Mayor Teresa Tomlinson's forum draws small 'but intense' crowd

A sparse crowd attended Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s first quarterly forum of 2013, with city employees easily outnumbering the two dozen or so citizens who came to Brookstone School for the event.

Tomlinson called the gathering “a small group, but a very intense group.”

About half a dozen people came forward to speak, asking questions about crime, taxes, unemployment, economic development, traffic problems, road projects and blighted neighborhoods.

Michael Jones asked Tomlinson what could be done about a recent spate of break-ins in his neighborhood of Chatham Woods. He said they have a neighborhood association, but it rarely meets and apparently isn’t doing much to address the problem.

Police Chief Ricky Boren told Jones that the police department has procedures and strategies they employ whenever rashes of such criminal activity flare up. But he declined to specify because, “The media’s here tonight, and I don’t want to see it in the paper in the morning.”

Crime Prevention Director Seth Brown also addressed Jones, telling him that they’d already taken the first and best step by having a neighborhood association, and suggested setting up a neighborhood mass email group to encourage people staying in touch and relaying warnings or advice.

Samantha Noah asked what the city could do to attract more businesses and better jobs to the city.

Tomlinson relayed a story about a Silicon Valley high tech firm that was considering moving to Birmingham, but was turned off by the lack of “hip” recreation opportunities and diversified urban housing.

“The representative said, ‘Our employees are looking to skateboard to work. Do you have any place with a little bit more graffiti?’” Tomlinson said. “It’s a different time. If you want to be competitive for those jobs, you’re going to have to have, in areas that are urban, in areas we used to consider ‘undesirable,’ you’re going to have to have infrastructure and facilities.”

After the forum, Tomlinson addressed the size of the crowd, saying that Thursday’s forum was her ninth since taking office, and she and her staff are learning the venues and community partners that produce the best results.

“We’re learning as we go, which places and which groups turn out,” she said. “The neighborhood associations tend to really turn out a lot of folks.

“One good lesson is that if you’re going to have it at a school and promote it among the parents and students, they’re usually out of here by 6 (o’clock.), and getting them back is a little harder.”

Tomlinson said she plans to continue holding the quarterly forums, known as “Let’s talk with the mayor.” The next forum is scheduled for June 13 at Liberty Hill Baptist Church.