Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford has restricted city department heads from cooperating with the city council, a move councilors perceive as a retaliation for not rubber stamping the mayor's agenda.
At a committee meeting Thursday, the council had expected to hear an update from Economic Development Liaison Griffin Lassiter about on-going projects in the city. Lassiter attended the the meeting, but when asked to answer questions he told the council he wasn't allowed.
It has been customary for city staff and even the mayor himself to sit at the same conference table with councilors during committee meetings, answering questions and participating in discussions. However, today those seats remained empty and city staff sat at the back of the conference room and remained mostly silent.
Later in the meeting, Lassiter spoke briefly to introduce a transfer of Tom Williams Cadillac to Serra Automotive.
"Oh, you can talk on this one," Councilor Steven Hoyt said.
Lawyers from the city's legal department continued to speak to councilors' questions throughout the meeting.
"Per my email to Council President Smitherman, I respectfully request that you please commit all of your questions for department head or staff to writing and address them to my attention," Chief of Staff Deborah Vance-Bowie wrote to councilors in a memo on Wednesday.
The mayor and council have been at odds since the council refused to approve funding for a shopping list of projects, including expanding the Birmingham zoo and funding a domed stadium. The council has been reluctant to approve new spending until it has a clearer picture of the city's finances. What information the council does have indicates a significant shortfall in revenues.
On Tuesday, the council also delayed an design contract for an intermodal transit hub downtown after discovering connection between the proposed architect and Langford campaign manager Jeff Pitts.
After the council meeting, councilors Hoyt and Valerie Abbott said that they saw mayor's move as retaliation for asking too many questions about city projects.