Council says "No" to Alaska trip, for now

By Ashley Nix

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Is a trip to Alaska with a price tag of nearly $400,000 worth it? It's the dilemma in the city of Birmingham.  About 170 people directly involved with the neighborhoods in Birmingham want to go to Alaska to an annual conference. They say the meeting will give them further education on how to improve neighborhoods throughout the city. The catch is the city will have to pick up the paycheck.

According to numbers from city hall, last year's trip cost $250,000 less, which is why councilors aren't sold on the idea.

Mayor William Bell recommended the city allocate the funds for the Alaska trip.  Bell says he will not waver.

"The recommendation from the mayor will remain the same," Bell said to all councilors. "I'm not going to usurp their authority to vote on neighborhood funds for this purpose."

But for Council President Roderick Royal, the price is simply too much money.

"We just need to do the right thing, and I do not think this is the right thing."

Maybe it's the 170 members who are going. Maybe it's what Royal calls a "political punt" by the mayor, recommending the funds, then asking city councilors to approve it.

"I dislike election years," Royal said.  "Because this is the type of thing you get."

Sheila Tyson, President of the Citizens Advisory Board, says the neighborhoods' leaders will not back down.

"No we will not," Sheila said. "They should put themselves in our place. We've been volunteering a whole year with little resources.  All we want to do is educate ourselves."

One neighborhood president, though, says the money needs to be used on projects, not travel.

"I don't think we need to spend that kind of money," John C. Harris of the Titusville neighborhood said. "Other neighborhood presidents need to be speaking out."

The mayor's Chief of Staff says this is not a political move, rather a way to improve Birmingham.

"The mayor went to the neighborhoods, they responded by saying this is what we want," Chuck Faush said. "He said I'm going to hold you accountable."

But Roderick Royal doesn't buy that. "That's political talk," Royal said.  "It's unfortunate he's engaged in that talk rather than have the courage to do what needs to be done"

Councilors will reconvene next Wednesday for a Committee of the Whole meeting to try and reduce the costs of the Alaska trip.  Royal said if that doesn't happen, he will vote no.

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