More than 100 people gathered in city council chambers Thursday night hoping to understand the latest grievance between the mayor and city council and encourage civility.
Tensions between Birmingham Mayor William Bell and the city council have been high for months. In December, there was a scuffle between Councilman Marcus Lundy and Mayor Bell that sent both men to the hospital. Recently the city’s disagreement reached the state level. A bill was introduced into the Alabama Legislature this week that would change parts of the Mayor-Council Act – shifting the balance of power in the city.
The proposed changes to the Mayor-Council Act would allow the mayor to select three members of the Birmingham Water Works Board. Currently the city council selects all six members. Changes could also give the mayor control of the city’s budget and require that the city council elect a new president every year.
“If this would go into effect, it would take the checks and balances out of city government,” City Council President Johnathan Austin explained to the packed hall.
Then Austin opened the floor to citizens. Over two dozen waited in line to speak.
Scott Douglas, head of Greater Birmingham Ministries, questioned what state legislators in Montgomery have to do with Birmingham’s city governance.
Maybe the residents of the city city should vote on these changes, Douglas said. “You want to change how we govern ourselves; give us the vote.”
Mayor Bell denied that talking to legislators about changing the Mayor-Council Act was a power play. Bell said he simply wants to solidify his role as mayor.
“All I am asking for is for someone to bring clarity to the operation of city government,” Bell explained.
The meeting lasted almost three hours.
When it was over, Birmingham resident Alexis Stutson took the elevator downstairs with her neighbor.
“I came tonight to hear about the actual bill,” Stutson said.
Stutson said she felt like none of her questions had been answered. Stutson had voted for the mayor, but she was disappointed with Birmingham’s government — the mayor and city council.
“I am really hurt,” Stetson explains. “You know how when you are a kid, your parents say, ‘Until you get along, you can’t do this.’ That’s what they are going to have to do,” Stetson said, walking to her car. “‘Cause if not, we are not going to move forward.”
Stutson and many others at the meeting said what they wanted to see was better leadership in Birmingham and an end to bickering.