Birmingham City Council Debates Cemetery Funding, Transparency at City Hall

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June 20, 2017 – Keeping with the theme of recent Birmingham City Council meetings, much of Tuesday’s discussion revolved around issues pertaining to what councilors have labeled “a lack of transparency” from city departments.

At several turns, councilors engaged in lengthy deliberations on resolutions presented to the body without completed paperwork or records on topics from cemetery upkeep to land acquisition deals.

“The bottom line is, we have Oak Hill Cemetery where blacks couldn’t be buried – Hold on, let me finish what I was saying,” Councilor Lashunda Scales said, as another councilor attempted to interject. “You do have a few that were there now, but what the council did several years ago was adopt, by ordinance, Oak Hill Cemetery. What I’m asking for is Shadow Lawn (to) be given the same courtesy, because that is where, at one point, only the blacks could go.”

Scales was drawing attention to Shadow Lawn, which has fallen into disrepair in recent years, while discussing a resolution to provide $35,000 to maintain graves, driveways and boundary fences at Oak Hill. Shadow Lawn made news last year when Councilor Sheila Tyson made an impassioned protest for more funding for the cemetery as money was being allocated to a Holocaust memorial project.

“Is this considered a cemetery or something in that regard? Memorial?” Tyson said last year. “Is it still for dead people? It is for dead people. Are the people they are memorializing deceased? Are they deceased or not? I thought we couldn’t give money to Shadow Lawn. What’s the difference? What’s the difference? Dead is dead.”

While the comments may have raised some eyebrows, Tyson said she was just going to bat for her district and a historical site that has become overgrown with weeds and is perpetually underfunded.

“If the shoe was turned, I’d still want the same,” Scales said Tuesday about the two largely segregated cemeteries. “If blacks could be somewhere that whites couldn’t go, I’d just want to see the whites get the same thing.”

Scales requested that an ordinance like the one that allowed the city to adopt Oak Hill be applied to Shadow Lawn so that the city could provide more support than the occasional expenditure to keep the grass cut and the gravestones upright.

During its most recent session, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill designating a Jefferson County Cemetery Board to provide up to $50,000 in assistance to be spread across cemeteries in the county. At the time that bill was making its way through the Legislature, several councilors said they didn’t believe that would be enough money to go around. Scales expressed that sentiment Tuesday, saying, “I’m not looking for the state to clean up something in Birmingham, especially that causes blight in the community.”

According to the bill, $50,000 from pistol permit fees will be allocated toward funding the board for the first year, then the board would distribute money to various cemeteries that have fallen into disrepair throughout the county. It is unclear exactly how the board, which according to Councilor William Parker has already been formed, will decide which cemeteries should get funding.

The council was not presented a transparency report for the Shadow Lawn expenditure and voted for a one-week delay, despite several council members arguing against the delay.

Some councilors also took issue with a sale of city land to Grants Mill LLC. Scales said the paperwork she was looking at said the sale was for 14 acres, but she could not understand why there were four additional acres being “given” to Grants Mill LLC. After a long discussion, the council approved the sale despite the misunderstanding.

The council also approved $35,720.19 in travel for the months of May and June for the mayor’s administrative assistants and some council employees. The expense covered 19 trips taken to places such as Cairo, Egypt, for a National Science Foundation-Sustainable Smart Cities International Workshop, and a $4,870.80 trip to Stuttgart, Bremen and Munich, Germany “to participate in The International Business Recruitment.”

The expenses, each of which was submitted by the mayor and recommended by the finance director, as described on the Birmingham City Council’s online agenda:

 

  • Kwani Carson, administrative assistant, Mayor’s Office, Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt, $2,568.19, May 5-12, 2017, to attend National Science Foundation-Sustainable Smart Cities International Workshop.
  • Cheryl Kidd, administrator, City Council, Orange Beach, $1,796.06, June 6-9, 2017, to attend the Alabama City/County Management Association’s 2017 Summer Conference.
  • Florencie Underwood Patton, community resources representatives, Mayor’s Office, Omaha, Nebraska, $1,581, May 23-27, 2017, to attend 2017 Neighborhood USA Conference.
  • Joi Coke, administrative assistant, Mayor’s Office, Omaha, Nebraska, $1,598.56, May 23-27, 2017, to attend 2017 Neighborhood USA Conference.
  • Pamela Smith-Coulon, community resources representatives, Mayor’s Office, Omaha, Nebraska, $1,581, May 23-27, 2017, to attend 2017 Neighborhood USA Conference.
  • Lisa Cooper, director of economic development, Mayor’s Office, New Orleans, Louisiana, $2,092.98, May 20-25, 2017, to attend the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals 2017 Annual Conference.
  • Harold Houston, community resources representatives, Mayor’s Office, Omaha, Nebraska, $1,581, May 23-27, 2017, to attend 2017 Neighborhood USA Conference.
  • Melva Langford, committee assistant, City Council, Omaha, Nebraska, $1,302.42, May 23-26, 2017, to attend 2017 Neighborhood USA Conference.
  • Herman Lumzy Jr., community resources representatives, Mayor’s Office, Omaha, Nebraska, $1,581, May 23-27, 2017, to attend 2017 Neighborhood USA Conference.
  • Bacarra Mauldin, administrative assistant, Mayor’s Office, Omaha, Nebraska, $1,559.08, May 24-28, 2017, to attend Neighborhood USA Best Neighborhood Program Competition.
  • Melony Martin, community resources representatives, Mayor’s Office, Omaha, Nebraska, $1,581, May 23-27, 2017, to attend 2017 Neighborhood USA Conference.
  • Susan Pelmer, community resources representatives, Mayor’s Office, Omaha, Nebraska, $1,581, May 23-27, 2017, to attend 2017 Neighborhood USA Conference.
  • Kathy Perdue, community resources representatives, Mayor’s Office, Omaha, Nebraska, $1,581, May 23-27, 2017, to attend 2017 Neighborhood USA Conference.
  • Sybil Scarbrough, administrative assistant, Mayor’s Office, Little Rock, Arkansas, $1,772.85, April 19-23, 2017, to attend National Forum for Black Public Administrators.
  • Lisa Cooper, director of economic development, Mayor’s Office, Stuttgart, Bremen and Munich, Germany, $4,870.80, June 20-25, 2017, to participate in “The International Business Recruitment.”
  • Chiara Morrow-Perry, public information officer, City Council, Dallas, Texas, $1,961.74, July 23-25, 2017, to attend 2017 Public Affairs and Government Communications Summit.
  • Desmond Wilson, public information multimedia specialist, City Council, Dallas, Texas, $1,961.74, July 23-25, 2017, to attend 2017 Public Affairs and Government Communications Summit.
  • Renee Kemp-Rotan, administrative assistant, Mayor’s Office, New Smyrna Beach, Florida, $1,152.77, June 25-28, 2017, to visit Case Study Site: Atlantic Center for the Arts.
  • Toby Richards, curator, Mayor’s Office, Palm Beach, Florida, $432, June 21-23, 2017, to drive to The Historical Society Palm Beach to pick up loaned artifacts.

BirminghamWatch and Weld: Birmingham’s Newspaper collaborated to cover the Birmingham City Council and the Jefferson County Commission. 

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