Birmingham City Council Debates Cemetery Funding, Transparency at City Hall

Much of Tuesday’s Birmingham City Council meeting 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.
They also approved $35,720.19 in travel for the months of May and June for the mayor’s administrative assistants and some council employees. Read more.

Birmingham Council Opens Door for 27-Acre Humane Society Campus in Titusville

The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to transfer ownership of the 27-acre Trinity Steel site in the Titusville community to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society to develop a new animal care and control facility.

Despite several speakers who voiced opposition to the move during a public hearing, Councilor Sheila Tyson, who represents the district, said she supported the project because the majority of people she has spoken with support it.

“The community has voted yes for this three times,” Tyson said after the vote as people crowded the hallways outside the council chamber.

Before the vote transferring ownership of the property, the council also voted in favor of another resolution that rezoned Titusville land for residential use, potentially complicating the process the GBHS must go through to begin construction on the new facility. Read more.

The Mayor and Your Money

When the Mayor-Council Act was modified by the state Legislature last year amid continuous jockeying for power between the elected officials representing Birmingham’s legislative and executive branches, city councilors lamented that the changes would give too much power to Mayor William Bell.

Today, even as the mayor and some councilors continue at odds over various issues, one thing is clear: how the mayor has used his broadened powers in the past year has not eased the tension.

One example: Bell’s office has paid nearly half a million dollars to one lobbying firm, and at least $122,000 of that was done without the council’s approval as of January 2017. Read more.

Birmingham City Councilors Suggest Bell is Forcing Lundy out of Office

Birmingham City Councilor Marcus Lundy announced Tuesday he will not be seeking re-election, leading to an outpouring of verbal — and at times emotional — support from his fellow councilors, with some indicating they believe he was forced out. A majority of the council members, speaking on the record and anonymously after the meeting, allege that Lundy was pressured to not seek re-election by Mayor William Bell or else potentially lose his job at Regions Bank. Read more.

From Vacant Industrial Land to Puppy Palace? Residents Debate Use of Old Trinity Steel Land in Titusville

Sixty Titusville residents sat in the sweltering gymnasium of Memorial Park Recreation Center to consider giving their support for the old Trinity Steel property going to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

“It is so hot in here,” said Greater Birmingham Humane Society President and CEO Allison Black Cornelius, “but they stayed.”

When each side had made its case, 52 residents voted for the Humane Society to move to the long idle property from its Snow Drive location in Homewood. Eight voted no. Read more.

Off the Lawn: Discussion About Enforcement of Neighborhood Parking Ordinances Threatened to Derail Birmingham City Council Meeting.

Most of the business addressed at the Birmingham City Council’s Tuesday meeting was fairly streamlined, until an extended discussion of a proposed zoning ordinance change led to a freewheeling conversation about parking. Specifically, the issue was how to prevent people from parking on their front lawns, the width of the city’s right-of-way, and the responsibility of the Birmingham Police Department to enforce parking ordinances.

“We have gotten far away from the topic that is before the council, which is just the amendment to the zoning ordinance,” said assistant city attorney Julie Bernard at one point. “The issue that is before the council … does not have much to do with the issue that we have diverted to.” Read more.

Birmingham City Council Approves Nearly $1.5 Million to Keep Grand Prix Race in the City Despite Concerns

Questions about budgets consistently being presented to the Birmingham City Council during the time of a vote took center stage in Tuesday’s meeting, including during the discussion of a three-year, $1,496,500 contract with Zoom Motorsports to manage Indy Grand Prix Racing at Barber Motorsports Park. Read more.

Bill for Railroad Park Leads to Questions About How Money is Spent for Some Parks Over Others

April 4, 2017 – The Birmingham City Council approved a $220,000 appropriation to pay for services associated with the management of Railroad Park after a prolonged discussion about a lack of invoices for the services. Some council members questioned the amounts the city pays for Railroad Park while it struggles to fund other parks in the city. Read more.

Birmingham City Council Clears Way for Golf Cart Cab Companies to Operate

March 28, 2017 – The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution to amend licensing regulations for “taxicabs and vehicles for hire,” in an effort to allow “low speed” services.

Ostensibly, this move opens the door for companies such as Birmingham Pedal Tours to begin the process of obtaining permits to allow their vehicles – oblong carts that are powered by groups of people pedaling and are electrically assisted – to begin operating in Birmingham.

The resolution also will allow for golf cart cab companies to be able to obtain permits. Read more.

Birmingham City Council Report: Sticking Points

March 21, 2017 – The Birmingham City Council, mostly showing up on time this week, debated several contentious issues.
It delayed votes on whether to apply for World Trade Center designation and whether to conduct a study on the long-term placement of i-20/59. And after some discussion, it approved the sale of land in the Oxmoor Valley to a developer who wants to build a subdivision there. Read more.

Amid Questions About Ties to the Mayor, Birmingham City Council Rejects Liaison for My Brother’s Keeper

March 14, 2017 – Birmingham City Council President Johnathan Austin slammed the gavel and the council session began at 10:53 am, nearly an hour and a half after the scheduled time, because there had not been enough members present to legally hold the meeting.

Mayor William Bell was among the absent, leaving councilors with questions on several items. Among the most contentious was an agreement between the city and the Birmingham Board of Education to appoint Bobby Benton to a full-time position “from the board to work with My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.” The job could pay up to $43,823, according to the resolution.

Benton has worked on political campaigns for Bell, and several councilors, including Austin, said they believed Benton had been named as the chairman to Bell’s re-election campaign.

Guns for Graves: Birmingham City Council Delays Supporting Bill to Use Pistol Permit Fees to Fund Cemetery Maintenance.

March 7, 2017 – Birmingham City Councilor William Parker doesn’t see any hidden meaning in HB 34, the proposed legislation that would create and fund a Jefferson County Cemetery Board through gun permit fees.

“The funding is funding that has already been collected,” said Parker, who supports the bill. He said the intent was not to send a message – grave maintenance being paid for by gun fees — in a city that is plagued by gun-related homicides. “This is the way that the legislators are supporting the issue about addressing the needs of the cemetery.”

But questions about whether that’s a stable source of funding, how the money would be allotted and whether it was enough stalled a resolution the council was debating to support the bill. Read more.

Birmingham Council Clears Way to Become First Alabama City With a Healthy Food Incentive Program

The Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday to make Birmingham the first Alabama city with a Healthy Food Incentive Program, but not before a nearly hour-long debate with members of the city’s law department.

The program will cost $2 million, which will be allocated from the city’s general fund budget for fiscal 2018, and it is slated to begin Aug. 1. Essentially, the ordinance would allow qualified recipients to receive a food incentive card to be used toward the purchase of eligible foods at participating stores. The cards would have a value of up to $150 annually and take the form of either a debit card or voucher.

Before the vote, Councilor Lashunda Scales objected to the city’s law department having “gone week to week discussing the same thing,” referring to changes in the language and the proposed launch date of the program.

“We make plenty of time for economic development. When do we make the time to help the poor people?” Scales asked.
Read more

Birmingham City Council Agrees to Transfer Surplus Land, Provide Funding for Sporting Events

February 21, 2017 – The Birmingham City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday for an intergovernmental agreement to list and transfer surplus city property to the Birmingham Land Bank Authority.

The resolution allows the authority to “dispose of the property in a manner consistent with its Mission Statement and Administrative Policies and Procedures.”

The city initially will present seven potential properties to the authority to be listed on its website “as being available for purchase by the general public,” the resolution reads. It does not indicate which properties will be considered.
Read more.

Birmingham City Councilors Debate “Self-Promotion” and the Water Board, With Suggestions That City Officials Are Under Investigation.

A Birmingham City Council meeting consumed by debate over ads purchased by the council and the behavior of the Birmingham Water Works Board also entertained the suggestion that an investigation of city officials is underway.

The references to a possible grand jury investigation – which has not been publicly revealed by any prosecutor’s office – seemed almost an aside in a discussion about the activities of the BWWB.

Councilor Valerie Abbott during Tuesday’s meeting said that not only is a grand jury investigating the utilities board, but also the Birmingham City Council and the mayor’s office.

“Lord knows what they’ll find,” Abbott said.
Read more.