Birmingham City Council

Birmingham City Council Stalls Over Disputes With Leadership

Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt (Source: Sam Prickett)

Nov. 21, 2017 — District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt managed to single-handedly slow Tuesday’s meeting of the Birmingham City Council to a crawl, apparently making good on a promise he made last week to protest the leadership of Council President Valerie Abbott.

The strategy also seemed designed to forestall discussion of the FY 2018 budget, which appeared once again on the council’s agenda despite a vote last week to send it back to committee.

During last week’s contentious discussion, Abbott pushed to pass the budget, despite the lack of input from newly elected council members or from Mayor-elect Randall Woodfin, who takes office Nov. 28. Hoyt, who ran against Abbott for council president and narrowly lost, said then that he planned to push back against her leadership.

“If (this) is the kind of leadership I have to look forward to, then I’m going to sit here every week and raise questions that you all failed to raise in committee,” Hoyt said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, he started immediately.

“I am in objection to the consent agenda,” he said, forcing the council to individually consider 36 items — most of them routine sales tax assessments and building demolitions — that originally would have been passed all at once. It was a decision that caused the meeting to stretch into the early afternoon and pushed discussion of the budget back until several hours after the meeting had started.

Birmingham City Council President Valerie Abbott (Source: Sam Prickett)

At some points, Abbott and Hoyt grew close to a shouting match. In an interaction early in the meeting, Abbott refused to allow Hoyt to speak out of turn.

“Madam President, I’m not going to be ignored,” Hoyt said. “I have thoughts I want to share.”

“Then you can write them down,” Abbott replied. When Hoyt continued trying to speak, Abbott drowned him out with her gavel. “You can talk, I can hammer,” she said.

At other points in the meeting, Hoyt — occasionally joined by Councilor Lashunda Scales — raised questions about typically routine council matters, such as the city’s process behind levying sales tax assessments against delinquent businesses. At one point, while discussing a construction company’s bid to repair the elevators at Legion Field, Hoyt asked if the repairs would make the elevators faster.

Hoyt and Scales also raised questions about a proposed resolution — originally on the consent agenda — approving an agreement with U.S. Steel to develop 40 acres south of the Barber Motorsports. Some of that land would be used to attract new industry and some of it would be used to relocate the Southern Museum of Flight. Hoyt said the proposal was an “incomplete plan” and introduced a motion to move the discussion to the council’s committee of the whole because, “There needs to be some discussion on this.” That motion failed, as did a subsequent motion by Scales and Hoyt to suspend the rules so they could continue discussion beyond their allotted times. Eventually, the item was passed — with Hoyt voting yes and Scales abstaining.

Birmingham City Councilor Lashunda Scales (Source: Sam Prickett)

Discussion over the uncertain status of a contract with the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority also dominated a large portion of the meeting, with BJCTA representatives arguing that rising operating costs meant the city would need to pay more than originally was budgeted. The discussion was delegated to the committee of the whole to work out the details of a contract.

When discussion of the long-postponed FY 2018 budget finally reached the daïs, Scales expressed frustration that requests to discuss the item in committee had not been met.

“This is the third time the budget has been presented … . It’s almost like we’re doing the same redundant thing week after week,” she said.

Hoyt added it was “irresponsible for us to consider this item when we have not had a full-fledged discussion,” and called for discussion of the budget “item by item‚” which would protract the discussion even more. As the clerk began reading the list of items, Hoyt left the daïs.

Though Abbott called for a motion to detach the budget from committee and bring it before the full council for consideration, none was made.

After the attempted discussion of the budget failed, Councilor William Parker moved to reconsider the consent agenda, adding the remaining items to the consent agenda. “Is that OK, Councilor Hoyt?” he  asked. “Are you amenable?”

Hoyt paused for dramatic effect, a grin creeping across his face. “I … agree,” he said. Relieved laughter echoed through the council chambers.

“Y’all wouldn’t let me talk,” Hoyt chuckled later. “That’s what happens.”