Birmingham City Council

Councilors Discuss Spending $500K to Send Neighborhood Leaders to Convention but With Report Requirement

Each year, the Birmingham City Council approves funding for hundreds of neighborhood officers to attend the Neighborhood USA conference. This year, though, that approval will likely come with the stipulation that attendees report back to their neighborhood associations on what they learned.

Pending a council vote next week, the city’s 99 neighborhoods will each have the option to send two representatives to NUSA, which this year will be held in El Paso, Texas. The conference offers what it describes as “cutting-edge workshops” and “tools and training to improve and maintain great neighborhoods every year.”

Each neighborhood can spend up to $5,000 on the trip. Along with the attendance of three city-funded Community Resource Services representatives, that means Birmingham taxpayers could collectively spend up to $502,000 on this year’s conference.

At Tuesday’s meeting, District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams called that amount “a little bit excessive.”

“I think it’s important that the public knows that the funding that’s allocated to their neighborhood can be used to repair the sidewalk that everyone’s griping about, can be used to put in speed calming that everyone is asking for, or it can be spent to send some of your neighbors to El Paso, Texas, wherever we’re going this year,” Williams said. “I think we could get away with having some other formula, whether it be a couple of people from each community coming back and reporting what they learned.”

District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott argued that each attendee should be required to provide a report of their trip to their respective neighborhood associations. “It does seem that if we do send people to NUSA from a neighborhood, there should be some product that does result from it that is of benefit to that neighborhood,” she said.

That perennial proposal has proven surprisingly controversial in the past. In 2019, three councilors — William Parker, John Hilliard, and Steven Hoyt — vociferously objected to any strings being placed on NUSA attendance, arguing that a reporting requirement would be an encumbrance to attendees’ learning.

But Parker, Hilliard and Hoyt all left office in 2021, leaving no one on the council to object to the suggestion this time. The council voted unanimously Tuesday to delay funding approval for one week to allow for the new rule to be added in.

Mayor Randall Woodfin, who had argued in favor of this requirement in 2019, said he left the specifics of the decision entirely in the hands of the council. “I want you all to feel empowered,” he said. “You have full control here. You dictate, you control, you decide how many people can go and parameters around what happens if and when people are there and when they get back and what they share or report out. You have full control. Please, feel empowered.”

The revised item will be back before the council Feb. 28.