This is an opinion column.
The days of entrenched good-old-boy cronyism at the Birmingham Jefferson-County Civic Center Authority board of directors are waning.
A bill expanding the nine-member board by two seats and creating term limits, a staple of numerous public boards, passed out of House committee Thursday and could be voted on by the full House as early as Wednesday.
Thursday was the final day the Jefferson County delegation could have voted on the bill and have it voted upon by the full House before the end of the legislative session.
The bill was brought to a vote despite a lack of support from delegation chair Rep. Jim Carns.
The vote was 14-1.
The House delegation added two amendments to SB302, which was sponsored by Sen. Jabo Waggoner-R, Vestavia Hills and was passed by the Senate 34-0.
RELATED: Bill would spark long-overdue change in good-old-boy cronyism at BJCC board
One amendment states that one of the additional seats shall be a member of the Greater Birmingham & Convention Bureau board of directors. (The bill previously called for the seat to be held by the CVB’s CEO)
The other amendment calls for the Jefferson County representatives in the House and Senate who appoint most of the directors “to assure that the membership of the board is inclusive and reflects the racial, gender and geographic diversity of” the county. (A similar amendment to HB517 pertaining to the CVB board failed to pass by one vote. The bill passed and must be passed by the Senate before the end of the legislative session.)
Because of the amendments, the BJCC bill must be affirmed again—hurriedly—by the Senate.
The BJCC board oversees five sports, music, and theater venues; exhibition and meeting halls; the Sheraton and Westin hotels; and the Uptown Entertainment complex.
Members have access to untold perks, including premium tickets to myriad concerts and sports events at Protective Stadium and the BJCC.
A cap on the number of terms a board member may serve isn’t unusual. It’s a necessary tool for eliminating entrenched entitlement, for yanking the gavel of power and decisions involving millions of your money from the grip of those who hold on as if it’s theirs.
And supposed to be theirs—forever.
There are such limits on the boards of the University of Alabama and Auburn University, and a plethora of reasonable, responsible boards.
Yet not the BJCC board, whose members serve four-year terms. One current member (Dr. Clyde Echols) was initially appointed in 1988 when fellow board member Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin was seven years old. Echols was re-, re-, re-appointed in a ramrod move by the board last December; his term expires in 2026.
The seat long held by BJCC board chair Dennis Latham, a retired lobbyist who represents Bessemer, could be filled with a fresh face much sooner. He was appointed in 1998, served until 2010, dropped off yet was reappointed in 2011. Latham was elected chair in 2012 and has held the position since. (U.S. Senate committee chairs are limited to a single term; the president, as you know, is capped at two terms).
“No elected board member may be elected to a new term after he or she has served three consecutive full terms,” the bill states.
Latham’s term, his third consecutive, expires this year.
The good-old days are dwindling.
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I’m a Pulitzer Prize finalist for commentary and winner of the Edward R. Murrow prize for podcasts: “Unjustifiable,” co-hosted with John Archibald. My column appears in AL.com, as well as the Lede. Stay tuned for my upcoming limited series podcast Panther: Blueprint for Black Power, co-hosted with Eunice Elliott. Subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, The Barbershop, here. Reach me at [email protected], follow me at twitter.com/roysj, or on Instagram @roysj