By a slim 5-4 vote, the newly inaugurated Birmingham City Council on Tuesday elected Valerie Abbott, the longest-serving current member, as council president. Moments later, by the same vote, the council selected Jay Roberson to serve as president pro tem.
“I was a little shocked,” Abbott said after the meeting as she shuffled some items around in her office. “I think the first thing I want to do is try and pull the council together — get everyone on the same page. I really want to have a strategic plan so that we can sit down and discuss what each of us is thinking. With so many new faces I think it’s time for us to work together and try and improve the reputation — all that fighting and squabbling gave us a bad reputation, I think.”
Abbott was elected with votes from newcomers Darrell O’Quinn and Hunter Williams as well as returning councilors Roberson and William Parker.
Councilor Sheila Tyson was the first to nominate Councilor Steven Hoyt for president; Roberson then nominated Abbott. They were the only two nominations for the presidential post. Tyson, Hoyt, Lashunda Scales and newcomer John Hilliard were in the minority.
Abbott and Roberson will serve as president and pro tem until 2019 when new elections will be held for council leadership.
New Committee Assignments
Tuesday also saw the reshuffling of committee assignments for the new council, including several committees that were split in two – the Budget and Finance Committee will now meet separately from the Economic Development Committee; the Public Safety Committee will no longer be held in conjunction with the Transportation Committee.
The assignments, appointed by Abbott, are as follows.
Budget and Finance: Abbott
Public Relations: Scales
Economic Development: Hilliard
Parks and Recreation: Parker
Planning and Zoning: Hoyt
Public Improvements: Tyson
Public Safety: Williams
Utilities and Technology: Roberson
After the meeting Roberson spoke about the importance of having a transparent and unified council that will work with Mayor-elect Randall Woodfin’s administration.
“It’s a new day,” Roberson said, while thanking his colleagues for supporting him in the role of president pro tem, a position he has held previously held. “We’ve got to continue the momentum we have in the city and I truly believe this council will be a body that will work together for the greater good.”
Roberson praised the work done by Abbott with the committee assignments, saying “she wanted to make sure people were able to do what they are good at” and placing councilors in a position for them to have the greatest impact. On working with a new mayor, Roberson said, “I’m here to work with the mayor whoever that is, to make sure we can move the city forward.”
Abbott, elected to the council in 2001, said that she has known Woodfin since they ran jointly in District 3, her for council and him for the Birmingham Board of Education.
“I think everything is going to be fine. We’re all going to have to help each other,” Abbott said. “You have people that have been around for a long time and you have people who are brand new…Somehow I never thought this day would come but I am pleasantly surprised.”
FY 2018 Budget
In another matter, as the first official meeting for the 2017 Birmingham City Council got underway, the discussion turned to the status of the FY 2018 budget, which was supposed to be adopted July 1.
All three incoming councilors agreed they would like to have more time to look over the spending plan, and, after a brief discussion, a motion passed to refer the budget back to the Committee of the Whole meeting that will be held on November 29.
“I would definitely appreciate the opportunity to further review the budget and I would be agreeable to delaying it until the next Committee of the Whole meeting,” O’Quinn said, echoing the sentiment shared by the majority of the council that voted to refer it to committee until after the new mayoral administration takes office on Nov. 28.
Cody Owens is a member of the Birmingham City Council’s Public Information Office