Take commissioner Host to the ethics board
City commissioners have a tall order – for a basically volunteer position ($5 a meeting). Each of them are tasked with representing everyone in the city, whether they're a resident, a visitor, a merchant or a commercial business owner or worker, every single day they are in office of their four-year terms. Regardless of their personal backgrounds, they must learn planning, zoning, development, infrastructure needs, engineering, parking, relationship building, all while remaining neutral on issues until the moment it is time to vote on an agenda item. And their vote must be reflective of what is best for the city as a whole, not necessarily their personal point of view.
It's not unusual to discover a commission candidate with a preconceived notion of what the city “needs,” and of what they are going to achieve once they're in office, only to re-evaluate everything they previously thought once they are sworn in and attend “commission school.” Yes, commissioners attend a state program which helps them learn the appropriate and legally suitable way to best represent the city and to do their job.
For some, there is more of a learning curve than others. And for a couple in recent memory, there is an obstinate refusal to cooperate with normative rules of government business, choosing to go rogue, at times referring to it as their instruction from those who elected them. But actually is an act against the local government they have been elected to serve, an act of civil disobedience which is intolerable for a member of the government they represent.
Early in his term, Birmingham Commissioner Clinton Baller was brought before the Birmingham Ethics Board after a resident asserted he had libeled her on the social media site NextDoor and via a newsletter he disseminated which he said he sent as both a city commissioner and a resident. While Baller rebutted the claims, asserting he “was posting the facts as I saw them,” and the ethics board came back with a split decision, Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus cautioned him that as an elected official he always wears his commissioner hat.
Baller seems to have learned his lesson, effectively voicing his opinion now only in his official capacity.
Yet fellow Birmingham commissioner Brad Host, who was elected in 2019 with Baller, and is already unofficially running for re-election next year, holding small fundraisers, seems to have failed Commissioner 101 class.
The city of Birmingham has been involved in creating a new citywide master plan, called the 2040 Master Plan, since 2018. It's all about managed growth for the city for the next generation. A master plan does not dictate what will occur nor determine zoning, as zoning itself is not included in the document, but provides guidance for development and ordinances. Once approved by the city commission after numerous public hearings and planning board meetings, it will provide the framework to help the community, their elected leaders and staff create a long-term vision of what everyone wants Birmingham to look like in the future.
Markus and city attorney Mary Kucharek warned commissioners early on that they should not attend any planning board or public meetings – much less any committee meetings of any kind – because the results ultimately come before the commissioners for their decision, and it is imperative for commissioners to view items with an open mind. However, Host has repeatedly attended meetings, earning scoldings. Worse, Host has continued to posted on social media, including two recent videos he shot with a fellow city resident, espousing false information on the master plan.
He has repeatedly been corrected by city officials about the inaccuracies he is perpetuating.
“It's important – especially as representatives of the city – to be as accurate as possible,” said Markus, who noted he has tried to point out when information is not accurate, “and I do it on a regular basis. It is important for him as a commissioner to be as seamlessly accurate as possible. Commissioners are the final arbiters of the decision making process.”
Markus also pointed out, “It's confusing to the public… planning board members are getting really concerned about how this is agitating the public and how this is going to play out at (upcoming) public hearings, where they're asking for law enforcement to be there.”
Misleading information on social media platforms. Permitting and tolerating threats to other city board members. Riling up a “neighborhood v. business” climate, which ultimately could hurt the city coffers, endangering Birmingham as a whole. Brad Host has chosen to not listen and learn what appropriate commissioner behavior constitutes, which is a matter for the Birmingham Ethics Board.
It is in everyone's best interest to file formal charges immediately.