By Monique Jones
The Birmingham Times
Pastor Fernandez Sims has announced his bid for Mayor of Birmingham.
Sims, a pastor of Charis Community Church and case manager at Impact Family Services, said his platform is “better schools, better community and better government.”
“The reason we have that platform is because those are the most important things in our city that [are] failing,” he said. “…It’s time for a grassroots movement to remove those people who have betrayed our trust [and] to place in office people that will [show] that somebody really cares about the people [of Birmingham].”
The mayoral election is Aug. 22. Birmingham Mayor William Bell, Board of Education Member Randall Woodfin, and Chris Woods, President and CEO of CW Woods Contracting and son of civil rights leader Bishop Calvin Woods, are among those who have already announced.
Sims, 52, said that one of his first acts as Mayor will include correcting Birmingham’s financial problems.
“The first thing we would want to do is to do a forensic audit. We need to find out where this money is going in Birmingham…We have a $420 million budget and you can’t see the money,” he said. “We need to track where our money is going, first of all. After that, we need to assess those resources that we have and allocate them in the best way that we can to support our city workers, our schools, our police force and first responders.”
Sims also said he would “immediately” begin working with the Birmingham Board of Education “to work closely with them in a cohesive way and repair some of the damage that’s been done.”
“…[I]n the last two years, half of our schools are failing, and we have 25,000 students in the school system,” he said. “When you have a school system with 25,000 students, and 90 percent of the 8th graders are not proficient in math—and in some schools, no one is proficient in math—I feel that we are failing our students.”
“We have to work together with the school board to give our children the best schools that we can[,]” he said. “It shouldn’t be determined [that if] you move across the street or [to] another zip code that our children can read. We want an educated labor force.”
As a part of Sims’ administration, Birmingham’s communities would receive an overhaul, including giving the city’s neighborhoods “world-class” community centers.
“Why should Homewood have a world-class community center and in our districts, we just have what is left over? That’s not good,” he said. Our citizens pay too much and they receive very little from that.”
Other proposed community improvements include rebuilding the city’s infrastructure, such as repairing roads.
“…We have some of the poorest roads that you can find anywhere. It’s not like there’s a ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ in Birmingham; there’s a nightmare on every street, when you look at all the potholes,” he said. “We have 99 neighborhoods, and only maybe three get the attention that they really need, and the 96 neighborhoods go uncared for. We need cities that are well kept, well-lit, and those cities need to have good roads and good schools,” he said.
“You can go to Mountain Brook, you can go to Vestavia [,] Hoover [,] Liberty Park…you can go to any neighborhood around Birmingham, and you’ll see how much they care about their city,” he said. “I ask you to go and drive around Eastlake, West End, North Birmingham, Kingston, Gate City, Wylam, Ensley…they’re a wreck and no one’s caring for those people and they pay their taxes. It is for me a mandate that we put people in office that really care about the people.”
He said he would also work create better ties with the City Council, adding that “[t]he fighting would be over.”
“We want a city council and a mayor who work together and not fight,” he said. “…My first acts are to go to each council person and let them know that they have all of my support as they go forth and help their communities.”
Sims also plans to restructure policing in the community, saying that Birmingham’s police department is “understaffed.”
“It’s hard to attract officers when you’re the third most dangerous city in the country and you’ve failed to get the support of the city,” he said. “I’ve talked with many police officers, and they’ve complained of equipment [not working], they ride in their cars 24 hours a day and they’ve seen their…pay decrease. They’re angry about that,” he said.
“The city workers are angry about that also, that the city doesn’t take care of its employees, whether it’s in the civil service part or it’s the fire department or if it’s the police department,” he said. “We need to speak up about that. Those are our first responders, and they need to be compensated like you would compensate a first responder that’s responding in the third most dangerous city in the United States.”
Sims has spent over 35 years in military and community service. He has served as a Navy dental technician and as a Marine Corp. combat medic, as well as a grief counselor and bereavement coordinator for St. Vincent’s Home Health and Hospice. He has also worked with the A.G. Gaston Nursing Home, National AIDS Fund, Oak Grove Baptist Church, the Alabama Animal Adoption Society, Firehouse Shelter, Mission Birmingham, ARC of Jefferson County, The Sickle Cell Foundation of Central Alabama, Alabama Youth Homes and many other counseling and family organizations.
“No one in this race has as much experience caring for the community as I have,” he said, adding that his years in service “…is unparalleled to any of the other candidates.”
Sims asks for the faith community “to support [his] endeavor to change Birmingham.”
“I feel that being a pastor has prepared me in such a way because pastors shepherd the flock, they shepherd their communities. They lead them in a way that’s wholesome,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times as a pastor that I’ve prayed for our leaders. I’ve prayed for William Bell. I’ve prayed for our school board. I’ve just been on my knees in prayer for this whole city. I think we need a mayor that will be praying in City Hall.”