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Birmingham City Council split on replacement for Jay Roberson

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By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times

A divided Birmingham City Council on Tuesday delayed for one week a replacement for the vacant District 7 council seat after it couldn’t decide between two candidates to replace Jay Roberson, who stepped down Sept. 10.

The council split 4-4 on whether to select Lonnie Malone or Wardine Alexander to fill the vacancy.

Council President Valerie Abbott and councilors Hunter Williams, Darrell O’Quinn and William Parker voted for Alexander. Councilors Lashunda Scales, Steven Hoyt, Sheila Tyson and John Hilliard voted for Malone.

Alexander is former Birmingham Board of Education president. She lost her bid for re-election last year. Malone was a candidate for the seat last year, but lost to Roberson.

The council will try again next week to decide between Malone and Alexander and also vote for a president pro-tem.

The council also split along the same lines in 4-4 vote on whether to award $200,000 over the next five years to the Firehouse Shelter in downtown Birmingham.

Firehouse Shelter is located downtown on 3rd Avenue North and hosts about 50-70 men per night at the shelter, and they also have housing programs to help people find homes. They are able to serve lunch and dinner to all men, women, and children who need it. The shelter feeds approximately 5,000 people a year.

Anne Rygiel, executive director of Firehouse Shelter, said she wanted to form a partnership with the city.

“It’s less about the money and more about the intent,” she said after the city council meeting. “When you look at other communities . . . we see a private/public partnership it’s successful.”

The people in need of assistance live in the districts served by the councilors, Rygiel said.

Some of the councilors talked about disparities in how some of the people were treated in the shelters.

“I had the most interesting call over the weekend, the person asked to remain anonymous, but said they were encouraged to contact council members,” Councilor Lashunda Scales said. “But they said, ‘I couldn’t lie, they do treat the black residents differently than they treat the whites.’”

Councilor Sheila Tyson said she received similar calls.

“I’ve gotten over 215 calls,” Tyson said.

Rygiel said the shelter serves everyone and its numbers show their goal, mission and success rates are to pull chronically homeless out of their current state and back into the community.

“Our goal is to always be equal which our numbers clearly show,” she said. “That’s why we [have] the statistics and data to back it up. I think any time you have hundreds of people shoved in a tiny little building with each person in crisis mode and each person having a specific set of needs, things are going to happen.”

Rygiel appealed for citizens to assist with fundraising efforts. So far the shelter has raised $4 million for new space, and she said they will continue to go into the community.

To donate go to www.firehouseshelter.com.