“I came to City Hall today fully expecting to be elected President of the new City Council because Councilman Steven Hoyt had pledged to me and other council members, as recently as last night, his full support,” Smitherman said in an afternoon press conference at City Hall. “Of course, Mr. Hoyt, my opponent in the mayor’s race, did not keep his word and today Birmingham has its third mayor in the past month.”
Smitherman said Birmingham attorney and mayoral candidate Patrick Cooper was working behind the scenes to get Royal elected President. “I know that candidate Cooper was calling Council members, asking them to vote for Mr. Royal," Smitherman said. Cooper backed Smitherman's opponent, Sheila Tyson, in October's City Council election run-off. Smitherman declined to name who allegedly received calls from Cooper.
The vote for council officers was held in a City Hall conference room just after the 2009 Council was sworn in to four-year terms. Hoyt nominated Royal for Council President, and Councilor Johnathan Austin nominated Smitherman. Royal, Maxine Parker, and new Councilors Kim Rafferty and Lashunda Scales voted with Hoyt to elect Royal, who then nominated Hoyt for Council President Pro Tempore. The same councilors elected Hoyt over Austin (who was nominated by Smitherman) in another five-to-four vote.
A close reading of the Mayor-Council Act (the document which establishes Birmingham’s city government) suggests that the vote electing Hoyt to Pro Tempore may have been invalid. Section 4.05 of the Mayor-Council Act (PDF) deals with a vacancy in the office of mayor. The act reads as follows:
“Whenever any vacancy in the mayor shall occur … the president of the council shall assume the duties of the office of mayor effective on the date such vacancy occurs and shall serve as acting mayor until a new mayor is elected and qualified as hereinafter provided.”
Later, in the same section, the document reads:
“While the president of the council is serving as acting mayor he shall not sit with the council or vote on any matters before the council.”
If Royal became acting Mayor immediately upon becoming Council President, then, as Mayor, he could not participate in the council officers election. As such, Royal’s nomination of Hoyt for Pro Tempore and the following vote were invalid. Without Royal’s tie-breaking vote, Austin and Hoyt would have been deadlocked in a four-to-four vote, with Councilors Valerie Abbott, Jay Roberson, Smitherman and Austin supporting Austin’s bid.
After Birmingham Weekly reporter Kyle Whitmire pointed out this problem to Smitherman at her press conference, he asked if she thought Hoyt was legally elected Pro Tempore. “In my view, perhaps Councilor Hoyt is not the Pro Tem legally,” Smitherman said. “We probably need to take another vote on that.”
Smitherman also suggested that Royal should not have participated in the vote. “He was the President,” Smitherman said. “He was the President and immediately became the Mayor, and should not have participated any further in my opinion.”
City needs stability and transparency, Smitherman says
Smitherman joked Tuesday that maintenance was putting a revolving door on the Mayor’s office, but then said “but the truth is, it just isn’t funny.”
“Our city needs stability, transparency and a steady hand,” she said. “Our city needs honesty and someone whose word can be trusted.”
Birmingham has had three mayors since late October, when former Mayor Larry Langford was convicted of corruption and removed from office. Voters will elect a fourth mayor on either Dec. 8, when Birmingham’s special mayoral election will be held, or, if a run-off is needed, in January.
In the mean time the city has a major budget crisis to deal with—Smitherman revealed in her first days as interim Mayor that more than $20 million in necessary expenditures were left out of Langford’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget. Combine that with a drop in expected revenues and extensive deficit spending and Birmingham’s next mayor could be dealing with a $40 million dollar hole in the budget.
Smitherman began to deal with the budget crisis during her month as Mayor. She noted at her press conference that her administration implemented a hiring freeze, cut overhead in the Mayor’s office by $1 million annually and, through a budget review process, cut budget demands of six departments by $9 million. Smitherman disclosed that her administration also discovered a $250,000 uncashed check from Jefferson County, dated March 2009, in the desk of former Langford Chief of Staff Deborah Vance-Bowie, prompting a focus on city business practices.
Smitherman insisted that, aside from the issue of the Pro Tempore election, she would quickly move past her dust-up with Hoyt.
“I am sleepy,” she said. “I have been working 16 hours a day for four weeks, and I am going home to clean my house and prepare for Thanksgiving dinner with my family.”