Updated – The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to delay $5.5 million in funding measures that Mayor Randall Woodfin said would address “critical needs” in a handful of city departments.
That $5.5 million would come from projected increases in use tax and occupational tax revenue, said Director of Finance Chaz Mitchell, who assured councilors that those projections were “very conservative.”
Woodfin’s proposed allocations would go toward police vehicles, $1.576 million; fire truck repairs, $226,615; economic incentives to attract grocery stores to the city’s food deserts, $500,000; new garbage and brush trucks, $1.058 million; and a new bomb suit for the police department, $66,000.
Other major expenditures in the proposed ordinance included $1.38 million in upgrades to the city’s information management system and $75,500 to fund vibration studies for the Birmingham Museum of Art. Museum Director Graham Corray Boettcher told the council that many of the museum’s 27,000 artifacts “are ceramic and susceptible to vibration” that might result from construction on Interstate 20/59.
“We have to do this art museum vibration study to make sure (during) these 14 months (of construction) we protect our assets,” Woodfin said.
But several councilors, including District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams and District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt, said that the council had not been adequately informed of the proposed expenditures. Williams, the chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said he was “disappointed” that the item had not gone to his committee before being presented to the full council. “It should go before (the public safety) committee, but even if it does not, an email would be nice,” he said.
Hoyt, meanwhile, argued that the proposal should have been sent to the council’s Committee of the Whole, which includes all nine councilors. “We would be derelict if we didn’t have some conversation about how these monies were going to be spent,” he said. “It needs to be a collective act and not necessarily one just willed (by Woodfin’s) administration.”
“When we have items like this, they need to be sent to the Committee of the Whole so we can have full discussion around what we think is best for the city in conjunction with the mayor,” Hoyt said.
Woodfin and Mitchell presented the item to the the council’s Budget and Finance Committee during its Jan. 14 meeting, at which a majority of the council — including committee members Valerie Abbott, Darrell O’Quinn and Wardine Alexander, as well as non-members John Hilliard and Crystal Smitherman — were present. Abbott, O’Quinn and Alexander unanimously sent it on to the full council.
Each committee meeting, including the one on Jan. 14, simultaneously functions as a Committee of the Whole meeting, which legally allows all councilors to attend and participate in discussion even if they are not members of that committee — although non-members are not allowed to vote during committee meetings.
Tuesday’s discussion touched on a long-simmering tension between the council and the mayor’s office — the 2016 changes to the Mayor-Council Act, which transferred much of the council’s budgeting autonomy to the mayor’s office.
“I know that because they changed the Mayor-Council Act that you can pretty much do what you want to do,” Hoyt said to Woodfin. “I’m not saying this is politics, but I do believe (we should) have a spirit of cooperation.”
The proposals had been scheduled to go before the council’s Committee of the Whole on Wednesday, but that meeting was canceled.
Human Rights Commission
The council also approved Tuesday the appointment of nine inaugural members to the new Birmingham Human Rights Commission, the creation of which was originally approved in 2017 as part of a wider-reaching human rights ordinance. The Human Rights Commission will be responsible for developing public civil rights education programs, managing discrimination complaints and providing annual reports to the mayor and council on the number and types of complaints received.
Though it had originally been structured to have 11 members, the council voted in December to increase that number to 15, including nine council-appointed representatives, one from each city district; three representatives of human rights-focused nonprofits, appointed by the mayor; and three representatives of local businesses, also appointed by the mayor. By district, the nine council-appointed representatives are:
- Connie Jackson Gaiter, term ending Jan. 31, 2020
- Jason Clotfelter, term ending Jan. 31, 2020
- Scott Capps, term ending Jan. 31, 2020
- LaJune White, term ending Jan. 31, 2021
- Jennifer Sanders, term ending Jan. 31, 2021
- Gena White, term ending Jan. 31, 2021
- Georgia M. Blair, term ending Jan. 31, 2022
- Wayne Heard, term ending Jan. 31, 2022
- Angene Coleman, term ending Jan. 31, 2022
Woodfin has yet to announce his six appointees to the commission.
This story has been updated to reflect that the Committee of the Whole meeting at which the proposal was to have been presented Wednesday was not held.