Birmingham City Council

Birmingham City Council bogs down in debate over Ensley gas station

Birmingham City Council

Sam Prickett, July 31, 2018

For the second week in a row, the Birmingham City Council found itself mired in a debate over the proposed closure of an Ensley gas station where three homicides have occurred.

In contrast to July 24’s meeting, though, the discussion Tuesday was more procedural than emotional, with District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt launching what he characterized as a “protest” against the public safety committee’s decision to keep the matter from coming before the full council.

The Shell station in question is located on the 800 block of Third Avenue West in Ensley — which is in Hoyt’s district — and has been the site of three homicides since 2015. Most recently, Antonio Jerrell Taylor was shot and killed there on June 10.

The council’s public safety committee, headed by District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams, had opted during a July 17 meeting to keep the business under probation for a year instead of revoking its business license. At the full council’s July 24 meeting, Hoyt called that decision “ridiculous” because it did not give the full council final authority on the matter. He unilaterally placed the question of the station’s business license on the council agenda, pledging to do so every week “until we have a public hearing about this Shell station.”

Speaking to BirminghamWatch after last week’s meeting, Williams maintained that the committee had acted “according to procedure,” and that the business’s new safety plan — which included extra no loitering signs, additional security from off-duty police officers, and an increase in cameras and lighting — was all that could be reasonably asked of the business.

Though Hoyt apologized for his emotional outburst from the daïs the previous week, he stayed true to his word; the item was once again on the council’s agenda this week. But he also took a further step, refusing to approve the council’s consent agenda in order to draw further attention to the Shell station discussion — meaning that the council had to individually address everything on the agenda, including menial items such as approving weed abatement and the removal of abandoned vehicles throughout the city.

It’s not the first time Hoyt has used this time-consuming tactic to protest what he described as procedural missteps by his fellow councilors. In November, he successfully stalled passage of the FY 2018 budget by objecting to the consent agenda, citing concerns that the budget had not been properly vetted in committee. “[It’s] irresponsible for us to consider this item when we have not had a full-fledged discussion,” he said then.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Hoyt said that a full-fledged discussion was once again what he was after. “When a person has gotten killed [at a business], we have not ever not allowed a public hearing,” he said. “My issue here is that we follow due process.”

When the council finally reached the issue of the Shell station — it was the 60th item on the agenda — City Clerk Lee Frazier told the council that a unanimous vote would be required for the item to be considered. District 9 Councilor John Hilliard, a member of the public safety committee, immediately voted against it.

“Well, that ends that,” Frazier said.

But Hoyt maintained that the issue wasn’t finished. “If I have to take things off the agenda every week, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’m telling you, I’m not changing, and I’m going to put it back on the agenda next week,” he said.

“It should have never been suggested that you keep anything in committee, because the council has the final say-so,” he said after the meeting. “It is the council as a body that votes on whether to allow them to continue or to revoke their license… The council will have to decide as to what will be the remedy for those infractions.”

Eventually, Williams appeared to acquiesce, agreeing that the committee’s ruling — of a one-year probationary period — would come before the full council within 21 days. After a public hearing, the council can vote to approve that recommendation, or a new motion can be submitted, Williams said.

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