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Birmingham City Council Unanimously Opposes Legislature’s Water Works Bill

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By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday publicly showed its disapproval of a pending bill in the Alabama Legislature, which one councilor said “dilutes” the council’s ability to represent water customers in the city.

The panel passed a resolution, 8-0, with Councilor Hunter Williams absent, opposing House Bill 177, introduced last month by State Rep. Jim Carns, R-Vestavia Hills, that would restructure Birmingham Water Works Board and reduce the Council’s appointing power.

The Council’s resolution “requests the Alabama House of Representatives and Alabama Senate vote against the legislation because of its adverse impact to local governance.”

Councilor Clinton Woods, sponsor of Tuesday’s resolution, said it was time the council spoke as one against the “[House Bill] which directly takes away two appointments from the council. It also reduces the overall number of appointments made by the city of Birmingham as a whole. That basically dilutes our ability to represent our ratepayers, who are the largest block of ratepayers [for the utility],” he said.

Council President Pro Tem Crystal Smitherman said councilors should be careful how they approach the Water Works bill because “being arrogant and bolstering about it, you honestly could shoot yourself in the foot,” adding that the bill is “unfair,” Smitherman said.

“We’re [councilors] against this, and I think it’s totally unfair, the way they [some legislators] bully Birmingham because that’s all that they are doing … so I think it is time for us to take a stand…” Smitherman said.

For the legislature to try to take away authority from City Council in appointing members to the BWWB is “almost an insult,” Smitherman said.

Councilor Darrell O’Quinn said the relationship between Birmingham and state government has been “tenuous” and that councilors “have been careful” to not make the Water Works situation worse. However, “I think the time has come for us to take a position, officially, and put it in writing,” he said.

Councilor Carol Clarke said the bill is “injurious on so many levels…I feel like we’ve already been crippled … by the legislature as a City Council, and then to take our appointments away and insult us and say we’re not capable of picking competent people, I think is just going a little far,” Clarke said.

Council President Wardine Alexander thanked members of the City Council for their “patience and diligence” since the Water Works bill was introduced and said the bill “directly diminishes the power” of the council.

“We want to continue with our appointing power as it is currently,” Alexander said.