On their final day as city councilors, Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson addressed their colleagues during an otherwise uneventful council meeting, reflecting on their tenures before they move to a higher level of government.
Scales and Tyson were technically elected to the Jefferson County Commission in Nov. 6’s general election, though they were both uncontested and had been assumed to take their seats since winning their July runoff elections. Scales had been the councilor for District 1 since 2009, while Tyson had represented District 6 since 2013. Both won their bids for re-election last year, but their commission wins meant that they would have to leave their seats with three years remaining in their terms.
Their speeches at Tuesday’s council meeting highlighted the contrast in their political styles — Scales loquacious and boastful, Tyson serious and determined — and in many ways epitomized their respective terms on the council.
Scales: “My Job Is to Speak Up”
Scales’ remarks were characteristically lengthy. “I gave you 10 minutes and you took 15,” Council President Valerie Abbott told her afterward, laughing. She included direct addresses to all of her colleagues on the council and the mayor, reminiscences of her childhood, Bible verses and a full reading of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.”
“Many have said, ‘Why does she talk a lot?’” she said. “Well, you don’t pay an attorney to go sit silently in front of a judge. My job is to speak up for the citizens of Birmingham.”
Scales maintained that, while she was leaving the council, she looked forward to working with the council in her new role. “I’m not going nowhere,” she said.
Her comments to her fellow councilors were mostly positive, though she directed some veiled criticism at Abbott and Mayor Randall Woodfin.
Scales’ remarks to Abbott, with whom she has often clashed over Scales’ tendency to be long-winded, appeared to follow up on her accusations made during a council meeting several weeks ago that Abbott made racist remarks “behind closed doors.”
“I’ll say it delicately because we’re in public, and I’ll say what I really mean behind closed doors,” she told Abbott, describing how she had gained the support of white Republican voters in her district despite being a black Democrat.
“You just don’t know, Abbott, I could have held my blackness over the white folks in my district,” she said. “I could have said, ‘You know, the area’s turning black and I’m black, and we just going to do for the black folks.’ But I didn’t do that. We came together and we were one voice, Valerie … I want you to know that from me to you, that when you saw me with my mouth in those long meetings, that my district had been overlooked for a long, long, long time.”
Scales credited Woodfin, meanwhile, with her decision to run for commissioner, though that decision was a result of a disagreement between them. Scales endorsed Woodfin during his mayoral run last year, but their relationship became strained soon after he took office that November.
“I want to thank you because, in December, my husband and I were listening to a conversation that you and I had,” she told Woodfin. “And it wasn’t the best of conversations … I want to thank you, Randall, though we couldn’t see eye to eye … it actually forced me to want more.”
Tyson: “Please Serve the People. That’s It.”
Tyson, who spoke second, set herself immediately apart from Scales. “Y’all know I don’t talk a lot,” she said. “I’m not going to come up here and read quotes from the Bible … All of y’all should read the Bible on your own.”
While Scales’ comments largely focused on her relationships with her colleagues and her role as a vocal advocate for her constituents, Tyson focused largely on urging the remaining councilors to be responsible.
“I want y’all to be serious about this, about how you treat these people,” she said.
Politics, she said, would not help the people of District 6. “You’ve got to serve these people,” she said. “All these games, we can’t do that. … I stay (in District 6) because that’s where I want to stay, to remind me that I want to be working. If I move out from over there, I’m going to forget who I’m serving … We’re supposed to serve them to the end, and if you don’t want to do that, you don’t need to be up there.”
Tyson said that she was writing a book about her tenure as councilor that “is going to tell it all,” and urged Woodfin to “stay encouraged … You’re not going to please all the citizens.”
Tyson ended her remarks by urging her colleagues to “Please serve the people. That’s it.”
But before she left the podium, she turned once again to Woodfin, telling him that there was a 90-year-old woman in her district who needed her house fixed before winter. “I want y’all to take care of her,” she said.
Scales and Tyson will be sworn into their new offices on Nov. 14. The council is accepting applications to fill their vacated seats, which can be found at the city’s website. The deadline to apply for both seats is Friday, Nov. 16 at 5 p.m.