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Debate over possible Birmingham mayor selection

By Grace Lovins


Birmingham commissioners discussed potential changes to the procedures for selecting mayor and mayor pro tem at a workshop meeting on Monday, May 8, ultimately adding that a workshop should be held prior to their election to share thoughts and have public input.


The city’s charter says that the commission is responsible for electing mayor and mayor pro tem on November 2 each year, but it does not say how the commission is to do that. Mayor Therese Longe said that the new procedures would apply to the current commission but wouldn’t bind future commissions if they do not want to follow the same process.


Mayor pro tem Elaine McLain suggested the commission revisit the process for selecting mayor and mayor pro tem. McLain recommended hosting a workshop in November before selecting a new mayor and mayor pro tem where the commission can discuss trends, ideas and pros and cons in a public forum for transparency.


Commissioner Katie Schafer brought up the idea of succession planning given they are talking about succession planning in various parts of city government already. In previous years, some commissions have opted to have each commissioner serve a turn as mayor regardless of qualities or qualifications. “This doesn’t seem the kind of role where you just toss the dice and say ‘Well, you didn’t get to go yet, so now you’re up,” she said.


Former mayor and mayor pro tem, commissioner Pierre Boutros, said that the mayor pro tem role is a bit of a succession plan, but that individual still needs the qualities to become mayor rather than just having the title. On top of leading and attending meetings, the mayor’s responsibilities include a lot of behind the scenes work like attending events, hosting visitors, going to ribbon cuttings, giving speeches, officiating weddings and attending conferences.


“You figure out in each case how to represent the city and what opportunities there are to get wins for the city, either individually or collectively. You’re always figuring out how to advance who we are, what we are and what our reputation is,” Longe said.


Both McLain and Longe offered that there could also be value in the mayor and mayor pro tem serving more than a one-year term, but the workshop would allow the commission to discuss what would be the best fit for the city at the time.


“I will say doing it for the second year is definitely different than doing it for the first year, and I have been able to, with Jana [Ecker] and Tom [Markus], bring relationships to the table and been able to develop relationships that you don’t get to do in one year,” Longe said.


No formal action is taken during workshop sessions. The commission requested city staff draft of the procedure changes which would include the proposed workshop during a regularly scheduled meeting.

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