You’ve done it this time.
You’ve shown us up. Taught us how the game’s played. No more second-rate, minor-league stuff from you. You’re the real deal.
Oh, we like to think Calhoun County equates to Ground Zero for these types of public embarrassments. We think we’re the bad boys of Alabama politics: sparring, fighting, press-conference-holding, racism-charging, arguing, suing and lawyering-up. Good gosh, we even had a former Anniston City Councilman — David Dawson — spend a few minutes in jail this week on charges of stealing five grand from his former employer.
His comment to The Star: “No comment and don’t call me.”
We have our share of horseplay, but have we had anything like what’s happened in Birmingham, where that city’s Board of Education fiasco erupted this week into something right out of an insipid made-for-TV movie?
A recap: A while back, the state took control of the embattled Birmingham City Schools because of a laundry list of issues and the system’s deepening financial woes. Former state Superintendent Ed Richardson is head of the state’s intervention team in Birmingham. To say the state BOE and the Birmingham BOE don’t see eye-to-eye is the mother of all understatements.
Tensions have built for months.
Tuesday night, the Birmingham BOE, on a 5-3 vote, canned Superintendent Craig Witherspoon. Done, finis.
Problem is, state Superintendent Tommy Bice told the Birmingham BOE in April that it couldn’t fire Witherspoon without state approval.
The Birmingham board did it anyway. In Witherspoon’s place, the board installed Samuetta Drew, the chief operations officer, as interim superintendent.
Richardson objected during the meeting, but in essence was told — get ready — to sit down and shut up or security would be called.
Wednesday morning, Richardson and members of the state’s intervention team showed up for work at the Birmingham Board of Education building. Their key cards had been disabled. It was almost like Stalinist Russia: You don’t exist anymore.
So after setting up temporarily in a nearby hotel, Richardson headed to Montgomery for an emergency meeting with Bice, who had ordered Witherspoon’s reinstatement but was summarily ignored. An attorney filed for a restraining order to block Witherspoon’s firing, which Jefferson County Circuit Judge Scott Vowell granted. Vowell ordered the Birmingham BOE members, in effect, to stop being jerks, let the superintendent and the others back in the building and to get out of the way. (A side note: It was impossible not to laugh Wednesday afternoon as I followed this on a Twitter feed from a Birmingham News reporter. Just when you thought it was over, in came another tweet …)
A lawsuit has been filed. Tensions are, let’s say, palpable.
And school starts in a few weeks.
C’mon in, kiddies!
It’s gonna be a great school year!
Bad enough this would be if it were the only blemish on the Birmingham/Jefferson County recent resume. But, alas, that’s not the case.
Remember, Jefferson County filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history last year because of its never-ending sewer-debt crisis that, among other things, put 17 people behind bars. Birmingham was $4 billion in debt. Four billion dollars. The New York Times aptly called it “the county that fell off the financial cliff.”
Remember, former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford is serving a 15-year prison sentence for his conviction on public-corruption charges.
And, remember … Well, isn’t that enough?
Birmingham doesn’t go lightly on city-style dysfunction.
It does it right.
It’s not that our hometown scars are lightened by any of this. Elections are on tap next month, and all over the county are rumblings that — to steal Barack Obama’s former catch-phrase — it’s time for change. You hear it some in Weaver, a little in Oxford, in every breath in Anniston. You can’t help but notice the small marquee in front of a Quintard Avenue business: “Save Anniston: Elect new mayor & council.”
We’ve had our lumps, and a few still hurt. We tire of Councilman Ben Little’s rants about Native Americans owning land rights to McClellan and his unfounded charges of racism within the Anniston Police Department. We wish the relationship between Weaver’s mayor and council hadn’t become front-page news. We wish the 2008 version of Anniston’s council hadn’t devolved into a citywide joke.
That era’s over, we think. Anniston survived.
From here on, let’s make a pact: Let’s look west for our fill of dysfunction. Birmingham is better at it than we are, anyway. Let those guys have all the fun.
We’ll watch from afar, and get on with the next phase of our lives.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.