Birmingham City Council

Birmingham Council Limits Spending by Outgoing Councilor

Birmingham City Councilor Jay Roberson announces his resignation from the council (Source: Sam Prickett)

Jay Roberson wasn’t present at Tuesday’s Birmingham City Council meeting, but his recently announced resignation loomed over proceedings. A discussion over whether to reallocate funding for parks in his district led to a prolonged debate over how much spending power lame-duck councilors should have — with the only present outgoing councilor, District 1’s Lashunda Scales, expressing outrage that the discussion was even happening.

The item in question ordered the transfer of $50,000 from District 7’s public improvements fund to the parks and recreation public committee “to offset park projects in District 7.” Scales voiced her objection to the ordinance, saying that it would “prohibit (outgoing councilors) from spending money in our own district.”

“That tells me that, as a council member, I might as well not show up for work if I can’t expend money in my district,” she said.

Council President Valerie Abbott said that the move was part of a policy the council was contemplating.

“We’ve seen council members in the past, who shall remain nameless, who tried to spend all the discretionary money before they left office, leaving nothing behind for the people who came in behind him,” she said.

The ordinance, and the potential new policy, which Scales said she had no knowledge of, was intended “to allow the person who’s sitting in the office (to)  spend a portion of the money, and the person who’s coming in will still have a portion of the money to spend,” Abbott said. “If we do this, the next person who moves in can move it back.”

She did not say that she expected Roberson would attempt to spend all his discretionary funds before leaving office Sept. 10.

District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt pushed for the item to be passed, saying that because the money would stay in District 7, the argument was, “in the Shakespeare vernacular, ‘much ado about nothing.’”

“If you were funding something other than what’s in the district, then we would have a problem there,” he said. “But if it’s going to a park or library in that area, well, that library ain’t going nowhere.”

The council eventually voted to pass the measure.

Scales took the discussion as an opportunity to rail against what she described as the council’s slowness in appointing replacements for outgoing councilors.

“Some folk who claim they care about the city aren’t moving on it as fast as they say,” she said, arguing that state law decrees that new councilors should be appointed at the first meeting of the council after they leave office.

Her assertion wasn’t quite accurate; the Mayor-Council Act actually states that “vacancies in the council shall be filled by the council at the next regular meeting or any subsequent meeting of the council.” The act does not give the council a deadline to appoint replacements.

Later in the meeting, Abbott announced that the council would begin accepting applications and resumés from District 7 residents looking to fill Roberson’s seat; the deadline for applications is 5 p.m. Sept. 10, the day Roberson leaves office.

“It is the council’s goal to fill this particular district vacancy as soon as possible,” Abbott said. Further details on the council’s succession plan can be found here.