No City Council meeting.
December 12, 2000
Accompanied by a sheep named “Timmy,” Patty Pendleton of the Birmingham Zoo makes her annual visit to the council chambers to promote Zoolight Safari, the yearly Christmas extravaganza staged nightly at the zoo, featuring “half a million lights,” according to Pendleton. Before she is through with her presentation, the number of Yuletide lights will grow to a “million.”
Mayor Kincaid announces an increase over last year in the number of riders taking advantage of the city’s expanded holiday bus service. According to Kincaid, the first week saw a 16 percent increase from 1999, the second week a 74 percent increase, and the third week a 43 percent increase in ridership. He thanks the Council for approving appropriation for the extended night and weekend service.
Calling the morning invocation “fascinating,” Councilor Jimmy Blake questions “whether it’s appropriate for us to have an invocation that invokes the Lord’s actions on behalf of one political agenda or another political agenda.” Blake tells Council President Bell that if this trend, which he notes is a frequent feature of weekly meeting invocations, continues, “we will need to start having equal time in invocations,” an idea that Blake frowns upon, as he encourages nonpartisan prayers. Councilor Aldrich Gunn replies that no one should determine “how one talks to his God, whether it’s spoken in the closet or uttered through the tongue.” Gunn further suggests that critics of council meeting prayers are employing selective listening techniques. Gunn finishes his response to Blake by noting, “If you know the prayers that some of us have had to pray, you would never understand it.”
The Council’s approval of an off-premise beer and wine license at Dee’s World in Pratt City commands a great portion of the morning half of today’s Council session. Sylvester Benson and his sister Donna, the store’s owners, are present with a petition containing “over a hundred names of people that are for the convenience store having off-premises beer and wine,” according to Sylvester Benson. He notes that he and his sister recently presented their proposal at a Pratt City community meeting, where they lost by a vote of 12 to 7. Moments after the vote, eight supporters of the convenience store beer and wine license walked into the meeting, but the Pratt City community president “refused to grant a second recount,” says Benson, staring into the eyes of councilors as he utters the word “recount.” Benson also has his mom in tow, and she offers up a handsome endorsement of her kids to the Council. Councilor Leroy Bandy, who immediately notes that the store is in his neighborhood, does not want the license granted. Bandy’s list of problems over the past several years within the store’s vicinity includes “gang members on the corner, drive-by shootings, shooting into people’s homes.” The councilor notes that when the store previously closed, questionable activity in the neighborhood settled down. “Sure, they [Pratt City residents] welcome a store. They welcome milk and bread. Honey. But why does everybody wanna sell beer and wine?” Bandy wonders, noting that he has lived in the area for 53 years. An angry Sylvester Benson responds, “I’ve been living in Pratt City all my life, also. And I know from standing here, you can’t say beer and wine caused the shootings in that area.” His sister Donna and his mom nod their heads vigorously in agreement. “It was the drugs and narcotics in that area which caused all the problems over there,” says Sylvester Benson. He further testifies that the neighborhood community president that denied his “second recount” had her house fired upon because her “son-in-law was a big-time drug dealer in that area!” Several councilors shout “Point of order” to hush Benson. Councilor Bandy becomes even angrier, asking in a scolding tone. “What are you gonna put wine and beer on top of drugs for? This is what I’m saying, young man.” Bandy begins to move his hands in a churning motion, his eyes growing wider as he surmises, “When you mix all that stuff up together. . . . Boom! There it is!” Benson replies that other businesses in the immediate area sell beer and wine without incident. The Bensons’ mom suddenly intervenes. “My son is a corrections officer. We do not condone drugs!” she proudly notes. The Council votes to postpone making a decision on the license for eight weeks, urging the Bensons to patch things up with the neighborhood and its maligned president.
The Council votes down the approval of an additional $1 million to the city’s Law Department to cover outside attorney fees. The $1.2 million the Council approved in the budget for fiscal year 2000-2001 was less than half of what had been allocated to the Law Department in past budgets, according to City Attorney Tamara Johnson. Councilor Little requests that invoices for outside attorney fees be submitted to the Council in order for the money to be allocated. Councilor Blake proposes that “the hiring of outside attorneys should be the exception, not the rule.” Blake requests the “specific purpose” of any necessary outside legal aid be clarified by Mayor Kincaid and City Attorney Johnson. Councilor Blake also asks that a cost estimation over a limited, specified period of time be included in such explanations. If more money is needed, then the Council could be petitioned for additional funds on a specific basis, according to Blake. Mayor Kincaid jumps in to remind Blake that $1 million was removed from his 2000-2001 budget proposal. The Mayor suggests that if other cities’ legal fees are studied, Birmingham would fare well comparatively. He stresses that it is “absolutely essential that we go outside [use non-city attorneys] to avoid conflicts, and to garner expertise as needed.”
Blake responds that he doesn’t object to paying any of the legal fees presently due, but he repeats that he is not going to vote to pay any more outside attorneys until their roles and budgets are clarified. “We’re gonna have to plug the holes, whether they’re holes that existed prior to this administration or since this administration. The Council has to grab the responsibility for knowing and scheduling the expenses of this city,” warns Blake. “There’s not one issue that’s gotten more coverage, that relates to the sort of sleazy dealing [Blake indicates quotation marks with his fingers] of the city of Birmingham, that is greater than the issue of outside attorney fees. And it is time for us to take a responsible position on that,” concludes the councilor. Councilor Gunn proposes allocating a half million dollars for the attorney fees, as $438,000 is the amount currently due. Mayor Kincaid expresses his appreciation to Gunn for offering compromise [for trying to play Solomon here], but notes that legally it’s the mayor’s call to request the payment of outside legal fees. City attorney Tamara Johnson emphasizes that the Mayor-Council Act “specifically points out that the Mayor supervises and controls the financial affairs of the Council.” In response to Councilor Little’s request for making invoices available to the Council, she says that some invoices are not allowed to be shared with the Council, such as those for cases that involve attorneys representing the Mayor in his official capacity. Councilor Blake reminds Johnson that the Council passed an ordinance that limits the Mayor to an expenditure ceiling of $10,000 without Council approval. “No more blank checks!” Blake reiterates angrily.
Council President Pro Tem Gunn closes the session by noting, “It has been a long day.” Gunn thanks each councilor for participation in the “longest Council meeting since I’ve ever been on this Council [5 hours, 45 minutes].” &