Birmingham City Council

Birmingham Gets New Economic Director, Water Board Members

Cornell Wesley, director of Birmingham’s Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity. (Source: City of Birmingham)

Although still recovering from COVID-19-related pneumonia, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin announced three major political appointments Tuesday morning, including a new director of innovation and economic opportunity and two members of the Birmingham Water Works Board.

Woodfin made the announcement through Chief of Staff Cedric Sparks during Tuesday’s virtual City Council meeting. Sparks told councilors that Woodfin “continues to make progress in his recovery” and that he is “recuperating at home and looks forward to seeing everyone soon.”

There will be a new face around his office when he returns. Cornell Wesley, an economic development consultant, will take over as director the city’s Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity after Josh Carpenter left the job in November.

Last year, Wesley founded Emblem Strategies, an Oklahoma-based economic development consulting firm. Before that, he served as a regional representative for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s economic development administration where, as Sparks noted Tuesday, “he managed more than $20 million in federal investments, yielding a $1.5 billion impact in private investment and the creation of more than 4,000 jobs.”

Wesley also has Birmingham ties. He’s a Titusville native who “understands the needs of his hometown,” Woodfin said in a press release, calling Wesley “a proven connector who will make major strides for our community.” Woodfin and Wesley attended Morehouse College together, graduating two years apart.

“Happy to have you on board, brother,” Woodfin wrote in a Facebook post announcing the appointment.

Water Works Appointments

Woodfin also announced his two appointments to the Birmingham Water Works Board, following the council’s announcement of its four appointments last month. The remaining three seats on the nine-member board are selected by the Jefferson County Mayor’s Association, the Shelby County Commission and the Blount County Commission.

Lucien Blankenship (Source: City of Birmingham)

Attorney Lucien Blankenship will continue as a member of the BWWB for his first full term, while accountant Chris Rice will take on the seat previously held by Deborah Clark.

Blankenship, an attorney at the firm Blankenship & Associates, was first appointed to the board by Woodfin last year to replace Sherry Lewis, who was arrested and convicted of felony ethics charges. He finished out the one year remaining in Lewis’ term and will now begin his first four-year term.

Rice, a Miles College graduate, is an assistant controller at American Family Care, though a city press release also notes his role “managing the finance department for a startup health care company headquartered in Birmingham.”

Christopher Rice (Source: City of Birmingham)

Both BWWB terms will expire on Dec. 31, 2024.

The council in late December reappointed Ronald Mims and George Munchus to the board. Mims, an area pastor and former BWWB employee appointed to the board in 2015, was the board’s chairman and president. Munchus, a UAB business professor appointed in 2012, chaired the board’s business and economic development committee.

Tereshia Huffman was appointed by the council to replace outgoing board member Brenda Dickerson. Huffman is a former executive administrator for REV Birmingham who also previously served as a government affairs project manager and community outreach specialist for the city of Atlanta.

Larry Ward, former head of the Birmingham Parking Authority, was appointed by the council to replace William Muhammad, who was an outspoken activist and wanted to fight the Alabama Legislature for control of BWWB assets.

Ward was head of the public finance division at brokerage firm Morgan Keegan & Co. before it was absorbed by Raymond James in 2012. In 2007, Ward was the subject of an ethics complaint alleging he had used his position to improperly benefit Morgan Keegan, which had received $1.38 million in fees for handling a city bond deal that paid for downtown parking decks. An investigation by the state Ethics Commission cleared Ward, stating that “it did not appear there had been a violation of the law.”