Off the Lawn: Discussion About Enforcement of Neighborhood Parking Ordinances Threatened to Derail Birmingham City Council Meeting.

Birmingham City Council meeting 4/25/17

April 25, 2017 – Most of the business addressed at the Birmingham City Council’s Tuesday meeting was fairly streamlined, until an extended discussion of a proposed zoning ordinance change led to a freewheeling conversation about parking.

Specifically, the issue was how to prevent people from parking on their front lawns, the width of the city’s right-of-way, and the responsibility of the Birmingham Police Department to enforce parking ordinances.

“We have gotten far away from the topic that is before the council, which is just the amendment to the zoning ordinance,” said assistant city attorney Julie Bernard at one point. “The issue that is before the council … does not have much to do with the issue that we have diverted to.”

The item in question was presented to the council as largely meant to clarify certain aspects of the city’s zoning ordinance, including the terminology and specifications regarding residential driveways. During a discussion of parking in residential neighborhoods, Councilor Lashunda Scales questioned the enforcement of such ordinances.

“What is the mayor’s office’s commitment to enforcing these ordinances?” she asked. “It’s no good to change (the ordinance) if we’re not going to enforce it. … Sometimes we even have police officers who are confused for some reason in terms of what the ordinance is.

“If we’re not going to enforce it, we’re just doing a lot of beautifying the city with words. … We’re just changing words and enforcing nothing,” she said.

Councilor Kim Rafferty, the chair of the city’s Planning and Zoning Committee, responded that law enforcement was likely occupied with crime. But Scales was unsatisfied with that answer.

“It is the law enforcement that enforces the law!” Scales said.

As the discussion stretched on – largely between Scales, Rafferty and Councilor Sheila Tyson – other members of the council appeared to lose interest. Councilor William Parker suggested postponing the vote on the ordinance for a week, which was dismissed by Scales because, as she said, “I’ll still have the same questions when we come back.”

Eventually, the amendment was passed. Afterward, Council President Pro Tem Steven Hoyt remarked that the discussion “went so long.”

Less than halfway through the meeting, the council went into a 10-minute executive session to discuss unspecified “potential litigation.” City Council President Johnathan Austin did not return to the dais afterward, leaving Hoyt to run the remainder of the meeting.

Other items approved during the meeting included a resolution giving a liquor license to Freddy’s, a new restaurant opening on the first floor of Highland Towers apartments; an ordinance widening the number of Birmingham residents who qualify for the city’s Healthy Food Incentive Program; a three-year contract renewal with MetLife to provide dental insurance for active employees and retirees, and vision insurance for active employees; travel expenses for five city employees (including Parker) to attend various conferences; and a payment to AT&T for “secure connectivity to cloud based services.”

This report was compiled based on the city’s Periscope stream, which the council uses to provide live video footage of each week’s meeting online.

BirminghamWatch and Weld: Birmingham’s Newspaper are collaborating to cover the Birmingham City Council and the Jefferson County Commission.