JCB3 On The Issues
- About City Council Candidate Joseph Baker
- Road Repairs and ADA Compliant Sidewalks
- Affordable Housing
- Mayor-Council Act
- Data Driven Government
- Income Equality
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A persistent issue in our district has been the condition of our roads and sidewalks. While the councilors do not have control over the paving/repair schedule (which is controlled by the Mayor), the Council can address the city-wide issue by establishing a dedicated and earmarked funding source for yearly transportation infrastructure maintenance. I commit to raising this issue at every budget hearing and transportation committee meeting until we get it. Basic maintenance of city property and infrastructure is the most fundamental of responsibilities for city government. It is time we take that seriously. I also commit to addressing the backlog of intersections with sidewalks that lack ADA accessible ramps. Infrastructure should be inclusive and there is no excuse for having this issue over 30 years after the ADA was passed.
And while we are repairing our roads we should be upgrading them to be Complete Streets. This term means the design of the road and its function are geared around accommodating all users of the street, not just car drivers. These make streets more equitable and also can ensure better safety for everyone while encouraging more active transportation (biking, walking).
Housing prices have recently been soaring in Birmingham. While this is great for sellers, it puts burdens on buyers and can cause taxes to rise on neighbors who might not be able to afford the increase. Prices go up when demand rises and supply cannot cover it. If we want a stable and affordable market for homes in Birmingham then there’s really only one choice: build it and they will come. And they should be built by our citizens who are trained in trade skills. (See the education section)
In 2016 disgraced and convicted State Rep Oliver Robinson introduced legislation that altered the Mayor-Council Act (the legislation that sets the form and limits of our local government) to remove the budgeting power from the Council and give it solely to the Mayor, leaving the Council with only a vote on approving or rejecting whatever the Mayor chooses to fund. It also took away the appointing power of several seats on Boards and Agencies away from the Council and gave them to the Mayor. These changes not only undermine the ability of the people to have their voice heard through their Councilors, it creates conditions where a Mayor can abuse their authority. Unlike in many cities where the administration of city-owned properties and programs are under the authority of the Mayor or Council, in Birmingham many of those functions have been given to specially appointed Boards that oversee specific properties. As with the budget, having these appointments be at the sole discretion of the Mayor denies the ability of the citizens to have input into the process and reduces the oversight of these Boards activities. As Councilor, I will push hard to amend the Mayor-Council Act to restore the budgeting and appointments to the Council. These decisions should be made using the diversity of backgrounds and opinions present on the Council, not just at the whims of a single person.
In addition to those changes, I would seek to introduce term limits to the Act. Democracy is strongest when you have a diversity of input and no one should hold any given office for decades at a time, lest they grow complacent and corrupt. There needs to be new blood and fresh ideas that come from turning over elected positions in regular intervals.
Now more than ever, we need a government that is shaped by the data, not by personal whim or the winds of political fortune. We live in the Information Age. It is time that our public policies and public funding be decided by facts and figures; accessible to every citizen that they may be informed and included. As Councilor I commit to pushing a stronger Open Data policy and making City information available to the public as completely and expeditiously as we can. I also commit to letting the data guide my decisions as Councilor. I have a background in information technology. It is how I make my living. I know what is possible in data sharing and acquisition and will be capable of arguing for it to be the standard for our City government. We should accept no less.
I believe the only effective way to reduce crime in the long term is to improve the lives of citizens through education and employment opportunities. Most crime is born of the stresses and pressures that come from poverty and the struggles to escape it. In the short term, I want to bring together citizens, businesses, activist groups, and the BPD to form citizen driven policing efforts. I believe it is essential to building strong communities for the stakeholders in those places to be empowered as the stewards of their neighborhoods. If we want a peaceful and prosperous City we have to ensure all citizens have the ability to improve themselves and build a future.
We need to protect the patrons of our entertainment districts. Several times in the past few months we have had shootings in Five Points South. This is unacceptable. I commit to push for a police presence, either active or off-duty, walking a beat in every entertainment district of the City on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at a minimum. We must ensure that people feel comfortable patronizing our businesses. These businesses employ our citizens. They pay taxes. They give life and culture to our community. The patrons want to be a part of this and we must create a safe environment for everyone.
We must invest in creating opportunities for individual citizens (better education, skills training, and how to start and run businesses) as well as looking for partnerships in funding the technological developments that are critical to our future. I believe we have a unique opportunity in Birmingham to be a part of the advanced technologies that will shape the rest of the 21st century. Our research and development base at UAB and Southern Research Institute can be a solid foundation to build a network of related future industries on. The obvious candidates would be advanced medical technologies, bioengineering, and genetic-based therapies, but there are other opportunities to be a part of machine learning, robotics, cybernetics, and other emerging technologies. Building new businesses in these areas will establish the economy we need to be competitive. I intend to work on recruiting new talent and investment to make Birmingham a center for these and other industries.
The City needs to continue the recent trend of reducing competition/eliminating poaching with other municipalities in the metro while investigating how we can pool resources to more effectively grow. Recently, Hoover and Pelham have started sharing fleet maintenance on their City vehicles. This kind of inter-municipal cooperation should be expanded on in the region. We could all save millions of dollars a year by reducing duplication of services and administration. I intend to have regular meetings with other city councils to investigate other potential cost-saving measures. As we work together to save taxpayers money we should also be working on how to cooperatively woo investors and industries to the Birmingham region.
The only way to truly fix income inequality is to invest in our people so they can be successful. We have to put resources in place to enable them to educate themselves effectively; whether it be gaining job skills, learning how to start and run a business, or acquiring a skilled trade. Healthy prosperous communities have a broad diversity of knowledgeable citizens. We also need to put measures in place to ensure that people can effectively build generational wealth.
Education is the backbone of a healthy community. Communities that are knowledgeable and skilled are places of prosperity. Education in Birmingham has been an on-going struggle for many for a long time. If we are to move forward and become a community that can effectively compete in the global economy then we must address this struggle in concrete ways.
As Councilor, I commit to working with the school board and other agencies and non-profits to identify how we can allocate resources to achieve them. I have three goals in improving the school system in Birmingham:
- Pre-K child healthcare and nutrition
- Reducing the student to teacher ratio
- Strengthening the Academy model the System has implemented
The years from birth to kindergarten are critical in establishing the path that people take in their mental and physical development. Good nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, and a stimulating environment are key in ensuring that children have the foundation they need to succeed. Children who lack these will exhibit learning issues and behavioral problems throughout the rest of their lives. If we want to ensure the future success of our community then we must make sure that we are meeting the developmental needs of our children.
Smaller class sizes are key in creating an effective learning environment. Fewer children per classroom means that teachers can spend more time with an individual student helping them better assimilate the knowledge being presented to them. It also means that students with learning challenges can get the extra attention they need.
A few years ago, Birmingham City Schools moved to establish dedicated academies at the high schools where each would have a more detailed focus on specialized areas of study. This model is similar to other countries, like Germany, where students begin to branch into areas of interest at an earlier time. I believe we must follow their lead and expand this program into middle school while also investigating how to establish apprenticeships and intern programs with area businesses and industries to further bolster students’ learning and training.
Children are not the only members of our community with educational needs, however. Adult learning and training is sorely needed as well. Many in our city lack the requisite credentials and skills to obtain higher paying jobs. As councilor, I will push for programs, grants, and other support for citizens to increase their value through education.
We can do more to support the working parents in Birmingham. Affordable and trustworthy childcare must be a priority for our City government and our community as a whole. I commit to lowering the tax burden on local childcare businesses who are in good standing with their regulating entities to help keep childcare prices within grasp of working families.
Parks make or break a neighborhood. We are blessed with some of Birmingham’s finest parks in District 3, and the City has among the highest per capita amount of green space in the country.