Birmingham Voters Head to Polls Oct. 8 to Pick 3 Council Members, Decide on School Taxes

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Matt Lett, WBHM

By Sam Prickett

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Birmingham is one month away from a citywide election that will not only determine the future of funding for city schools but also whether up to one-third of City Council seats change hands.

The election, which will be held Oct. 8, will determine whether to renew three ad valorem property taxes that benefit Birmingham City Schools.

The taxes in question generate roughly $27 million in yearly revenue for the school system, accounting for roughly 12% of its total budget, based on its $234 million FY 2019 budget. That revenue goes into the BCS general fund, 76% of which is spent on personnel salaries and benefits; the remaining 24% goes toward operational costs, capital outlay and transfers to other funds.

The taxes were last renewed by voters in August 1991 and are slated to expire Sept. 30, 2021. Next month’s vote would renew the taxes through 2046.

The vote follows a decision made by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin earlier this year to cut funding for BCS in the city’s budget from $3.2 million to $1 million. Woodfin said he was unhappy with the city writing a “blank check” to the school board and, instead, allocated $2 million of that money into his administration’s Birmingham Promise educational initiative, saying he preferred to allocate money “directly into our students instead of the system.”

Although some school board members protested that change, it received the support of BSC Superintendent Lisa Herring, who told BirminghamWatch that the cut “doesn’t put the district in a state of distress.”

Woodfin, meanwhile, has called on Birmingham residents to vote in favor of the renewal, “to make sure that (schools) don’t lose the money that has been in the school system’s coffers for the past 30 years.”

Three Council Seats

Although the election was called specifically to renew those ad valorem taxes, it will also allow voters in three Birmingham districts to choose their representatives on the City Council, thanks to a provision in Alabama law.

The Mayor-Council Act, which establishes and defines Birmingham’s municipal government, says that appointees to vacated council seats shall remain in office until “the next election of any kind in which voters of the city to which this Act applies are qualified electors.”

That means that three council seats — one-third of the total council — will be up for grabs on Oct. 8, after a tumultuous 2018 in which District 1 Councilor Lashunda Scales, District 6 Councilor Sheila Tyson and District 7 Councilor Jay Roberson all resigned from their seats roughly a year after voters had re-elected them. Scales and Tyson left office in November after they were elected to the Jefferson County Commission, while Roberson suddenly resigned in August, citing his wife’s new job at Alabaster City Schools.

After a protracted interview process, the remaining city councilors voted to appoint Clinton Woods, Crystal Smitherman and Wardine Alexander to fill Scales’, Tyson’s and Roberson’s seats, respectively. Alexander took office last October, while Woods and Smitherman were inaugurated in January.

Candidates for the Council

Woods will face opposition from Sherman Collins Jr. and Haki Jamaal Muhammad.

Collins is a former vice president of the Birmingham Board of Education who was defeated by Scales for the District 1 council seat in the 2017 election. No information was immediately available about Muhammad.

Smitherman’s race is the most crowded of the three. She faces opposition from community organizer Onoyemi Williams, Graymont neighborhood President Willine Body, activist and North Titusville Neighborhood Vice President Keith O. Williams, activist and former Tyson assistant Carlos Chaverst, Birmingham Black Economic Alliance co-founder Clarence Muhammad and LaTanya Millhouse, who unsuccessfully ran against Tyson for the seat in 2013.

Alexander, meanwhile, is challenged by Lonnie Malone, a political strategist and radio personality, and Ray Brooks, a former Birmingham fire chief. Malone applied to replace Roberson last year, but he narrowly lost the seat to Alexander after Councilor Steven Hoyt broke the council’s 4-4 stalemate. Brooks, who currently sits on the Birmingham Housing Authority board, previously ran for mayor in 2007 and unsuccessfully applied to fill a council vacancy after District 7 Councilor Miriam Witherspoon died in 2009; he lost that appointment to Roberson.

You can register to vote at the Alabama Secretary of State’s website. The registration deadline to be able to participate in the Oct. 8 election is Sept. 24. For more information, including a list of polling places, visit the Jefferson County Board of Registrar’s website. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is Oct. 3; more information is available on the city’s website.

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