By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
With multiple large events coming to the Birmingham metro area this year and next, elected officials and others have pointed to “regional cooperation” as a key factor.
Take for example the partnership between mayors of the two largest cities in the area: Birmingham’s Randall Woodfin and Hoover’s Frank Brocato, who have exemplified what it’s like when two neighboring elected officials and cities are on the same page.
They are not only colleagues, but friends and also share similar political paths, having worked in the cities they served before taking office: Brocato for 42 years with Hoover’s Fire Department before becoming mayor in 2016 and Woodfin for the city attorney’s office for eight years before becoming mayor in 2017.
“We have just had a really incredible bond and developed an absolute, just a really nice relationship over the last four years…,” said Brocato, 69, of his partnership with Woodfin, 40, “we talk often, we share ideas with one another, we work on ways to improve the entire metropolitan area.
“Both of our cities have a lot of great things going on, but there are times when we face some pretty difficult situations so it’s good to have someone that I can call and just ask questions,” he added.
“We talked about issues that we collectively face,” Woodfin said. “I’ve had moments where I’ve had an officer [Wytasha Carter] killed; [three-year-old] Cupcake McKinney was kidnapped and killed and Frank’s one of the first people call me. Frank had an [8-year-old boy killed in the [Riverchase Galleria] and I called him because we’re facing some of the same issues. It’s a genuine relationship.”
That relationship has encompassed other area jurisdictions. Brocato points to a “unified command” structure set up by members of the metro.
“Supply issues, fire and [Emergency Medical Services] response, police — all those things, we can handle in our unified command and have an opportunity for all the cities to know what’s going on and nobody’s left behind.”
Working together as a metro is beneficial given the proximity of the municipalities, Brocato said.
“People from out of town, when they come into the cities, they don’t know where the city limit signs are . . .,” Brocato said. “They may shop at the Galleria, and they may shop at the Summit, or they may go to Vestavia, to a restaurant, or they go out to downtown to a restaurant.”
“We want to make sure that when people come to the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area, we want the experience to be great,” he added.
Brocato and Woodfin both point to an anti-poaching agreement, called the “Good Neighbor Pledge” they signed three years along with a total of 22 mayors including some of the area’s largest cities Bessemer, Center Point, Homewood, Mountain Brook, Trussville and Vestavia Hills.
As part of the agreement, the mayors vow they will not lure businesses away from other cities. They also agree they will not provide incentives for businesses relocating from one city to another.
At the time, Brocato said some businesses had been moving between the various cities in the metro, which hurt certain municipalities and enriched only the business owners. Now the mayors fight to bring businesses to each other’s cities, when necessary, he said.
“If it’s a business that’s not right for Hoover, and it’s right for Birmingham, or it’s right for Gardendale, my attitude [is]…we’re going to go to work to help that respective city get that business, because at the end of the day, it helps us all,” the Hoover mayor said. “We understand that.”
Woodfin said he eagerly signed the pledge because it made sense for him and his counterparts.
“We [started] working together — we had to,” Woodfin said. “. . . What we agreeing to [with the pledge] is listen, ‘this is Mayor to Mayor, if somebody wants to move their employee group from Hoover to Birmingham voluntarily let’s at least give notice. Let’s talk about what we’re going to do and support or not support. But we’re not going to steal jobs from each other because there’s no net gain.’”
Woodfin also saw the value of having Hoover at the table not just in the metro area but statewide.
For at least five years, the mayors of the “Big 5” cities — Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa — had been meeting quarterly to discuss common issues their cities face. But in 2019 the group saw the need to expand the group to the 10 largest cities. Woodfin reached out to Brocato.
“The city of Hoover is not [only] the second largest city in Jefferson County it’s the sixth largest city in the state,” said Woodfin. “. . . We [the Big Five] were meeting about issues and concerns of being the largest cities in the state but so much of what happens in Montgomery is driven by rural Alabama and so we came up with these are the things collectively have issues of, whether it’s permits and gun laws, where the highest gun violence is in our cities, or whether it’s issues in use of sales taxes . . . What we realize is other cities have experienced the same thing so why don’t we expand this to the Big 10. Hoover came on first.”
Problems that cities and towns have are not unique, Brocato said. “[The Big 10] is just an opportunity for us to talk about things that are going on in our cities. We have so many things that are in common that will help us, and that’s been a great opportunity for me and to be a part of that group of individuals.”
Right now, Birmingham metro officials are uniting around The World Games 2022, which offer the entire metro a chance to show its cooperative spirit to the rest of the globe, Brocato said.
“We get an opportunity to sell people on our metro, not just Hoover, not just Birmingham, but the entire metro,” he said. “People will get to see how we work together, how Birmingham works with Hoover, how Gardendale works with Irondale, how Homewood works with Mountain Brook, how we all work together.”
Working together as a region is the key to growth for Birmingham and surrounding municipalities, he said.
“It’s what’s going to propel us forward in the future… The cooperation is what is going to get the world looking at the Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area to bring in those quality businesses that we all want to show up at our front door . . . There are so many entertainment opportunities . . . we have absolutely world-class medical care…We have a rich history as well in Civil Rights…our quality of life is really unmatched, in my opinion,” Brocato said.