Much Ado About a Do; Birmingham City Council Clashes Over Inauguration

Sept. 13, 2017 — After postponing its regularly scheduled meeting due to the threat of inclement weather, the Birmingham City Council convened for a special-called meeting on Wednesday. Though the rules of special-called meetings prevented the council from voting on most of the planned items on the agenda, the council found room for a spirited debate over one item it could vote on: the allocation of funding for the council’s Oct. 24 inauguration.

The main point of contention was between District 1 Councilor Lashunda Scales and District 3’s Valerie Abbott, who clashed over the amount of money allocated for the event. Initially, the item said that city funding for the event should not exceed $25,000, though on Scales’ recommendation, that was amended to an amount “not to exceed $35,000.”

Abbott took issue with that amount, saying it was excessive for what essentially would be a “party” for councilors. She also questioned the lack of details available about the event. “Does everybody know this but me?” she asked.

An agitated Scales responded that the event would engage citizens in municipal government, which she said had been a longtime goal of the council. She also took umbrage with Abbott’s characterization of the event as a “party,” believing that wrongly categorized it with “V.I.P.” events not open to the general public.

The back-and-forth went on for some time, with occasional interjections from Council President Johnathan Austin and President Pro Tem Steven Hoyt, both of whom supported the measure and did not find it remarkably different from previous inaugurations. At one point, Austin began reading from Wikipedia’s definition of “inauguration,” which he had looked up on his cell phone.

“To use Shakespearean vernacular, this is much ado about nothing,” Hoyt said at two different points during the discussion.

In the end, the council approved the spending, with Abbott voting against the measure and Roberson abstaining. The inauguration follows the city’s Oct. 3 runoff for mayor, council and Board of Education seats.

DACA Support

Also at the meeting, the council passed a resolution supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Donald Trump announced he would be ending. The resolution “(encouraged) Congress to create a permanent path to legal residency for DACA recipients.” Abbott was the sole dissenting vote.

The council also approved in advance travel expenses for two city councilors, Hoyt and District 6 Councilor Sheila Tyson, to attend the annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C. Hoyt was approved for expenses of $3,323.30; Tyson was approved for expenses of $2,671.49.  As always, Abbott was the sole dissenting vote.