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Birmingham City Council President Carole Smitherman will serve as acting mayor of Birmingham until at least Nov. 24, when the newly elected city council is sworn in and a new council president is elected, city attorney Thomas Bentley said Thursday at a City Hall press conference. Smitherman became Birmingham's first female mayor Wednesday when former mayor Larry Langford was convicted of bribery, fraud and corruption. She will cease to be mayor on Nov. 24 unless she is re-elected to the council president position.
"As many of you know, being the mayor of Birmingham has been my lifelong dream," Smitherman said at the press conference. "In fact, two times I have sought the office. But on this day and under these circumstances I take no joy in achieving that dream, for this is yet another sad time in the history of our city.
"Our mayor Larry Langford, despite his faults, was a visionary."
Smitherman said her first act as mayor was to go to church. She and her husband, state Sen. Rodger Smitherman (whom jokingly said she would refer to as "First Dude"), then visited the former mayor and his wife in Fairfield. Smitherman said that Langford told her he would not be returning to city hall, and would arrange for his personal belongings to be brought to him.
Smitherman said there will be no personnel changes at City Hall for the time being. Deborah Vance-Bowie, Langford's chief of staff, will remain in her position, as will chief of operations Chris Hartsell. When asked if she would remove Steve Sayler, who served as Langford's director of finance, Smitherman responded that a decision on that front could come soon.
"I will be making a decision about the financial affairs of the city today and tomorrow," Smitherman said. "The decisions that I make will be first advised to the council on a one-on-one basis, and we'll go from there."
Smitherman said that straightening out the city's finances will be her first focus as mayor.
"I want to see all the numbers and reveal them to the council after a review," Smitherman said.
Concerns about the state of the city's fund balance, or savings account, have been raised in recent months. The city is required by its own by-laws to keep a fund balance equal to one-third of the city's operating budget, but Langford often paid for his initiatives with money from fund balance.
"The fund balance is important, projects are important, but what has concerned me over the last couple of weeks are the amendments to the budget so early on."
Smitherman gave the press conference in the Birmingham City Council chambers, flanked by councilors Roderick Royal, Joel Montgomery, Maxine Parker, Steven Hoyt, Jay Roberson, Jonathan Austin and president pro-tempore Valerie Abbott. Councilor-elect Kim Rafferty, who will be sworn in as councilor for District 2 (currently represented by Carol Duncan) on Nov. 24, was invited by Smitherman to sit just below the council dais during the press conference. Councilor-elect Rafferty and the sitting councilors offered brief remarks after Smitherman's initial statement, at Smitherman's invitation.
Smitherman said that serving as acting mayor is a duty of the office of council president, and that she will not be occupying the mayor's office other than for meetings and other appropriate functions.
If Smitherman is re-elected to the council president position by her fellow councilors on Nov. 24, she will continue serving as acting mayor until a special election can be held. Bentley said he anticipates a special election being scheduled for Dec. 1 or Dec. 8.