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gressive, began to realize that the status quo was hurting business.  He thus began a quiet campaign to change the form of government in Birmingham and, by doing so, remove Bull Connor and the other Commissioners from office. On February 21, 1961, Smyer wrote to Walter Mims, President of the Birmingham Bar, with a request: Have the Bar offer an opinion on the best form of government for Birmingham. The Bar’s Executive Committee approved the request and established a committee to undertake this study. Leigh Clark was Chairman and the Committee included the following members: Douglas Arant, Abe Berkowitz, Sam Burr, Kirkman Jackson, Hobart Grooms, William Mitch, Mayer Newfield, Camper O’Neil, Erle Pettus, Jr., George Peach Taylor, Douglass Wingo, Waldrop Windham, Malcom Wheeler and Paschal Vacca.  This process was underway when developments occurred which reinforced the need for change.  On May 2, 1961, Bull Connor was re-elected as Public Safety Commissioner.  Then, on Mother’s Day, May 14, 1961, the Freedom Riders arrived at the Trailways station in downtown Birmingham.  Connor’s police department stayed away for fifteen minutes, allowing a mob to attack and beat the riders in an ugly scene that was highly publicized.  At this very moment, Sid Smyer was in Tokyo, Japan, attending a Rotary International convention. He saw the images of the attack on television and in local Tokyo news coverage.  What’s more, he saw the repulsion of his Japanese hosts at these events taking place in his hometown.  Smyer became more convinced of the need to change Birmingham so that it could be seen as a City that was open for business. On November 8, 1961, Federal District Judge Hobart Grooms ruled that the City must end the practice of segregation in parks and other public recreational facilities in Birmingham.  Characteristically, the response of the City Commissioners was to close the parks instead of allowing open access to them.  By New Year’s Day, 1962, “No Trespassing” signs were posted at the parks, though many in the business community recognized the futility of this response.  Birmingham attorneys Douglas Arant, Chuck Morgan and others worked on an Open Parks movement. This resulted in a petition to re-open the parks being presented to the Commissioners by four businessmen, including Birmingham attorney Barney Monaghan, President of Vulcan Materials.   The Commissioners flatly rebuffed By New Year’s Day, 1962, “No Trespassing” signs were posted at the parks, though many in the business community recognized the futility of this response. these businessmen.  In the process, they alienated an important segment of the Birmingham business community. The Birmingham Bar’s report was completed on February 23, 1962.   The twenty eight page report undertook an exhaustive review of the various forms of government for municipalities in the United States.  Before reaching its conclusion that a strong Mayor-Council form of government was best for Birmingham, the Committee examined other cities that had adopted the Commission form of government and found that most of these cities had abandoned this form of government: In a survey and study made in 1940 (Municipal Government and Administration in Alabama) by Weldon Cooper, Professor of Political Science, University of Alabama, and a subsequent study on a broader scale in 1949 (Metropolitan County: A survey of Government in the Birmingham Area), it is clearly indicated that the city of Birmingham and, for that matter, most of the municipalities in the state of Alabama, have lagged far behind in the adoption of the forms of municipal government which make for their maximum growth and progress. In setting forth so extensively in this report the inherent defects in the commission form of government, the Committee was persuaded to do so because of its conclusion that the form is not suitable for a greater and better Birmingham nor conducive to adjoining municipalities to become a part thereof. It is also emphasized that the defects and weaknesses of the commission form of government appear to the Committee to be such as flow from its form and structure, and the Committee was in no way persuaded to conclusion by consideration of any personalities. (emphasis in original). On March 9, 1962, Herbert Peterson, the new President of the Birmingham Bar, presented the findings of the Birmingham Bar Committee to the Chamber of Commerce. A campaign was quickly begun to effect this change. Two lawyers, David Vann and Abe Berkowitz, were instrumental in this Birmingham Bar Bulletin/ Spring 2013 9


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