‘Gentlemen!’ Gas Station Safety Debate Turns Heated, Ends With Rebuke

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by Sam Prickett

Tempers flared on the Birmingham City Council during Tuesday’s meeting over a proposal to revoke the business license of a gas station where several people have been killed.

Item 53 on the council’s agenda would have revoked the business license of the Shell station on the 800 block of Third Avenue W. The station has been the site of three shooting deaths: Jeffrey Cade on Jan. 30, 2015; Timothy Cooks on July 3, 2016; and Antonio Jerrell Taylor on June 10 of this year.

District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt, whose district includes the Shell station in question, unilaterally placed the item on the meeting’s agenda despite the recommendation of the council’s public safety committee, which is headed by District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams, to keep the issue of the gas station.

The committee voted during its July 17 meeting to keep the station open after an attorney for the business owner, Mohamed Nasher, presented a safety plan that included extra “no loitering signs,” additional security from off-duty police officers, and an increase in cameras and lighting at the gas station. The station will remain under committee review for a year.

“If we shut every business down in violent neighborhoods, we will have blight and vacant lots,” Williams said after Tuesday’s meeting. “We can’t ask the business owner to do more than hiring off-duty police.” Williams maintained that the matter had been handled “according to procedure.”

Just two weeks ago, during a discussion over incentives for grocery delivery company Shipt to expand, Hoyt chastised his fellow councilors for attempting to “avoid and circumvent committee processes.”

Before the council considered the item, Hoyt crossed the daïs and began a heated discussion with Williams, drawing a sharp “Gentlemen!” from Council President Valerie Abbott.

During the council’s discussion of the issue, Hoyt expressed his dismay that the proposed revocation of the business’s license had been kept in committee.

“I’ve been on this council a long time, and never have we suggested that we keep something in committee for a year,” he said, at times addressing Williams directly. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard in my life. You don’t have the authority to keep something in committee for a year … If you do that, then I’m going to suggest it’s capricious. It’s ill will. We need to have that discussion here. The council makes the final decision, not the committee … You all are saying it’s OK for folks to get killed.”

Hoyt promised that he would continue placing the item on the agenda each week “until we have a public hearing about this Shell station.”

“He can send it to committee, he can send it to the White House, but next Tuesday it’s going to be back on this agenda,” he said, slamming his hand down on the table and looking pointedly at Williams. “I’m not going to sit there and allow you to minimize my community. You don’t live there.”

Williams replied that the public safety committee had a public hearing on the issue, “and not all councilors were present at the public hearing.” Williams confirmed after the meeting that he had been referring to Hoyt, who was not present at the hearing.

Abbott warned Hoyt that he should not directly address other councilors on the daïs, saying that she recognized that the issue was personal for him. Appearing to agree, Hoyt left the daïs to “cool down.” He did not return to the meeting. The council then approved Williams’ motion to refer the item back to the public safety committee.

 

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