Birmingham votes to pay lobbyist

By Ashley Nix

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham city councilors voted Tuesday to pay a lobbying firm $250,000 over the next fiscal year to represent Birmingham in Washington, D.C., but the vote didn't come without a lot of discussion and gripes from councilors.

Councilor Steven Hoyt said he's asked for much information from Handprint Bell Consulting, but hasn't gotten what he's looking for.  

"I want some real results and we have not gotten those yet," Hoyt said during the lengthy discussion Tuesday.  It's the sentiment of many Birmingham city councilors, who showed concern about paying $250,000 over the next year.  

Councilor Kim Rafferty, who said she had done some research, said, "we can get high quality representation in Washington for half the price."  Councilor Lashunda Scales said the city needs to be careful when allocating money.  "Eyes are on the city and we need to be cautious with everything we do, Scales said.  "Every contract that comes before us."

Mayor William Bell said he feels the firm has done a good job with helping Birmingham, especially in the midst of a tug of war between Democrats and Republicans in D.C.  Bell said the contract should stand.  "I'm not gonna be bullied into anything," Bell said.  "When you bump heads with a bull, all you get is a headache.  I got a hard head but I don't feel like it today."

Councilor Carole Smitherman said she feels it would be best to wait until the congressional year ends, so not to interrupt ongoing projects.  In the end, that's what council voted to do.  The contract and results will be reviewed later this year.  "I want results and if we haven't gotten results by then, I'll be the first one to say we don't need them anymore because were not getting results," Smitherman said.  

The contract, which ends June 2011, can be terminated at any point by the city, according to city attorney Jim Stanley.  The city must, however, give 14 days notice.

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