Three new members of the Birmingham City Council took their seats for the first time Tuesday morning, a transition that some councilors suggested would usher in a new era of unity in city government.
J.T. Moore, Carol Clarke and LaTonya Tate were sworn in as the councilors for Districts 4, 8 and 9, respectively, replacing William Parker, Steven Hoyt and John Hilliard. The three newcomers didn’t say much during their first meeting at the dais, mostly issuing brief statements of gratitude and humility.
The council promptly turned to the business of selecting a new president and president pro tempore, a process that has been contentious in the past. Not so this time — District 7 Councilor Wardine Alexander and District 6 Councilor Crystal Smitherman were unanimously elected as president and president pro tempore, respectively, with no discussion and no additional nominations.
District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn said the ease of that vote “sets an important precedent for us moving forward,” adding that he is “extremely optimistic that this group is going to be able to work together.”
District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott was even more effusive, calling the new council lineup “a breath of fresh air.”
“I think this is going to be the best council I’ve served with,” she said. “No offense to my former colleagues … . This one is going to be the best and I’ll tell you why: We don’t have any bullies. We don’t have anybody that wants to fight with other people. I can feel that we’re not the kind of people who go around trashing other people, being unkind, trying to do things to other people’s districts.”
Abbott, who is entering her sixth term on the council, implied that it would be her last. “I’m happy to go out on a high note,” she said. “I almost didn’t run, but now, gosh, I would’ve missed the best!”
Smitherman, the youngest member of the council, highlighted the overall youth of Birmingham city government, remarking that four members of the council as well as Mayor Randall Woodfin are under 40 years old. “I don’t know a council anywhere in the whole country that has a young council like this, and that just shows you the type of tone and the type of movement that will come,” she said. “I believe this council will be progressive.”
The council also will be majority female for the first time since 2013. Five of the nine seats are held by women, including two of the new councilors.
New President Alexander Promises Earlier Information
Alexander, meanwhile, outlined some steps she’d take to differentiate herself from previous Council President Parker. Particularly, she said she would prioritize committee of the whole meetings and step back from last-minute addendums to meeting agendas.
“Mayor Woodfin, we’re going to start having those committee of the whole meetings again, so we’re looking forward to presentations by your team — and the information ahead of time,” Alexander said. “And I’ve made a commitment to my council. I know that addendums are needed — they’re often required — but we will ensure that when they have to come forward, we’ll give that information to you ahead of time.”
Abbott, for one, seemed satisfied by Alexander’s promises. “Yes, we’re ready to rock and roll now,” she said as the meeting adjourned.
During the meeting, Woodfin also announced several shifts in his executive leadership team. Kevin Moore, currently chief of operations, will take over for outgoing Chief Financial Officer Lester Smith, while Deputy Chief of Operations Chaz Mitchell will assume Moore’s former role.
City attorney Melissa Smiley, meanwhile, has been appointed as the city’s first chief accountability officer, a role that will provide “active monitoring (of the administration), evaluation and assessment of policies and processes, as well as contracts with service providers to the city,” according to a press release.