All posts by BHM BIZ

Money Matters

“You don’t need to be rich. You don’t even need to be smart. You just need to have the sense to realize that so much of what you want and need in life revolves around money. With the stakes that high, it only makes sense that you should consult a professional to make sure you are on solid footing.”

The assertions above come from information provided to prospective clients by member of the Financial Planning Association of North Alabama (FPA). The Alabama group is affiliated with the FPA national organization, based in Denver, Colo.

The FPA was created in 2000 with the merger of the International Association for Financial Planning and the Institute of Certified Financial Planners.

“The financial planning profession exists to help people reach their financial goals and dreams. FPA of North Alabama, which has over 175 active members—about 75 percent   of whom hold the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER certification—offers practitioners access to a deep inventory of resources specifically designed to help them serve consumers with the highest distinction—placing clients’ interests first—and advance their professional careers,” says Rus Jordan, CFP®, CFS®, financial advisor with America’s First Financial and president of FPA of North Alabama.

The FPA is the principal professional organization for Certified Financial Planner (CFP) professionals, educators, financial services providers, and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. FPA members adhere to the highest standards of professional competence, ethical conduct, and clear, complete disclosure to those they serve and take part in FPA’s One Connection for professional education, business success, advocacy, and community at the national and chapter levels. FPA is truly an indispensable force in the advancement of today’s CFP professionals, according to FPA material.

“Most people have goals they want to accomplish, such as save more for retirement or pay down debt, but they have trouble making progress because they don’t have a plan. The stakes are high because financial stress has a significant impact on individuals’ well-being, both at home and at work. That is why we are passionate about understanding  individuals’ sources of financial stress and helping them connect the dots for a better way forward,” says Liz Rutherford, AIF®, President and Co-CEO, Johnson+Sterling.

With a network of more than 90 chapters, thousands of CFP professionals and members at large, FPA provides access to local opportunities including the following:

  • Continuing education and networking opportunities with professionals in their area;
  • Study groups for those who are new to the profession and mentoring opportunities for experienced professionals; and
  • Extensive tools, training, leadership, practice management, and educational resources.

The primary aim of the FPA is to be the community that fosters the value of financial planning, and advances the practice and profession of financial planning.

Just as in a hospital setting, or a courtroom perhaps, there is a code of conduct that members of the FPA follow. It can be called standard of care.

  • Put the client’s best interests first.
  • Act with due care and in utmost good faith.
  • Do not mislead clients.
  • Provide full and fair disclosure of all material facts.
  • Disclose and fairly manage all material conflicts of interest.

FPA engages with federal and state regulators and legislators to advocate for policies to benefit consumers and financial planning practitioners.


FPA’s current advocacy priorities are focused on:

  • Fiduciary standard – Support SEC rulemaking that would ensure that broker-dealers put customer’s interests first when they are giving personalized investment advice to retail customers.
  • Appropriate oversight of investment advisers – Support more robust oversight of investment advisers by directing sufficient resources to improve current oversight programs.


  • Appropriate regulation of financial planners – Educate policymakers about the practice and the value of financial planning and the effect of policy decisions on practitioners and their clients.


Lives in the Balance

Written by Joe O’Donnell

A jury in Los Angeles returned a $25 million verdict for three plaintiffs against Nissan in a lawsuit blaming faulty brakes for a car crash that killed three victims. The crash that occurred at an intersection in Hollywood involved a minivan and an Infiniti QX56, manufactured by Nissan. The van driver and her two children were killed when the Infiniti driven by Solomon Mathenge slammed into their vehicle.

Cory Watson attorney Jerome Tapley, who is based in Birmingham and served as lead attorney in the case. says the firm became involved after a family member reached out to them. Tapley has described the case is a perfect microcosm of the importance of the law and the careful, measured pursuit of justice. “This case affirms that the justice system works to hold wrongdoers accountable, and that good Birmingham lawyers can try a case anywhere.”

Nissan argued the accident was caused entirely by Mathenge, then 74. Mathenge was charged with manslaughter after the crash, but the charges were dropped when prosecutors became aware of a class action lawsuit against Nissan, alleging the same type of brake failure Mathenge claimed he suffered occurred in numerous other vehicles, including the QX56.

Along with Tapley, fellow Cory Watson, P.C. attorneys Brett Turnbull, Ryan Lutz, Adam Pittman, and Ryan Myers represented plaintiffs in the case alongside Paul Kiesel, Steven Archer and Bryan Garcia of Kiesel Law LLP, Kirk Wolden of Carter Wolden, as well as attorneys Claudia C. Bohorquez and Vicki I. Sarmiento.

“We applaud the jury for their diligence and hard work reviewing the evidence in this case. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost their loved ones in this tragic accident that could have been avoided. We hope this verdict will inspire Nissan to step up and take responsibility for the safety of their vehicles so that no one else is killed or injured because of a product defect Nissan failed to reveal and recall,” says Tapley. The verdict was announced July 21, 2017 in Superior Court of California for Los Angeles County.

The lawsuit charged that Nissan knew about a software problem affecting the brake operation, but failed to disclose it and recall the vehicles. The complaint charged that, “Rather than disclose this critical safety defect and recall the defective vehicles as it should have done, Nissan made a conscious decision to ignore the problem at the expense of the safety of its customers, those operating the defective vehicles, and the public at large.”

Nissan argued that the brakes on the QX56 are safe, and the automaker blamed the deadly crash on the driver of the QX56. The jury rejected Nissan’s argument. The driver was also the target of a criminal prosecution and wrongful death civil lawsuit filed by the victims’ family, but the legal landscape changed when it was revealed the brake failure claim wasn’t the first involving a similar class of Nissan and Infiniti vehicles.

In Banks v. Nissan, Nissan settled a class action involving claims concerning the same brake defect in 2014, offering up to $800 in compensation to the owners of more than 250,000 Nissan-built Armadas, Titans and Infiniti QX56 models. Tapley and Lutz were class counsel in that case.

Cory Watson Attorneys is a national personal injury law firm with more than $2.7 billion in recoveries for clients. Attorneys are frequently appointed to leadership positions in national cases involving pharmaceuticals and defective medical devices. Practice areas include product liability, class actions, mass torts, pharmaceutical litigation, wrongful death, asbestos, mesothelioma, car accidents, truck accidents, catastrophic injury, aviation, recalled products and environmental litigation.

The law firm was the first in the state to establish a nationwide mass torts division solely devoted to representing multiple clients injured by harmful medical devices and drugs. Lawyers have personally represented clients across the United States in litigation involving more than 100 mass torts over the past 25 years.

Cory Watson lawyers are frequently appointed to serve as counsel and other leadership roles in multi-district litigation and class actions for clients in the U.S., Europe, South America, Central America, Canada, and Africa.


Changing of the Guard


Written by Joe O’Donnell


With the announcement of her elevation to CEO of Warren Averett, Mary Elliott will become the first female CEO at the firm and one of only three female CEO’s among the top 35 accounting firms in the United States.

Elliott succeeded Jim Cunningham who retired at the end of 2017.

Elliott has worked her entire career at Warren Averett, successfully serving clients in their Healthcare Consulting division for more than 30 years, and has served as COO and chair of the Operations Board since 2012.

“Having been here for 33 years, I hold Warren Averett close to my heart and I’m honored and humbled to be given this opportunity to serve as the CEO of this great firm,” says Elliott. “Jim Cunningham has led our firm through opportunities, challenges and growth that has set us at the top of the accounting industry today. We are going to continue to lead in a unified vision by embracing change, being relentless about innovation and providing service to our clients that sets us apart.”

Warren Averett has grown substantially over the last few years to become one of the largest accounting firms in the Southeastern region, ranking among the top 35 firms in the United States. With more than 800 employees and 340 CPAs, Warren Averett offers depth and experience in a variety of industries including healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, construction, real estate, aerospace and defense, life sciences and technology, nonprofit and public sector, with services that span beyond audit and tax to include wealth management, staffing and recruiting, technology consulting, financial outsourcing, retirement plan administration and investments. Their 15 office locations include Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, Cullman, Anniston, Mobile and Foley, Alabama; Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Panama City and Tampa, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; and affiliate offices in Houston, Texas and the Cayman Islands.

“Warren Averett is built on opportunity, and has always strived to cultivate a culture of growth and entrepreneurship, which bring new ways to serve our clients. I think the best way to build a strong culture is to live the values we have on our walls every day. Living out integrity in all we do, building strong relationships, having a passion to win and always having an intense focus on our clients and their goals, this is what makes us a strong firm and one that helps our team members and clients thrive. For future developments, innovation is key. We are surrounded by opportunity, especially from a technology aspect. I think upcoming technology is going to provide us with a lot of non-traditional ways to serve our clients, and that is always the goal–to focus on the client and put them at the center of everything we do.”

Serving the client includes keeping up with the changes within dozens of industries, with probably the most challenging of those being healthcare.

Elliot has specialized over the years in healthcare practices, working as a problem solver within that important and complex industry sector. Her work focus includes ways to make physician practices more efficient, developing physician practice compensation formulas, and serving over 250 physician practices and offering benchmarking for various specialties.

What does Elliott see in that sector?

“I think we should always protect the patient-doctor relationship. I have spent my career helping doctors and their practices, and that’s one thing that I hear again and again. When the Affordable Care Act came into effect, Warren Averett developed a task force and provided many companies advice on how to addresses their health benefits because of the law. As any new changes come to fruition, for example the new tax reform laws, we will do the same,” Elliott says.

As the first female CEO at the firm, and one of few in major similar firms, does Elliott feel like a trailblazer?

“I’ve never felt that being a female at Warren Averett has been a hindrance or a catalyst for my growth within the company. However, I am a woman, and I’m proud of who I am and the path that I’ve been able to take. I’m not sure if I consider myself a trailblazer, but I am honored and will use this as an opportunity to reach out with and for other women–how can we enrich an opportunistic environment? We have a strong group of talented females coming up within the firm today. In fact, our leadership team also includes a female CFO and COO,” Elliott says.

Warren Averett has a long history of serving the communities in which their employees live and work. “One of our firm’s culture and values, as well as one of my personal values, is to ‘Share Our Success,’ in which we commit to sharing our success with our communities through time, encouragement and monetary support,” Elliott says.

“We encourage our employees to get out in the community, help out and make a difference. We have examples across our entire footprint of nonprofit board members, community leaders, founders of charities, fundraising chairs and more. Last summer, our firm coordinated ‘Community Champions’ in each office to help implement larger, firm wide initiatives to benefit our communities. We started in July with a school supply effort, and just finished up a ‘Helping Through the Holidays’ project where offices chose families to adopt, donated and volunteered at toy and food drives for the holidays, etc.

“My personal views on community efforts align with Warren Averett. I’m a firm believer in giving back and sharing success, and proud to represent a firm that strongly supports, encourages and instills this as well,” she says.

Mary Elliott resides in Vestavia with her husband and four children. She came to work at Warren Averett right after graduating with an accounting degree from UAB. “Coming to work at Warren Averett right out of school, and working full time while remaining committed to my husband and four children, has led me to have a passion for women’s opportunities and issues in the work force,” she says. It has also conditioned her love for family outings, time at the lake and vacationing, maintaining a life/work balance so important in today’s business world.

An active member of the community at large, Elliott has served on the board of directors of Jefferson County Medical Foundation Trust, Momentum Alumni, Children’s Aid Society Foundation, and as treasurer of Vestavia Hills Parks and Recreation Foundation. She is past chair of the finance committee of Saint Mark The Evangelist.









Cool spaces . . . Shaken, Not Stirred


Written by Joe O’Donnell

Photography courtesy of Lewis Communications

You could almost imagine Don Draper wandering through the lobby humming a Coca-Cola jingle quietly to himself, before unleashing it on the world at large.

Almost, that is. Because though the downtown building Lewis Communications renovated back in 2015 as the Birmingham home for the agency has a Mad Man feel, the work that goes on in this vintage 1961 building is as contemporary as it gets.

Over the past 65 years, Lewis has become one of the Southeast’s leading agencies, consistently producing award-winning integrated campaigns by using research-driven strategy to inform strong creative. The agency has clients across the country and in varied industries, including transportation, healthcare, energy, resort, and food and beverage. These have ranged from Alagasco, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Habitat for Humanity to Seasick Records and Hero Doughnuts.

The agency has approximately 110 employees and offices in Mobile and Nashville, in addition to Birmingham. Lewis was founded in Mobile in 1951.

The agency’s new Birmingham home at 2030 First Ave. N. was constructed in 1961 as the headquarters for a bank. Most recently it housed the New City Church. The building was vacant at the time Lewis purchased it for $925,000 in 2013. While the building has retained much of the original exterior look (with some interesting modifications), the interior brings to life the best of the original design updated for today’s business environment. Lewis wanted to preserve as much of the history in the 1961 building as possible—but it has been transformed. And the experience has transformed the agency and its employees in turn, agency head Larry Norris says.

“A lot of the advertising and other creative industries has moved back downtown recently. We really wanted to be a part of that experience, and our employees really love being down here,” says Larry Norris, president and CEO of Lewis Communications. “People can get out and walk, and that is what we really wanted. It is so different than our old space in the suburbs.”

The four-story building retains traces of its original purpose; you could imagine someone walking in with a deposit back in the mid-sixties. One of the conference rooms retains many of the original features of the bank’s board room. One of the main elements of the building is all new, however. All of the glass, that is the most prominent feature of the exterior, had to be replaced to bring the building to code.

The interior has been both lovingly restored and modernized for agency operations. The 1960s era floating staircase in the lobby is a dominant feature, which with the pinkish marble and off-white furnishings makes the lobby an elegant introduction to the agency. The rooftop was transformed into a work and relaxation space, offering great views of downtown.

The 28,000-square foot building renovation was overseen by the architecture firm, Williams Blackstock. The firm describes the project as a “historic tax-credit renovation of a Postwar International style five- story building in a dynamic and growing urban downtown setting. The design goal was to create an interior design that is simple, clean, and timeless. The new interior brings a contemporary edge and complements the historic interior elements remaining.  The design captures the natural daylight and provides a creative, fun, collaborative and comfortable workplace for the employees.” The aesthetics of the mid-century architecture really shine through in the renovation.

AGL General Contractors was the contractor. EGS Commercial Real Estate worked on the building purchase.


What’s Next in Labor and Employment?

The reality in Greater Birmingham and across Alabama is that we need more workers, better-trained workers, and more highly educated workers to keep up with industry needs.

In one of the many reports on this topic generated in recent years, The Alabama Workforce Council warned:

“Alabama’s low population growth and labor force participation rates make it unlikely that the state’s workforce will expand organically at the pace that’s needed to replace the waves of retiring employees or fill all of the new jobs being created by new and expanding businesses in Alabama in coming years.”

One researcher projected worker shortfalls in Alabama of 115,000 by 2020 and 219,000 by 2030.

Are there enough people in the Birmingham area available for hire if Amazon chooses the Magic City as its second headquarters?

That was just one of the questions discussed recently during a B-School Breakfast Series hosted by BHM Biz. Experts in labor and employment discussed the state of the workforce in the region and solutions to common hiring problems.

On the panel were Trent Scofield, labor and employment attorney, Burr & Forman; Katrina Cade, owner, PrideStaff; Josh Laney, senior director for Workforce Development, Alabama State Department of Education; Jeff Lynn, vice chancellor, Workforce and Economic Development, Alabama Community College System; and Forrest Cook, senior HR/Benefits consultant, SS Nesbitt.




Jeff Lynn

Vice Chancellor, Workforce and Economic Development, Alabama Community College System

“There are three things you look for from an applicant: competencies, behaviors and technical abilities. That is true for whatever job. What we need to do better, while there are pockets of excellence, nothing is tied together where we have a strategic workforce plan for this state or for Birmingham.

“There are a lot of things we need to teach our parents, teachers and community about the great careers that we have out there. We have to put band aids on things to get kids ready to interview for work. It really amounts to breaking down the barriers between the companies and the educational facilities. It is a simple paradigm shift. We need to blow up the traditional model and start getting very innovative to get things done.”


Katrina Cade

Katrina Cade 

Owner, PrideStaff

“There are people out there, we know that. But quality people are what we are looking for—people with experience and education. You might find that quality person, maybe in light industrial or administrative, and then they don’t pass the drug test. Or they do pass the drug test but they don’t pass the background check. So you go through all of these things and you are preparing that person to start on Monday. Then they don’t pass one of the checks and you are back to square one.”


Josh Laney

Sr. Director for Workforce

Josh Laney

Development, Alabama State   

Department of Education

“In Birmingham you have all of the pieces for successful workforce development, but they are not tied together as well as they could be. It is not a unique problem to Birmingham. You have solid K-12 systems, solid community college partnerships, plenty of university activity, great economic development folks here, but all of that stuff coming together is difficult. Everyone is pulling in the same direction, but we are pulling in parallel instead of on the exact same page.”


Trent Scofield

Trent Scofield

Labor and Employment Attorney, Burr & Forman 

“One thing that I see especially in the area of compliance is, do we manage the expectation of the incoming employee with the needs of the employer? And many times, even if you have a candidate who is qualified and credentialed, without an on-boarding (process) that is qualified and intensive, the honeymoon may be over in a very short period of time.

“As a labor and employment lawyer I recognize how tough it is to be in HR. My job is to support HR to ensure two things. One, is the result going to fair? Is the decision going to comply with state and federal laws? I like to think what I do all day every day is help you solve problems.”


Forrest Cook

Forrest Cook

Senior HR/Benefits Consultant, 

SS Nesbitt

“I know there is a lot of territorialism, but we don’t have time for that. We need good people. If we can get the people with the intelligence to get through the first phase of what we have to go through, then we have to go through the drug and background checks. To get one person you have to go through 20, 30, sometimes 40 people to get that one viable hire these days. I have been there in that seat. It is tough.”


What would happen if Amazon chose Birmingham?

Forrest Cook:

“Can we annex Mississippi? The community is not equipped to fill the positions we have. It would be fantastic, but we would have to put in so many resources to attract and train 50,000 people.”


Trent Scofield:

“Who thought Mercedes would pick us? Then came Honda and Hyundai. Truly we are the Detroit of the South. We have done an amazing job for them. Amazon would be one of those great problems to have.”


Katrina Cade:

“I am forever an optimist. I want them to come. I would do whatever I need to do, night and day, to make it happen. If there is an opportunity, let’s put our heads together and try to make it happen.” ∞


And then this happened…








Miss Simpson’s Nursery School, Highlands Day School, Mountain Brook Jr. High, The Lawrenceville School (NJ),

St. Andrews University (NC), and MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.


Birmingham. “My mother was passionate about this city which definitely filtered down to me.”


“In New Jersey, I was shocked about how ignorant people were about the South—when they’d admit not knowing Birmingham, I’d say—and still do—”I’m so sorry—what have you done all your life for food, culture, art, music, fun and entertainment?!”


Major fundraising and personal investment in the McWane Science Center, Vulcan Park, Railroad Park, Lyric Theatre, Red Mountain Park and much more.


Grandfather Charles Stewart Mott, a founder of General Motors Corporation, established the philanthropic Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; Dansby’s mother founded the Susan Mott Webb Charitable Trust which serves Birmingham needs.


“For starters, Zagat rating us “THE Up and Coming Food City,” the Porsche Sport Driving Experience, more kidney transplants than anywhere else in the world (UAB), home to Food and Wine and other great titles, Red Mountain Park (nearly twice the size of Central Park), and Railroad Park beating out New York’s High Line Park as best new public space in the U.S.”


50 countries so far, and all 7 continents. “It reinforces my knowledge that we are the greatest country in the world.” Dansby is past chair of the Society of International Business Fellows which teaches leadership in Central Eurasia, Middle East and Southeast Asia. 


“When I worked for the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, I would tuck Birmingham brochures in the in-flight magazines on planes when I flew—and watch people actually read them.”


Singing with Stevie Wonder, being on the Allman Brothers tour bus, entering Key West’s Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, Antarctica, and his audience with King Abdullah and Queen Rania of Jordan.



Product Placement

            Photos provided by Telegraph Creative and City Photography









By Rosalind Fournier

How do you evoke a city, great memories and a journeyman’s sense of adventure with just three letters?

For Ben Lancaster, Birmingham native and owner of the lifestyle brand Aviate, it can all be captured in an airport code. Lancaster first founded Aviate in 2015 with the idea of “bringing a sense of community and city pride to Birmingham” by emblazoning BHM on high-quality, classic caps, says Randall Porter, Aviate’s director of brand communications. The first 100 samples sold out in under two days.

The company has since expanded to dozens of other cities—so far the most popular (in this order) are St. Louis (STL), Atlanta (ATL), Charleston (CHS), Charlotte (CLT), Nashville (BNA), Houston (HOU), Dallas (DAL), Dallas-Forth Worth (DFW) and Birmingham (BHM). But that’s only a small sampling. Porter says Aviate now has products designed for more than 140 cities throughout the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda. 

While the caps are sold in a couple of actual airports—namely Denver and Charlotte—most are found in retailers and chains outside of airports. All told, 500 retailers in 30 states already carry Aviate products, which have now grown to include a handful of T-shirt and sweatshirt styles along with hats, some featuring new designs without codes that simply celebrate the spirit of aviation. Meanwhile, a true Millennial brand, Aviate has leveraged the marketing power of using campus ambassadors, social-media influencers and bloggers to help build brand awareness at the grass-roots level.

Porter says philanthropy is also a cornerstone value of the company, which works with organizations such as Make-a-Wish Alabama, the Exceptional Foundation, and His Hands Mission.



Cushman & Wakefield/EGS marks 30 year anniversary

1987 – 2017:

An Anniversary Q&A with Founder Marc Eason

  1. Cushman & Wakefield / EGS is celebrating an impressive milestone, the 30th anniversary. Is this an accomplishment you foresaw when you first began in 1987? Certainly not. In the beginning, our focus was strictly local, and we specialized in industrial brokerage and development. Over time, we added talented professionals whose expertise allowed us to expand into other sectors of the market including office, retail and medical. Additionally, in 2002, our firm was selected as one of six founding members of the Cushman & Wakefield Alliance, which significantly increased our reach, resulting in a volume of closed deals I would have never envisioned possible in 1987.


  1. What do you see as the firm’s biggest accomplishments since the start in 1987?Our growth. Third-party leasing and brokerage was our initial thrust; however, our increasing knowledge of the market made development, tenant representation, property management and consulting a natural evolution for us. I’m particularly proud of our property management operation, which now services over 400 tenants in over seven million square feet of space. I believe that our hands-on approach enhances not only the property owner’s value, but the tenants’ experience as well.


  1. What advice would you give to those with the same aspirations as yourself? The #1 rule is to stay true to your mission and to your clients. Help them grow and adapt to their changing circumstances. This is a privilege we take seriously. Don’t let it be just about the money. If you embrace this, success is bound to follow. Other advice that has served me well is to always expect the unexpected in deal negotiations and remember that in a truly successful deal there is no winner and no loser.


  1. 30 years is a long time! Why do you think EGS has been so successful? Without a doubt, our success is due to the 40-plus associates who call EGS their business home. Our people have developed a culture of innovative teamwork that ensures the delivery of best-in-class commercial real estate services every time we engage. Our industry is still a personal relationship business, and we work hard on that every day.


  1. Are there any exciting projects in the pipeline for Cushman & Wakefield / EGS? We have two development projects in the works that will significantly impact Birmingham’s office and industrial markets. Construction is underway on Oxmoor Logistics Center, a new Class A warehouse in the Oxmoor area. We are also about to begin the $14.5 million development of Avondale Works, which will serve as Alabama’s first flexible office technology center.


Sponsored Content




Art is what makes her breathe

A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

By Karim Shamsi-Basha

For Eileen Kunzman, art is not just a thing she does for a living.

Kunzman began the Magic City Art Connection 35 years ago, and the rest is one giant painting – a painting that defines this woman.

“Way back when there was nothing going on in the city, I went to Operation New Birmingham and to Michael Calvert and asked him what we could do about downtown. Because I’m from Pittsburgh and we had the Three Rivers Arts Festival,” Kunzman said, “We went out and talked to artists all over the city and traveled through outdoor circuits showing art around the country. We came up with the name ‘Magic City Art Connection.’ We threw together our very first show in Woodrow Wilson Park, which is now Linn Park, and we had 75 artists. Now we have over 225 artists.”

The festival evolved into a way to make a colorful living. Now Kunzman, along with her son Alex Kunzman, oversees two huge festivals, Magic City Art Connection and Moss Rock Festival, in addition to several other ventures.

“Fine Arts Services is a business whose heart is arts and culture. We got started because we wanted to find a place for artists to have as their own all year long outside of a gallery. We’re an events business. We’re producers and collectors. We hopefully stir up energy, interest and longevity for arts and culture in the community,” she said.

Twelve years ago, Kunzman looked at The Preserve neighborhood in Hoover and


thought of a different way to celebrate the arts.

“We needed an event at Moss Rock to honor what already had begun there. It’s a weekend inspired by nature, smart living and art. We wanted at the base of the idea, the core of creativity, to inspire everyone with everything they do. We came together and had this conglomeration of fabulous minds and wonderful creativity,” Kunzman said.

What it is about art that makes Kunzman want to be around it all year? Her answer sums up her philosophy.

“For me and for everyone who works with us, we walk away from our events with this glow. It’s the shot in the arm that says ‘Oh I love doing this. I wanna do more. What else can we create here?’ You see everyone who comes through has a carefree, inquisitive way about them. Children walk into their area and it’s buzzing and humming. Those kinds of things tell me that arts and culture has a fun, interesting and comfortable place in our lives. I come away feeling comfortable and rich every single year,” Kunzman said.

The air Kunzman breathes is unlike everyone else’s. You can almost see it with discernable colors and touchable textures.

For more information, visit

Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at


Opinion – Tax reform overdue

D. Mark Singletary

Tax Reform

The last time significant federal tax reform took place was 1986. Ronald Reagan was president; Tip O’Neill was speaker of the house and Robert Dole was senate majority leader.

The Tax Reform Act of 1986 is generally regarded as sweeping reform policy and the signature legislation secured by Reagan era politicians. Here are a few of its highlights:

First, and most notably, it reduced the top bracket for personal income taxpayers to 38.5 percent from 50 percent. That was more of a psychological restructuring than a fiscal adjustment. Existing tax policy dictated that all revisions to the tax code must produce revenue neutrality. That means the new law had to bring in the same revenue as the old law.

Secondly, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 changed the way IRS rules affecting depreciation were handled for taxpayers. Briefly, the rules put in place in the 1986 act lengthened the amount of time for assets to be charged against revenue, thus increasing net revenues and subsequent tax liabilities.

The third, and most significant, part of the 1986 legislation was the continuance and expansion of a provision in the tax code known as the Alternative Minimum Tax.

The AMT was initially created in 1969 to make certain that a few very wealthy taxpayers were paying their fair share of federal taxes. These individuals were following the tax law, but the tax law wasn’t working out the way the government thought it should, so the Alternative Minimum Tax was adopted to ensure certain high income earners would pay a minimum level of tax, regardless what the rules said.

The number of high-income households originally targeted by the alternative amendment to the tax code was 155. Yet it now affects millions of families each year, according to tax industry reports. One of the main reasons that so many more taxpayers have to deal with the AMT is the fact that the provisions of the act were not indexed for inflation. As incomes rose from inflationary pressure, the entry threshold for AMT remained the same. The number of taxpayers affected by the provisions increased dramatically.

There is a great deal of discussion going on in Washington right now on whether taxes paid to state and local governments should be deductions for federal income tax computations. The state and local tax (SALT) deduction provision of the AMT disproportionately affects high-income tax states and the taxpayers that live there.

The very taxpayers who are screaming loudest about losing the benefits of deducting state and local taxes likely haven’t been getting that benefit, because they’ve been paying the AMT and likely don’t know about the non-deductibility clauses it contains.

One would think the representatives from those states would be leading the charge for tax reform, but rationality doesn’t drive national political conversation. The current tax fight is a perfect example.

The proposal before Congress for tax reform repeals the AMT, according to Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and author of the proposed changes to the IRS code for 2017.

The proposed law also does away with deductibility for state and local taxes paid. Common sense says that high income states’ representatives wouldn’t really care about either side of these issues. High income taxpayers in high tax states most likely haven’t been able to deduct state and local taxes for decades. New, higher personal exemptions in the proposal will mean most taxpayers won’t itemize deductions anyway, so it really shouldn’t be an issue.

But, it is.

Whether or not repeal of the AMT ultimately happens is anyone’s guess. The issue is so complicated that too few taxpayers have a clue about what it really means.

With that in mind I surveyed the Congressional delegation for Central Alabama about the AMT, their opinions about the provision and whether or not they would support the current proposals that included repealing the act.

The delegation: Michael Rogers, (R); Gary Palmer, (R); and Terri Sewell, (D) represent the 3rd, 6th and 7th Congressional districts respectively, and all three gave me the same answer when asked about the AMT and its future.

Dead silence was the response, no immediate answer to the question, no call backs. Not a single word on the subject was offered. I guess they feel our readers don’t deserve to know how they feel about the AMT and it future.

Or maybe they are just waiting on party leaders to tell them what to do.

D. Mark Singletary

General Manager