The Birmingham City Council once again has nine members. During an exceptionally lengthy meeting Tuesday, councilors appointed Clinton Woods and Crystal Smitherman to fill its vacant District 1 and District 6 seats, respectively.
The appointees, both children of prominent Birmingham politicians, will be officially sworn into office in January.
Woods and Smitherman will replace Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson on the council; both Scales and Tyson resigned in November to join the Jefferson County Commission.
The appointees were chosen from a pool of six finalists — three from each district — all of whom were directly interviewed by the council before the vote. Woods beat out Brandon McCray and Gwendoline Guster Welch for the seat, while Smitherman beat out Barry Bearden and LaTonya Millhouse.
During his interview, Clinton Woods outlined his priorities for District 1 as focused on “businesses, youth and public safety.”
“I’m not going to sell 100 … things I’m going to do,” he said. “I want to tell them about three things I know I can do.”
Woods is the owner of Prescott Contracting, a general contracting firm, and served as campaign manager for Mark Pettway’s successful bid for sheriff earlier this year.
He’s also the son of Chris Woods, who ran for mayor in 2017, placing third after then-Mayor William Bell and current Mayor Randall Woodfin. Chris Woods had previously sued the city for wrongful termination in 2015, winning $2.58 million, and was involved in a public feud with Michael Bell, William Bell’s brother, who sued him for slander after Woods publicly accused him of corruption. Michael Bell also applied to fill the District 1 council seat but was not selected as a finalist.
In contrast to his father’s outspoken political style, Clinton Woods presented himself as a moderate voice for the council.
“I will be someone you can work with,” he said. “One thing that has happened in Birmingham for a long time is that people have come to city council meetings for entertainment value” stemming from bickering between councilors and the mayor. That entertainment value, he said, was not something he was interested in providing.
The council’s vote for the District 1 seat was split between Woods and Brandon McCray, a former committee assistant for Tyson and former District 2 Councilor Kim Rafferty. Woods received four votes – from Wardine Alexander, John Hilliard, William Parker and Hunter Williams – while McCray received three – from Valerie Abbott, Darrell O’Quinn and Steven Hoyt.
Despite the split vote, at Abbott’s suggestion, the council unanimously passed a resolution declaring support for Woods.
There was no such resolution required for Crystal Smitherman, who was approved unanimously by the council.
Smitherman, who is in her final year of law school at the University of Alabama, is the daughter of Carole Smitherman, who held the District 6 seat on the council from 2001 to 2013. She also served as council president from 2005 to 2009 and briefly served as acting mayor after Larry Langford was removed from office in 2009. Rodger Smitherman, her husband and Crystal’s father, has been an Alabama state senator since 1995.
During her interview, Smitherman focused on removing dilapidated housing in Birmingham, saying that improving neighborhoods’ quality of life would in turn improve the city as a whole.
“If we give people hope then Birmingham will become better,” she said.
Councilors did express concern that Smitherman, 25, would have scheduling conflicts between her duties as councilor and her responsibilities as a final-year law student. Smitherman assured them that her course load for her upcoming final semester was easy and that she would not have problems balancing the two.
After Smitherman was approved by unanimous vote, Abbott congratulated her fellow councilors on “a quick decision — and good decisions.”
Prioritizing the Mayor-Council Act
Though the new councilors will not officially take office until the council’s next meeting, on Jan. 2, their interviews did give them — and the public — an idea of the council’s priorities for the new year.
A significant portion of the interview questions were focused on the Mayor-Council Act of 1955, the document that governs the powers of Birmingham City government.
The council was fixated on this, District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt said, because “undoing what Oliver Robinson did to the Mayor-Council Act” by lobbying the state Legislature would be a priority for the council in 2019. He was referring to the controversial 2016 changes to the act, proposed by then-state Rep. Oliver Robinson, that took significant budgeting and appointment powers from the council and gave them to the mayor.
Most candidates said they would support efforts to roll back Robinson’s changes, although Smitherman said she would need to do more research on the matter before forming an opinion — although, she said, “I’m pretty neutral about decisions in general.”