On Wednesday, Rep. Oliver Robinson retired from the Alabama House of Representatives. Robinson has represented the 58th District in Alabama since he was first elected in 1998.
“In consultation with family, I have decided to retire from the House of Representatives,” Robinson, whose term was set to expire in 2018, wrote in a letter to fellow legislators.
As noted in the letter, Robinson was a key proponent of a recent controversial bill, Amendment 14, that voters resoundingly approved on November 8, which according to Robinson was one of the reasons he waited until after the election to retire.
“I’ve had many notable accomplishments, most recently, Amendment 14 on November 8th,” Robinson wrote. “One of the 600 bills included was HB 573, which I sponsored, will help transform Jefferson County and the city of Birmingham. I’m proud of the fact I sponsored legislation to bring the Mayor Council Act into the 21st century.”
Proponents of Amendment 14 say the bill is designed to retroactively apply the Budget Isolation Resolution (BIR) to local laws passed before this year’s election day. As it stands, the Alabama legislature requires a three-fifths supermajority for bills passed prior to budget approval.
However, the legislature had previously been passing BIRs with fewer legislators present and voting. Perhaps most important to residents of Jefferson County is the one-cent sales tax that had been in effect before being struck down in 2015 when Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Michael Graffeo found it was passed using this form of BIR voting.
As for the reasoning behind his sudden retirement, Robinson said he wanted to avoid any potential conflicts of interests because his daughter was recently appointed as Governor Robert Bentley’s liaison to the House of Representatives. She is the first African-American woman in Alabama to hold the position, and Robinson said his presence on the legislature could “cause problems in her job” and he wants to “give [his] child every opportunity to succeed.”
Rep. John Rogers, who was vocally opposed to Amendment 14 said that it was an honor serving with Robinson and, despite their disagreements, that he was a “good leader for Jefferson County.” However, Rogers believes there is more to the resignation, “that will come out in a few days.”
“That’s no reason to resign because your daughter works for the governor,” Rogers said. “He also had a job with Regions Bank and did work with the Birmingham Airport Authority. A whole lot of stuff is going to come out in a few days.” Pressed for details about this claim, Rogers declined to comment further, saying only, “You got to do what you got to do.”
Robinson could not be reached for comment and did not return calls for this story.
Rep. Patricia Todd, who served with Robinson on the Jefferson County Delegation, said that she believes Bentley will call a special election before the legislature goes into session in February. “I can guarantee there will be a dozen people running for that seat,” Todd said. “Just like when Mike Hubbard was convicted or there is a death of a member, the governor has to set the special election for that district and I would hope that it happens before the session starts but I’m not certain how much time [Bentley] has to give. He can’t call a special election next week.”
Todd described Robinson as “a good representative, and he’s been here a long time. He’s been an insightful leader and we’ve worked together on many projects. Of course I didn’t agree with Amendment 14, and I was one of the people opposed to using that money for other things than what it was intended for, but that’s another story.”
Todd said she believes Robinson retired in order to avoid “ethics complaints,” with his job at Regions.
The changes to the Mayor-Council Act, which came in the form of a bill sponsored by Robinson, originally prohibited city councilors from serving on another city board or commission. A change to the bill, allowed councilors to sit on a board but not be a voting member, a move that caused Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt to resign from the Birmingham Airport Authority.
Hoyt could not be reached for comment, but during the time of his resignation earlier this year, he told WBRC, “Representative Robinson was part of a team developing the master plan for the airport,” Steven Hoyt explained. “I sat there about a year and a half ago and voted because I thought they were the best team that presented and he benefitted economically from that. But now you’re proposing language in the Mayor-Council Act that would make me an ex-officio member.”
Over the last year, changes to the Mayor-Council Act — which has served as Birmingham’s governing piece of legislation since 1962 — ultimately gave the mayor control over all appointments to city boards and commissions. The passage of Amendment 14 has put Robinson at odds with the Birmingham City Council on the legislative front. In October, the council unanimously voiced their opposition to Amendment 14.
Hoyt previously described the amendment as a way for the state legislature to “bamboozle” money out of Birmingham’s tax revenue and distribute those funds to other municipalities in Jefferson County.
The announcement of Robinson’s departure came as a shock, said Birmingham City Council President Johnathan Austin.
“I’m glad to see there is one less person that was elected to represent the citizens of Birmingham down in Montgomery fighting to hurt the city of Birmingham and not help the city,” Austin said on Wednesday. Austin believes Robinson’s pieces of legislation are responsible for “so much chaos and confusion” in Birmingham’s city government.
“At the behest of Mayor [William] Bell, Robinson removed the checks and balances we’ve had in place for our city government,” Austin said. “It’s widely known that the former state representative tried to give away the citizens’ most precious resource, the water board, and cede power into the mayor’s office… The mayor initially said he had nothing to do with the changes to the Mayor-Council Act. But then, some time later Robinson came back and said he’s doing it because the mayor asked him to.”
Austin said there could be outside variables that led to Robinson’s announcement that have not yet come to light.
Bell did not return calls seeking comment. Robinson said in his letter that his retirement from politics will be permanent.