After not having enough members for a quorum at last week’s meeting, the Birmingham City Council failed to have unanimous consent in order to bring a resolution regarding ridesharing companies to the floor at Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilors Valerie Abbott and Kimberly Rafferty both voted against bringing the resolution before the council, drawing sharp remarks from Councilor Lashunda Scales.
“This is interesting today that supposedly we were the five that held up Uber, which we all know wasn’t about no Uber…because you all knew that we supported Uber. We stayed here for a committee meeting until 6 [p.m.]. And those with Uber you all know we supported Uber. We’re on record saying that,” Scales said.
Scales continued by saying that the five councilors who didn’t show up last week—she herself said she had personal issues to attend to, which is why she was absent—were present on Tuesday and two councilors who were present at last week’s meeting are now the ones “holding things up.”
“I’m interested to see how you all spin this in your commentary,” Scales said, addressing members of the press. “I know there are some inner workings at city hall trying to create this mess. I want to see what happens when you got two folk that were a part of four folk who were here last week who aren’t trying to get it on the agenda this week.”
Scales did not clarify what she meant by her comments on coercion in city hall.
Rafferty said that the reason she and Abbott voted to against bringing the resolution before the council was because several changes were made to the proposed code last night and they needed another week to look them over. “It would have been irresponsible to pass something without reading the changes first,” Rafferty said.
A Birmingham city attorney confirmed that changes were made to the proposed transportation code before the meeting took place.
A “revenue piece” was added to the code that must first be approved by the city’s revenue department. “There would be legal challenges if we had passed this without looking at the changes that were made,” Rafferty said.
After Scales’ comments directed toward Abbott and Rafferty, Abbott said that the rule of order does not allow councilors to question the motives of other councilors’ decisions.
“You don’t know what my motives are and you never will because you won’t ever ask me,” Abbott said. “When we are sitting here in a meeting, you don’t know what’s going through my mind. It shouldn’t be a topic of discussion if we are controlling ourselves.
“I want time to look over the changes. One week isn’t going to hurt a darn thing,” Abbott continued.
Council President Johnathan Austin said that what happened at Tuesday’s meeting was just “politics as usual” and the two councilors who voted against bringing the resolution to the floor had no intention of discussing the matter today.
“The changes to the code were actually sent to all the councilors last Saturday, so everyone had plenty of time to look them over,” Austin said over the phone. “They are just looking to a convenient excuse.”
Austin also said that this situation has prompted him to reshuffle the committees. While he did not mention details, he indicated that people in charge of certain committees would have to relinquish their positions.
“I am going to send out a memo later today outlining the details of those changes,” Austin said.
As the code is currently written, Uber is requesting to pay a $10,000 flat fee to operate in the city, while other companies such as Yellow Cab are paying $25,000 annually. “That would be a discriminatory action,” Rafferty added.
Rafferty also said that she had received threats regarding her involvement with the efforts to bring Uber to Birmingham. “I was scared to vote against it today because I had been threatened about this,” Rafferty said.
Representatives with Uber have applauded Mountain Brook’s effort last week to pass an ordinance allowing the company to operate within their city limits. However, a person could only be picked up from within the city limits and taken to their destination. If that lies outside the city, Uber would not be able to pick them back up.
“While it’s disappointing that no final action was taken today, we hope the draft regulations from the Nov. 17 Committee of the Whole meeting are passed next week so that Birmingham can have access to safe rides and economic opportunity as soon as possible,” an Uber representative said after Tuesday’s meeting.
In regards to the lack of quorum at last week’s meeting, Rafferty said that she knows for a fact some of the councilors were in town during the meeting. “We could have sent the police to pick them up and bring them to the meeting,” Rafferty said, though she would not name anyone specific. “It’s like when you have poll workers who don’t show up, we can charge the Sheriff’s Department to bring them into work.”
This was the first reading of the resolution regarding the rideshare ordinance. The council is set to vote on the item at next week’s meeting.