City Hall — Mayor Sues Council

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Mayor Sues Council

The City Council wants pay raise for police and firefighters, Kincaid says no way.

 

December 14, 2006
On December 5, the Birmingham City Council voted to spend $25,000 to hire an attorney to fight a lawsuit brought against it by Mayor Bernard Kincaid. The Mayor is suing the council after it voted eight to one on September 26 to authorize a pay raise for police and firefighters. The lawsuit was filed after Kincaid objected that the council had superseded its power when it submitted the pay increase proposal to the Jefferson County Personnel Board, which said the council had the authority to grant the raise. Kincaid had earlier refused to take the matter to the Personnel Board.The pay raise, five percent a year spread over three years, would not take effect until fiscal year 2008 (July 2007). Kincaid objects, saying that the city cannot afford the $6.5 million a year cost increase to the city. He warns that layoffs of employees would result, as well as parks closing, the shutting down of libraries, and other cutbacks in city services. The Mayor also stated that it is unfair not to give the same raise to all city employees. Kincaid vetoed the council’s action, but the council overrode Kincaid’s veto several days later on October 10. Speaking on December 6, Councilor Valerie Abbott, the only councilor to side with the Mayor, noted the irony that the two sides ended up in court anyway despite the council’s decision to let the Personnel Board decide who had authority to increase pay. “This is what the Mayor suggested that we do, go to court together—where we didn’t have to pay legal fees—and ask for a judgment,” Abbott sighed. “But we [the council] had to be a bull in a china shop and do it our way, and now we’re being sued. . . . I’ve heard a few people criticize Kincaid, saying, ‘Awww, he’s always wanting to study things.’ Well, what idiot makes a decision without studying them first? That’s something every intelligent human being should do. . . . Why would anyone vote to spend money that they can’t even identify when they don’t know if what they voted is going to cure the problem or not?”

The councilor echoed Kincaid’s concern about other city employees, particularly those in the Public Works Departments. Abbott said that according to Gordon Graham, the former personnel director for the city of Birmingham, more employees in Public Works have been killed or injured on the job than police and firefighters. Still, she realizes that public safety employees—police and firefighters—are underpaid. “I do believe that public safety employees need to be taken care of, and we probably are behind what all the other cities are paying. But until you take a formal look at it, you don’t know that. And that 20-year retirement thing that we have in the city of Birmingham, it sounds really great, and that’s one of the benefits we give our people. Are all of the other municipalities giving that same benefit? And if they’re not, maybe what the city of Birmingham should do is go back to a standard 30- or 25-year retirement, and [then] pay officers and firemen more money.” Abbott added that Birmingham police should be paid more than officers in Mountain Brook, “where the chances of someone shooting at you are pretty slim. How much excitement or interest can there be in writing traffic citations?” She continued: “I’ve had officers in Birmingham tell me that part of the reason that they want to be policemen in Birmingham is that it’s an interesting job. It’s an opportunity to get interesting experience under your belt rather than just driving around the streets of the city all day hoping you see something. I do believe that our police and fire personnel need a raise. [But] I want to study the issues and be sure that we have the income to cover a raise before I vote to do it.”

Both city attorney Tamara Johnson and the council’s legal advisor, J. Richmond Pearson, have said they believe a judge should render a decision on who has the authority to give the raise, not the Personnel Board. Kincaid will be represented by attorney and former mayoral candidate Emory Anthony. The council has hired attorney Laveeda Morgan Battle, who has a decade of experience working with the Personnel Board, according to Council President Carole Smitherman. Councilor Abbott was not particularly pleased with the attorney hired, but she voted with the majority anyway. Noting that one councilor had a close relative with ties to the firm hired, Abbott said, “Although it was someone from Waldrep, Stewart & Kendrick, I figure one attorney is probably about as good as another attorney if you’ve gotta have one.” Abbott, who said that Pearson simply offers legal advice, added that the staff attorney’s “little salary doesn’t pay for him to go to court for us.” &

 

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