Voters react to Birmingham election change proposal

By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham voters spoke out Monday night about the prospect of putting the city council and mayor's races on the same election cycle, giving Mayor William Bell an extra two years in office before he must run for re-election.

State Representative Merika Coleman held a public hearing Monday night about her bill that would make those changes to Birmingham's mayor and council elections.

Given outstanding issues before the legislature, such as the tight state budgets, electronic bingo, and PACT still out there, a bill to change the timing of Birmingham city elections would seem to fall pretty low on the priority list. But Rep. Coleman says this is an important issue to trying to make another branch of government work better, the one inside city hall.

"This is not a slight toward the city council," Rep. Coleman said. "It was brought up because people in Birmingham are tired of  
the fighting between the mayor and city council. We've seen that happen over the last 3 mayors. So this is a way to hopefully fix that problem."

Rep. Coleman said neighborhood associations asked her to sponsor this bill because they're concerned some city councilors are using the two years between the council and mayor's races as a stepping stone to run for the city's CEO job, and when they lose and go back to their old jobs, chaos can sometimes follow.

"Because it causes people to be angry because they lost the race," said Leona Payne, President of the Jones Valley Neighborhood Association. "As a result, when things come up for voting, then sometimes they just vote out of spite or don't vote at all. So that's a problem. It could be something very important that's going to benefit the whole city."

Many city councilors oppose the bill because they say they weren't consulted about it first, and some even went to Montgomery to lobby against it.

Most of the voters at Monday's public hearing supported the idea of putting the mayor and council races on the same timeline, but oppose an amendment added to the current version of the bill that would give Bell an extra 2 years in office as a way to line up the election cycles. That would keep him in office until 2013, rather than running in 2011 under the current schedule.

"I am for the original bill," said one neighborhood president opposed to the plan. "I am not for the amendment, I'm in total opposition to the amendment in the bill. In fact I dare to say, since we started in 2007, had we not had this amendment added we wouldn't be here tonight."

Rep. Coleman plans to introduce another bill next week asking or a referendum on the idea of synchronizing to be put on the June primary ballot.

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