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No Love Lost

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By Barnett Wright

Times staff writer

 

Birmingham Mayor William Bell and City Council President Johnathan Austin were recently asked what happened to their relationship that has steady deteriorated since Bell took his office in 2010. Austin remembers campaigning for Bell and being a part of a majority on the council who backed the mayor. Those days are long gone.

Bell on Austin:

“A long time ago, I coined a term called the ‘Lucifer Syndrome,’ which means sometimes when people are close to folks they perceive as having more power than they have, they assume they have the same level of power. The mayor, whether it’s William Bell or anyone else, has a certain amount of power to move this city forward. Sometimes people become envious of that. They think they can attain the same level of respect or power, and they go off on their own. That’s the only way I can explain it. They often  times say I don’t communicate, but I communicate very clearly.

“What I don’t do is play games with people. Sometimes people think when I say stuff, I mean something different. I mean exactly what I say. I think conflicts have arisen when people see contracts going to different attorneys, but they want their attorneys to get things. Well, usually I have people who have proven that they are capable of delivering, and I’m willing to work with anybody.

“If a council member walks in right now and says, ‘We would like this person to be involved,’ and I see how that person’s involvement will benefit the city, then I will deem it my mission to go out and make that happen. What I’m not going to do, however, is let somebody stand back and dictate to me or run over me in my capacity as mayor. If they want to be mayor let them run for the mayor’s office. You can’t have 10 people negotiating on behalf of the city. There’s only one entity empowered by law to negotiate on behalf of the city.”

Austin’s response:

“Elected officials must always talk and communicate. That has been something that has plagued William Bell’s administration since he’s been in office—his inability to talk and communicate. That is why we are dealing with the situation we have now. This mayor is not willing to sit down and have a true conversation and compromise about anything.

“We have conversations, but they don’t result in action. There are promises and possibilities, but no action. The problem with this mayor is that, regardless of the issue, he always wants to win and never wants to compromise or communicate.

“Someone who has been in one position for a long time, looking in a particular direction, always sees ghosts around them because they’ve been in the same place for too long. When you’re in a position for so long and that’s all you know, then you’re always going to see ghosts. He’s seeing ghosts.”

 

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