said about that choice?

He would have called it what it is: foul ball.

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  1. Ignorance is no excuse Mr. Mayor.
    It's just ignorance.
    You are very defensive about the issue aren't you?

  2. If only it were ignorance, and not such a massive insult to the public's intelligence. Does Bell really believe that we're too stupid to check on that EPA notice? That we won't see through this BS? The EPA stripping Langford of authority over federal grants has nothing whatsoever to do with anyone else but LL.

    My memory isn't air-tight, but I do recall the story and would have dug it up to satisfy my curiosity. Thanks to Max et al, though, we don't have to. Good on ya, again Max! Well-documented post.

  3. There are very few politicians that deserve to be called scum ... here is one.

  4. Why does Birmingham continue to hold onto its dark and bitter past so strongly? Because it's profitable maybe?
    We can and should remember the struggle for civil rights, but does it have to be what defines Birmingham in the 21st century?
    I'm old enough to remember what it was like in the 50's and 60's in the Magic City and let me tell you it was not magic. It was scary and bloody.

  5. That Black & White story you have linked on "William Bell-A Historical Perspective" should be required reading for the masses.
    Bell's a company man and that picture at the top containing his claims of what matters most is a load big enough to fill many trucks!
    It's so tragic that he is the best Birmingham can do for leadership.

  6. Bell is crook, a charlatan in political clothing and a continuance of the corruption of the Arrington reign of absolute power.

  7. i'myourhuckleberryAugust 15, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    Let's rewrite shall we?


  8. Huck's right on!

    Give the Mayor another term and Birmingham will be in another financial mess similar to the sewer fiasco.

    Mayor Bell will be laughing all the way to the bank as usual. North Birmingham will continue to bury the ones who didn't have to die.

  9. Mayor Bell is Arrington part II and a systemic part of the corruption of Birmingham at it's worst. WB loves the green and the power and it doesn't matter who he steps on to get it. I would love to see him sharing some honey buns at motel fed with Langford!

  10. If the Mayor is so concerned and interested in civil rights maybe he ought to think more about the living who are suffering first.
    I suggest he starts right in City Hall's own backyard.

  11. At least the Mayor is consistent.
    Consistently acting corruptly. He's the kind of guy who would say: "Who are you going to believe--me or your lying eyes?"


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