December 07, 2000November 21, 2000
Mayor Kincaid announces that the 15-member task force formed by his office to study neighborhood problems caused by expansion of the Birmingham International Airport will inspect the affected neighborhood on November 27. The Mayor says that the bus will leave City Hall at 1:30 p.m. if any councilors are interested in joining the group. Council President Bell says that some councilors are “in a bind,” as Kincaid had previously called for a finance committee meeting that very same afternoon. The Mayor suggests moving the finance meeting to a different time, and Bell says he’ll try to comply.
The government class from Shades Valley High School is in attendance at this morning’s meeting. Councilor Little notes that she will be interviewed by the class after the council meeting, and is prepared to take on tough questions.
A group of disgruntled citizens led by Mamie Jordan and collectively known as the Committee for Accountability in City Government protests petitions calling for voters to have a say in who controls the Water Works assets. Jordan says that those signing the petitions “are not recognized as people.” Concerned that “the city is at a standstill, bogged down in bickering, and drifting like a ship without a rudder, or leader,” Jordon condemns “the Mayor’s efforts to hold the assets of the water system hostage at City Hall!” She decries Kincaid’s spending of taxpayer money on attorney fees to stop the assets transfer back to the Water Works Board, which she says is their rightful home. She also demands to know why the Mayor is “spending taxpayer money to look for electronic bugs in his office and to build security fences!”
Today’s featured disagreement between the Mayor and the City Council involves HealthSouth’s donation of used computers to Birmingham schools. A quarrel develops over whether the computer program is an action on behalf of the city or council. The resolution appropriates $200,000 from City Council consulting funds to HealthSouth to begin the program. Council President Bell says no appropriation is needed, and explains that he merely needs to authorize the contract with his signature instead. Mayor Kincaid asks the city’s law department to issue an opinion. City attorneys say they have not seen the contract, so no opinion can be rendered as to whether this is city or council business. Councilor Blake hopes that “this issue won’t get down to one of these spitting contests about who signs the document.” Blake says that the Council must approve the signing of the contract and expenditure of the consulting fees, and that he doesn’t care who signs the contract. Councilor Little sums up the quarrel as a “power grab.”
Mayor Kincaid interjects that “this is not a City Council initiative; it’s a city of Birmingham initiative.” The Mayor explains that the funds for the project were not approved in the budget, and requests that the finance department examine the issue, urging a one week delay. Councilor Blake grows combative, accusing the Mayor of trying to take “total control of the dollars in this city, and that’s inappropriate!” Blake argues that the Council “can put that money in whatever basket it wants and can subsequently allocate it.” The councilor says that right or wrong, the Council put this appropriation in a category called “consulting fees,” and now has the right to spend it, regardless of who signs off on it. Mayor Kincaid wants to know who the consultant is. Blake replies that he doesn’t know “how that [word 'consultant'] would be termed.” Council President Bell maintains that the Council has the right to move funds from category to category in a department, which is what he believes happened in this instance. Bell offers to pull the resolution off the agenda. Councilor Blake asks him why, since he’s got a majority of the Council on his side. Mayor Kincaid jumps back into the discussion, reiterating that computers for schools is a city project. Councilor Blake quickly disagrees, accusing the Mayor of “trying to usurp the power of Council, and it’s inappropriate.” Blake explains that everything the Council does is on behalf of the city, and that the Council has the right to authorize whomever they desire to sign for the city of Birmingham. Blake calls the Mayor’s argument a “digression from any of these notions that the Mayor and Council want to work together.” Blake continues, “I believe the Council has the authority to allow Mickey Mouse to authorize a contract. The power of expenditure comes from this body [City Council].” Blake notes that department heads, as well as external boards and agencies, are authorized to enter into contracts.
Speaking on behalf of his district, Councilor Aldrich Gunn praises the computer program. Gunn takes issue with past references that the Council will be voted out of office in the October 2001 council elections. Gunn promises that he’ll be back in office next October, but others might be gone. “When we’re gonna be rational on this Council, and you have a conviction, don’t worry about what’s down the road,” urges Gunn, alluding to the advantages computers offer to schools. “Be like that ant. If there’s a brick in the way, go over it, around it, or under it.” Councilor Gunn sides with Blake when he notes that the Council gives money to other organizations with Council President Bell’s signature. Councilor Loder suggests amending the resolution to read on behalf of the City Council. Blake remains exasperated, sighing, “We’re splitting hairs over this.” He hopes that the Council will “rise above the pettiness here,” as he agrees to Loder’s word change. Blake doesn’t want “this silliness to stop a program that everybody agrees is a good program.”
Councilor Bill Johnson offers a resolution welcoming a Big Lots department store to his East Lake district. It passes unanimously.
November 28, 2000
Lawson State hosts tonight’s monthly traveling City Council meeting. Reverend Abraham Woods, representing the Birmingham chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, is present to express concern regarding the recent shooting of Larry Reddick in Woodlawn by a Birmingham police officer. Woods acknowledges reports that Reddick had been drinking and struck the officer, reportedly with the officer’s own baton. But Woods disputes that the man should have been killed because of his actions, saying, “That was not a justifiable reason for Larry to be gunned down.” The reverend notes the records show that Reddick was shot four times from the front and once from the back, disputing Birmingham Police Chief Mike Coppage’s argument that the route of the bullet that supposedly entered from the rear indicates that it was unlikely to have been fired from behind the victim. Woods explains that the coroner is “a professional in this kind of situation,” and, according to Woods, the coroner reported that the shot fired at Reddick’s back was the deadly shot. Reverend Woods reminds all present that he had backed Coppage during an inquiry by the previous administration when police actions were under fire. But he says that Coppage is “trying to whitewash the situation by taking issue with the coroner. We need a chief who is going to be responsible!” Woods promises that if necessary, Reverend Al Sharpton will be brought in to protest the police department. Noting that he [Woods] is upset with some “of our black officers” over previous police shootings, Woods warns that “trigger-happy policemen, be they black, green, red, white, or polka dot, have no place on this police force!” Woods urges the formation of a civilian police review board. Council President Bell interrupts Woods to tell him that “councilors are asking me if you would summarize your remarks.” Woods wraps up two minutes later.Councilor Blake expresses appreciation to Reverend Woods for his presence this evening. Blake agrees with Woods that points have been raised that “this council and our city should be willing to look at.” Blake expresses support for Coppage, and acknowledges the dangers police officers constantly face. The councilor says that the officer in question was reportedly seriously injured during the incident, and must have been concerned for his life. “Under those circumstances, a police officer does have a right and responsibility to defend himself.” Blake urges that two officers should always be in a police car in high crime areas, which he says is not the situation at present. Blake also pledges support for a civilian review board, as long as the board consists of individuals with “no political agenda.”
Chief Coppage speaks next, and explains that he promised the parents of Reddick that there “would be a fair and impartial investigation.” Coppage stresses that the investigation will proceed in a timely manner, but will not be rushed.
Council President Bell takes issue with Coppage over some of the chief’s recent public comments, accusing Coppage of trying to “shade the facts” about the coroner’s report. Bell says that the police chief’s comments do “not help the atmosphere with what the public believes, and what they perceive.” He urges Coppage to “guard” his future remarks.
Councilor Loder says that a primary question of the incident focuses on why the officer stopped Reddick. Loder is curious about why a confrontation was necessary, and asks Chief Coppage why there are no reports detailing what Reddick did. Coppage replies that the information is not being released in case there are witnesses that still want to come forward. He says that the report will be released once the investigation is complete. Loder then wants to know who is responsible for investigating the police department. Coppage responds that there is a “dual investigation”: one conducted by internal affairs, and the other is a criminal investigation by the department’s homicide unit. The homicide investigation-a criminal investigation-involves a representative from the district attorney’s office.
Councilor Little reads from the Mayor-Council Act, citing the allowance for the Council or Mayor’s office to conduct an investigation. Little refers to the
“investigation team” organized to look into a controversial Center Point land deal a couple of years ago as an example of City Hall’s organizing an investigative committee. [That controversial "investigation team" refused to meet in public, and reportedly was negligible in contacting committee members about participation. No wrong was uncovered by that team.] Little points out that tonight’s Council meeting is being held “right across the street from where a young man’s body was found on Thanksgiving morning.” She goes on, “His body was riddled with bullets!” She then urges the city to take prompt action, which would alleviate the need for “people from outside, and other states, to come in.”
Mayor Kincaid notes that it has been difficult for his office to be silent, but the reason for withholding comment is that all the facts in the case are not in. The Mayor explains that forensic evidence is still being studied, but that the dual investigation of the police department is proceeding as scheduled.
The power to draw redistricting boundaries [council districts are redrawn after the census is conducted each decade, as required by city law] is transferred from the Mayor’s office to the Council by a near-unanimous vote of the Council. The redistricting still must be approved by the Mayor, with a six-vote council majority necessary to override a mayoral veto. Public hearings will be forthcoming. Councilor Blake urges the Council to determine if redistricting can be undertaken by the city without hiring “an outside consultant.” Blake elaborates: “I don’t see any reason why we have to make rocket science out of something that’s not rocket science and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do that.” Bell concurs with Blake that any hiring of outside consultants should be approved by the Council. &