BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Candidate for Birmingham Mayor William Bell is answering questions ahead of the city’s elections on Tuesday, Aug. 24.
CBS 42 will be co-hosting a mayoral debate today, Aug. 17, in collaboration with other news outlets. The debate can be viewed on our website.
CBS 42 sent the same 10 questions to every mayoral candidate. Below are the questions we submitted (in bold) and the candidate’s answers. We have not edited their answers in any way.
Answers to these questions submitted by all candidates who responded are available here.
What will be your top priority if you are elected mayor?
Public Safety is my top priority, and as your Mayor, I will take drastic measures to reduce violent crime in our city streets. First, we have to comprehensively address gun violence in Birmingham. This requires both a robust enforcement response and analytically addressing the root causes of gun violence. I will always work to get guns off of our streets and help continue the overall decline in violent crime that Birmingham experienced under my tenure as Mayor, having the lowest crime rate of any Mayor in 25 years. The decline in violent crime was accomplished when I along with Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper helped develop the 21st Century Policing Initiative under the Obama Administration. I will fully implement that program which also calls for the investment in preventative programs that would be carried out by social service and community based organizations who have assisted with this effort within the community. We would continue to expand the shot spotter program network to reduce indiscriminate gunfire within our communities. During the last four years, gun violence has risen to the critical point where it is now a public health epidemic with over 400 lives lost and over 800 people being shot – affecting all 99 neighborhoods. I’ve reduced overall crime in our city before and have the skills, knowledge and experience ready to take on that difficult task again to save innocent lives caught in the crossfire, and save our city from further death and destruction.
Do you have any regrets in your professional career so far? If so, what did you learn from them?
The only regret that I have, is not doing a better job of communicating to the public all of the accomplishments that were made during my tenure as Mayor, as well as my direct involvement in improving the quality of life for all of the citizens in Birmingham. For example, my administration was wholly responsible for rebuilding Pratt City after a tornado struck Birmingham. We rebuilt a fire station, senior citizen housing, a public library, elementary school and neighborhood park through grants and funding that I sought in my role as Mayor. I also received funding and developed plans for the Bus Rapid Transit facility at Five Points West.
I also sought to eliminate food deserts in our communities by bringing in new grocery stores. The rebuilding of Loveman’s Village Public Housing was also funded during the Bell Administration. We created a plan to put millions of dollars into the Birmingham City School System’s reserve fund to end the State Board of Education’s control as well as develop the first and only Comprehensive and Strategic Framework Plan for all of our 99 neighborhoods.
Cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations are on the rise across the state. If elected mayor, would you pledge to follow the advice of the city’s health officials regarding mask mandates, limiting large events, and restricting indoor dining?
I would pledge to follow the advice of the Jefferson County and State’s public health officials regarding getting those 12 years of age and older to get a COVID-19 vaccine with their physician’s recommendation, keep mask mandates in place, limit large crowds at public events, and place certain restrictions on indoor dining. I would follow all of the guidelines that have been issued by the CDC, National Institute of Health, Alabama Department of Public Health, Jefferson County Department of Public Health, as well as other local, state, and national health officials to help put an end this epidemic.
As mayor, what specific policies will you enact to improve the transparency of city government?
While transparency was promised and promoted by the current administration, it has never been delivered on. My policy within the first 30 days is to assure the Citizens in Birmingham that all financial transactions will be made pubic via the internet at all times. The Bell administration developed and implemented an open government data portal that allowed all citizens to access any area of operation or financial expenditures through this process. All records and other information were at each citizen’s fingertips. This open data portal allowed citizens to communicate any issues or concerns that existed in their neighborhoods. I will re-implement this policy and procedure. By having open, honest, and transparent city government, I will let the citizens in Birmingham know that we are serious about re-establishing confidence in our city and its efforts to improve the quality of life for those that live and work within Birmingham. I will work hard to provide a superior level of cleanliness, safety, and security so that seniors will regard Birmingham as the ideal place to spend their twilight years. A new Birmingham that young professionals will choose as the perfect place to work, to entertain, and educate their children. This will be the cornerstone of the Bell administration.
Since the protests following the death of George Floyd, many citizens have called for significant police reform. What specific policies will you enact to reform policing in Birmingham, if any?
Under my administration, Birmingham was a part of the Justice Department’s National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. This program was designed to develop best practices and training for our officers and community leaders to facilitate better means of communication and interactions in reduce crime in all areas of our communities. The City of Birmingham would expand its Community Policing and Revitalization program that had proven to be effective in several areas of our city as well. We will also work to rebuild morale in the police department and develop a strong community based crime prevention program. I would implement the 21st Century Policing Initiative that calls for significant reforms in police training and police accountability. We will make this the hallmark of rebuilding a police force that will serve the public and provide protection and safety in all of our communities. We will not defund the police but we will provide additional resources to deal with mental illness, and drug addiction to help reduce those types of calls the police are asked to respond to and provide services outside the scope of what they have been trained to do.
How would you assess the current state of public transportation in Birmingham? If elected mayor what changes would you make?
The Birmingham Jefferson Transit Authority was created by the state legislature to serve the citizens of Jefferson County. Unfortunately, the state legislature did not provide a mandate for county wide funding for the operation of the system. Birmingham has been called upon to bear the burden for the entire system with the exception of monies from Jefferson County to cover the unincorporated areas of the county throughout the years. If we expect to have a strong economy within our city, we must have a viable mass transit system that connects people to jobs no matter where they live or go to work each day. This can only be accomplished through a unified effort of the local legislative delegation and cooperation of our municipalities. We will work to try to get our state delegation to create a mandatory funding plan for the entire county and its municipalities. The solution must be fair and equitable to all parties involved.
The U.S. Congress is currently debating infrastructure legislation. What do you think is the most important infrastructure project needed in Birmingham right now?
The most important infrastructure projects needed are our surface roads and storm water sewer system which are in critical need of repair. We have bridges that need to be rebuilt, repaired, or replaced. Some parts of our city’s storm water system are over 80 years old and too small to carry the increased volume of water that in turn causes flooding. The funding from the infrastructure legislation will provide us with an opportunity to correct these deficiencies and enhance services to all parts of the city proper.
Sometimes public officials need to take a moment to “get away” from the action and breathe. Where do you like to go when you need to take a break from the daily grind?
I love to go on vacation with my wife, go and see a few shows in New York, attend college football, basketball, and baseball games, and travel to any and all activities with my grandchildren. I enjoy watching them grow intellectually as well as athletically. I love for them to ride me like a horse, beat me like a drum and jump on me like a trampoline. My desire is to create a Birmingham that they, along with all our other children will want to find and fuel their dreams and destinies right here in our Magic City that we call home.
Do you support reducing police funding and moving money to other areas like mental health, poverty alleviation, or education?
No, I do not support reducing police funding or reallocating police resources. I do support finding additional resources and revenue to fund mental health programs, social service programs, poverty alleviation programs, and restoring education funds that were taken from the Birmingham City Schools by the current administration who also promised the police a ten percent pay increase which has yet to materialize after four years.
Have you ever been discriminated against? If so, please explain.
I was born into a segregated society under oppressive Jim Crow and Bull Conner laws which meant for me and most black children in Birmingham, that we were not allowed to attend certain schools, visit libraries, museums, go to the movies, eat in certain restaurants, and forced to sit in the back of the bus, because of my race.