Though Birmingham is no longer Alabama's largest city, the Birmingham area remains the largest metropolitan region in the state.
In 2023, the city of Birmingham faced several problems, from a wave of violent crime that continued into 2023 from 2022 to a severe truancy problem in its public school system that drew the ire of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.
The Birmingham City Council also experienced tension with Woodfin throughout the budgeting process, and area leaders fought to move forward with the long-standing Northern Beltline road project.
Meanwhile, the area as a whole explored solutions to its drug overdose epidemic and outdated jail facilities, and area municipalities faced their own problems. Hoover, for instance, dealt with a fake kidnapping scandal surrounding resident Carlee Russel, and Shelby County residents debated over what many deemed an inappropriate Pride Month display in a public library's children's section.
As the year comes to a close, 1819 News has made a list of the best stories from the last year pertaining to the Magic City and the surrounding area.
With 144 homicides, 2022 was Birmingham's most violent year since the 1990s. Some of those killed were children, and several resulted from stray bullets fired in drive-by shootings. Though 2023 is not on track to beat last year's record, the city has nevertheless recorded 124 homicides as of Christmas Eve.
Violent crime was not the only problem plaguing the Birmingham area in the post-COVID-19 era. The region has suffered from a plague of drug overdose deaths over the past several years.
In 2022, there were 448 drug overdose deaths in Jefferson County. As of December 20, there were 441 confirmed overdose deaths, with 33 deaths merely suspected to be drug overdoses. Jefferson County Coroner Bill Yates told 1819 News that most of the drug overdose deaths are due to opioids.
In July, Hoover resident Carlee Russell faked her own kidnapping before showing up at her parents' door days later.
Members of the community and law enforcement spent countless hours and resources looking for her. She later admitted to lying about her disappearance and was found guilty in October despite pleading not guilty.
Russell's hoax received national attention and sparked efforts by lawmakers to increase penalties for false reporting.
Birmingham City Council elects new president in special meeting after first election called into question
In October, a contentious election for the nine-member Birmingham City Council president ended with Councilman Darrell O'Quinn having to be elected for a second time after a contested first election in which he was declared victorious by receiving only four votes.
After O'Quinn's special election, Councilman Clinton Woods expressed his intention to launch a formal investigation into the vote. Yet, Woods has not fallen through with his supposed plan. 1819 News made multiple attempts to reach out to Woods to ask whether he still intended to introduce the investigation. He did not respond.
According to statistics from the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE), 23.25% of Birmingham City Schools students are chronically absent, and some schools have chronic absenteeism rates above 50%.
In October, Woodfin told the Birmingham City Council that 50% of all third-graders in Birmingham City Schools are considered truant, which means a student has seven or more unexcused absences.
Woodfin said he contacted Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr's office to hold parents accountable for their truant children. However, Carr later told 1819 News that he had not heard from Woodfin.
Earlier this month, Woodfin told teachers who "don't care" to resign in response to the ALSDE report.
Alabama leaders hope to make progress with Birmingham's 'Northern Beltline,' the most expensive road project in Alabama history
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced in April that the state would resume construction on Birmingham's "Northern Beltline," which she said would reduce downtown Birmingham's traffic congestion. The project was originally estimated to cost $3.4 billion, but the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) now estimates the project will cost $5.44 billion, making it the most expensive road project in Alabama's history.
The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) broke ground on the project in 2014 but ceased construction in 2016 due to a lack of funding.
U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) said the beltline is "critical for Central Alabama" in August. He said ALDOT would break ground again on the project in November and suggested it should be a higher priority than widening the congested Interstate 65.
Over the summer, two Birmingham-area municipalities engaged in an annexation battle that required the judicial system to resolve the conflict. The battle surrounded the unincorporated Indian Ford Fire District in both Jefferson and Shelby Counties.
At least 200 Indian Ford Fire District residents signed a petition in favor of annexation into Helena. However, Helena Mayor Brian Puckett accused the City of Hoover in July of cherry-picking commercial properties for annexation in the fire district. This preceded a legal battle between the two municipalities and led to a restraining order against Hoover that kept the city from attempting to solicit votes for annexation in the Fire District until after the Helena annexation election.
The fire district finally voted to join the City of Helena in September.
In October, Jefferson County Commission president Jimmie Stephens talked to 1819 News about a potential new jail that could house inmates for municipalities in the Birmingham area. He said there could be one to three facilities, some located on abandoned industrial sites, which could win tax credits from the federal government. Nevertheless, Stephens insisted that there is "much work to be done" before the county signs off on such a project and criticized Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway for getting ahead of himself on the project by speaking about it to local press.
This followed failed negotiations between Jefferson County and the City of Birmingham over housing inmates currently at the city's jail, which is in poor shape. The price Birmingham offered Jefferson County to house inmates in one of the county jails was only half as much as county officials felt was appropriate.
Several East Jefferson County mayors met later that month to discuss possibilities and concerns about the potential facility.
Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), a private Methodist institution, was hopeful it could overcome its severe financial problems when the Alabama Legislature passed the Distressed Institutions of Higher Education Revolving Load Program during the 2023 legislative session. Nevertheless, Alabama State Treasurer Young Boozer denied the $30 million state loan to bail out the college in October.
With money from the United Methodist Church and the Birmingham City Council, BSC president Daniel Coleman said the college will likely remain open until at least the end of the 2024 semester.
North Shelby County residents engage in culture war over library pride display in children's section
This summer, the North Shelby Library Board (NSLB) voted to keep its "pride" display in its children's area as a large crowd gathered to speak for and against the display at its meeting. Multiple state lawmakers were in attendance opposing the display, including State Rep. Susan DuBose (R-Hoover).
The display was in the room designated for the library's children's books and behind the help desk. It featured several supposed children's books about gay and transgender people, including "Calvin," which is about a female child who begins to identify as a male.
Activists gathered at the North Shelby County Library in October to praise the library board members for keeping the display.
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