Aug.1, 2017 — If Tuesday’s Birmingham City Council meeting presented municipal politics as a “game,” as Councilors Steven Hoyt and Lashunda Scales both put it, then the rules of that game and who was breaking them remained very much up in the air.
For the second week in a row, a large portion of the meeting was dedicated to enmity between Scales and Councilor William Parker over the latter’s request for discretionary funds. At the July 25 meeting, Parker proposed two resolutions, each appropriating up to $10,000 to organize meetings of District 4 neighborhood officers, volunteers and city officials with state and federal officials. One set of meetings would focus on “the preservation and maintenance of cemeteries in Alabama,” the other “regarding funding for infrastructure related projects.”
Both items were referred to committee last week after several councilors expressed concern that they had not been vetted through the proper channels. Parker had protested the deferral, citing a “very important meeting in Montgomery” that was due to happen the following Thursday.
Both items reappeared on Tuesday’s agenda, but Parker’s going ahead and attending a meeting Thursday with Gov. Kay Ivey raised concerns with some councilors, particularly Scales, who grew frustrated as Parker repeatedly refused to answer whether city funds had been spent on the meeting.
“My response is simply that we had a meeting last week with the governor, the council referred the item, and this item was in the committee of the whole on Wednesday and is now back before us,” Parker said.
Scales repeated her question – “Were any city funds spent on this meeting?” – two more times without getting a direct answer from Parker, who simply repeated that the item had been referred to committee the previous week.
“I think we just need to move on,” he said.
After some back-and-forth, Council President Johnathan Austin intervened, directing the question to Jarvis Patton, the chief of operations for the mayor’s office. Initially, Patton refused to answer, saying that the administration would not “get involved in a matter between council members.” After pressing from Austin, Patton reluctantly responded that city money had been spent on the meetings.
Scales declared this unfair, suggesting that Parker was able to get funding so quickly because of his public support for Mayor William Bell’s re-election campaign.
“If money was spent on it, and it was not authorized (by the council), I’m saying, I don’t want to hear it when it comes to any other council member trying to get something done for their district,” Scales said. “I’m just trying to figure out, why don’t we get preferential treatment? Is it because we don’t go and put on a campaign T-shirt?”
Eventually, Patton stepped in to confirm that the mayor had allocated funds from his own budget, which would then be repaid upon the council’s approval of Parker’s proposed items.
The answer did little to calm Scales, who suggested that Parker’s ease in getting funding was the result of election-season “theatrics.”
“These are games,” she said, “and I’m going to expose these games.”
Scales and Parker could not reached for comment after the meeting.
Council President Pro Tem Steven Hoyt attempted to diffuse tension with a joke. “Hate the game, don’t hate the player,” he chuckled. “I know we needed a laugh.”
Both items eventually passed, with Scales abstaining from voting on the second one, but that wasn’t the only time in the meeting that Parker’s relationship with procedural rules was questioned on the dais. Another item on the meeting’s agenda, a notice of a public meeting to be held that night regarding trains blocking street intersections, was met with confusion by some councilors, who wanted to know why the notice of a community meeting warranted its own agenda item.
“I’m just trying to learn,” said Councilor Sheila Tyson, who initially took the question to Austin. Austin responded that councilors could place any item they wanted on the agenda, but he noted the city clerk’s “trepidation” at the extra paperwork placing such notices on the agenda would cause.
When Parker, somewhat agitated by the line of questioning, attempted to explain his reasoning for placing the item on the agenda, Tyson responded by telling him not to “answer this with an attitude,” though she also proclaimed that using the council agenda for such items was “a good idea.”
Also passed at the meeting was an ordinance reducing the number of members of the Storm Water Appeals Board from seven to five. The board oversees enforcement of the city’s Storm Water Protection Ordinance. The reasoning behind this change, assistant city attorney Julie Bernard told the council, was a lack of applicants.
The council also approved a resolution supporting a recommendation to the Birmingham Board of Education from the Birmingham City Council Institute Class of 2017, a group of high-school and college-aged interns. The BCCI interns had suggested a program called Active Learning that would “involve students, parents, public and private communities to fund and support academic excellence.”
The council also approved several travel expenses: $1,581 for mayor’s assistant Gregory Jones to attend the 2017 Neighborhood USA Conference in Omaha, Nebraska; $1,258.85 for administrative assistant to the mayor Kevin Owens to attend the annual Animal Care Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; $958.79 for Owens to attend the Alabama City-County Managers Association 2017 Summer Conference in Perdido Beach, Alabama; and $1,754.44 for Councilor Kim Rafferty to attend the National League of Cities summer board and leadership meetings in Cleveland, Ohio.