City Hall — Once again, confusion reigns at City Hall

January 13, 2005

Once again, confusion reigns at City Hall. In a four-to-four vote on January 4, the Birmingham City Council failed to reappoint Fultondale Mayor Jim Lowery to the Birmingham Water Works Board. [Councilor Carol Reynolds, a 17-year employee of the Water Works, recused herself.] Lowery’s six-year term ended in November 2004. He was renominated by Councilor Bert Miller, with Councilors Joel Montgomery, Carole Smitherman, and Roderick Royal also voting to reinstate him. Lowery is the only non-Birmingham resident on the Water Works Board.The controversy surrounding the vote concerns whether the city council is obligated to appoint to the board at least one member who resides outside Birmingham. In the interest of ratepayers outside of Birmingham, the council has made a non-residential appointment for the past 25 years. The Birmingham Water Works currently serves Jefferson, Blount, Shelby, St. Clair, and Walker counties. Council President Lee Loder said that the council will determine at a later date what the policy is regarding automatic appointment of a non-Birmingham resident. Until that policy decision is made and advertised as such, Lowery will remain in place. Besides Lowery, four others, all Birmingham residents, sent resumés to City Hall seeking the vacancy. None of the applicants were granted an interview, which Councilor Joel Montgomery later blamed on Council President Lee Loder’s ineptitude. Montgomery also inferred that the attempt to delay the appointment was an effort to manipulate the appointment process to have someone other than Lowery appointed. The councilor added that he had withdrawn his nominee because the candidate’s name was submitted after the deadline. Loder argued that a press release was issued in November 2004 advertising the vacancy, which was also publicized in local daily newspapers.Bob Friedman of the Petitioners Alliance, an activist organization that has fought to have the Water Works’ assets returned to the city of Birmingham, addressed the council at the January 4 meeting. “Most of the four applicants informed us that they learned about the vacancy through the Internet or by word of mouth. It is our understanding that although all four of the Birmingham candidates submitted applications and resumés to the city council, and specifically to the administration committee, none of the four were ever contacted with confirmation of receipt of their application or for an interview.” Friedman added: “It is insulting and hurtful to offer a position to folks when you have already made up your mind about the outcome.”He requested that the appointment process be sent back to the council’s administration committee so that the position can be thoroughly publicized and interviews granted. Friedman added, “Mr. Lowery is not an acceptable choice. He has earned that verdict from his past service where he voted against the initiative and referendum rights of the citizens of Birmingham [a process whereby a vote is put to the public if at least 10 percent of registered voters sign a petition urging the action] and against the economic interests of the city of Birmingham.” Friedman reminded councilors that 2005 is an election year, and six councilors were voted from office four years ago “because of their apparent lack of concern for the voters.” He added that some on the current council pledged to not vote to reinstate Water Works Board members who actively worked against the interests of the citizens of Birmingham.”If we have a policy that has been in place for 25 years, we should follow it,” said Councilor Valerie Abbott. “My only problem is that we did not announce the vacancy was for an ‘outside of Birmingham’ person.” Abbott, who defeated Bob Friedman for the District Three council seat, agrees with Friedman on initiatives and referendum. “The board that was in place when we took office three years ago went to court to take away Birmingham’s citizens rights to initiatives and referendum,” said Abbott. “I don’t think that was right, and I am not inclined to vote to reappoint someone who voted to do that to our citizens.” Abbott suggested that any appointment be delayed until an announcement is made that a vacancy is available for someone outside of the city, or until the Mayor’s Association announces that it had already endorsed Lowery.Councilor Roderick Royal noted, “The council has been appointing someone who lives outside of Birmingham but is served by the Water Works for at least 25 years now. I think that is good policy; I think we should continue to follow that policy. The argument that Birmingham is not well-represented falls on its face because the other four members [on the board] are residents of Birmingham.” Royal said he would support anyone qualified. “In the final analysis we just want the best people serving on our boards . . . It’s just unfortunate that every time we get to a point that something is halfway hot and political, and then we want to weasel out. Stand up and be a man, stand up and be a woman . . . stop being a weasel, stop being a weakling, you know, a girly man, as Schwarzenegger said.” &


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