Wardine Alexander won’t be the newest member of the Birmingham City Council for long. She took her seat as District 7’s representative Oct. 30, following a narrow vote — and now, she’ll have a say in appointing the replacements for former councilors Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson, who vacated their seats to join the Jefferson County Commission last week.
Alexander replaced Jay Roberson, who suddenly resigned from the seat in September, citing his wife’s new job with Alabaster City Schools. Alexander joined the Birmingham Public Library’s board of trustees in April, a seat she resigned upon becoming councilor.
She’d also was a member of the city’s school board from 2013 until 2017, serving as president from 2015 until 2017. She lost her bid for re-election, placing third in a three-candidate race.
Chiara Perry, the council’s interim public information director, asked that reporters avoid questions about this loss — though some opponents of Alexander’s appointment, including Scales, had used it as an argument against her appointment.
Sitting in her new office at City Hall, Alexander spoke with BirminghamWatch about her plans for her tenure as city councilor, the qualities she looks for in applicants to replace Scales and Tyson, and whether she will run if a special election is called to fill the council seat.
BirminghamWatch: Why did you apply to be a city councilor?
Wardine Alexander: I’ve lived in District 7 since 2012. I actually had an opportunity to represent the citizens of District 7 through my work on the school board from 2012 to 2017. Even though I was not re-elected to that position, I still felt there was a need in the community and that I could be of service to the community. I wanted to remain relevant. I wanted to continue to be a servant leader, and I saw that the skill sets and experience that I had would give me an opportunity to hit the ground running and go right into the position.
BirminghamWatch: In your application, you said that your skills were communication and problem-solving. Can you talk a little more about that?
Alexander: I was a trainer during my professional career, so I had the opportunity to work with teams (on) how to develop and perform team-building. I thought that we should work collaboratively among the council members as well as with the mayor, and with our primary stakeholders, the citizens. So I really wanted to talk about collaboration, cohesiveness, team-building, as a way to work through the council and with the mayor.
BirminghamWatch: What are your priorities as councilor?
Alexander: I want Birmingham to be a safe place to live. I want to improve the quality of life for me as well as my neighbors. I want to be proud of the city that I live in. I want the streets to be clean, I want the neighborhood to be safe, I want our children to be educated. I strongly believe in increasing opportunities through workforce development. It’s just the things that any neighbor would want for the community that they live in.
BirminghamWatch: Do you have any specific policy initiatives that would work toward those priorities?
Alexander: Well, I think you just have to look again at my career as well as my background and the service I’ve already given to the community. It would primarily be the workforce development, creating sustainable programs so that people can earn a decent living, so that they can have good wages, and that we all can be good citizens.
BirminghamWatch: You were most recently a member of the Birmingham Public Library’s board of trustees. There have been some calls from employees for city government to take notice of the controversy surrounding Executive Director Floyd Council. Do you intend to be an advocate for the library while on the council?
Alexander: Oh, of course, and I’d like to see all of our citizens advocate for a good public library system. As strong as those libraries are, they are just a lifeline for our constituents. So I’d like to be sure that our public libraries provide information, provide a place of comfort, and so it’s very important to me that all 19 of those libraries provide the needs that we need to give to our citizens. And I may have the opportunity. (The council’s) education committee oversees that particular board, so I did ask during my interview to have an opportunity to serve on that particular committee.
BirminghamWatch: Are there any other committees you’re interested in being on?
Alexander: Council President (Valerie) Abbott has said that she is waiting (for) the other two seats (to be filled), to just look at the skill sets of all nine of us, including the three of us that will be coming on, to see where those vacancies are and to put them there. I did say that education is one. During my interview, I did talk about economic development, and again that would go back to the workforce development component as we bring companies into the city. I’d like to see that there are some incentives there for training programs for the people that live in our area, so that when a company comes in, and they put up shop, they just don’t bring in all of their own employees — that we build from the pool that we have here in Birmingham. So we have to ensure that they’re trained and skilled to fill those jobs.
BirminghamWatch: What has your opinion been of Mayor Woodfin’s administration thus far?
Alexander: This is a unique opportunity in that Mayor Woodfin and I had served together on the Board of Education. He was actually my president for two years, and then he encouraged me to go out and be the president following him. So we both have that desire to ensure that our education system is top-notch. We talked one day, and we talked about our past experiences on the board, and I think we both have an appreciation for what we each bring to the job. I’m looking forward to working with the mayor. I found him to be a very strategic leader on the school board, and I see some of the same (strategy) in the way he’s managing city services.
BirminghamWatch: You’re in an unusual position, in that you were just appointed to the council, and now you’ll have a vote in appointing two other new councilors. What was your opinion of the selection process? Are there any things you would like to change about it?
Alexander: As I completed my interview, I did thank Mrs. Abbott and the council for the transparency of it. I understand the call from some of the constituents in wanting to have it be an elected process, but we are following what has already been dictated for us in the Mayor-Council Act. We found ourselves in a unique opportunity, being able to select people that we feel we can work with, that share our values. So I’ll be looking for someone that’s like-minded, in that they want to improve the city. We have unique needs in District 1 and 6, so I’ll be curious during the interviewing process to see what they’ll be wanting to bring for their individual districts, and then we can work collaboratively to make sure that the city is a better place to live in.
BirminghamWatch: If there is an election called to fill your seat, will you run?
Alexander: Yes, I will.