BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Birmingham Mayor William Bell and a group of city councilors held separate press conferences Monday.
They were both on the same floor of City Hall, at the same exact time.
“The citizens understand how vital policing is in our community,” Bell said to reporters, as a crowd of citizens behind him chimed in with a chorus of “mmhmm.”
Bell and Police Chief A.C. Roper went into their press conference under the impression that the City Council wanted to slash the police department’s operating budget by $750,000 during the 2018 fiscal year.
“That equates to 30,000 hours of police services that our communities would not receive next year,” Roper said Monday.
Roper and other department heads in Birmingham wrote letters to Bell last week, concerned after seeing figures from the council’s budget proposal, which appeared to be low.
At the council members’ press conference, Johnathan Austin, Marcus Lundy, Sheila Tyson and Steven Hoyt gave reporters copies of their budget proposal.
The proposal reflected no cuts to the police operating budget, and no cuts to any other areas thought to be in jeopardy last week.
Austin, the council president, called last week’s concerns “fake news,” while Lundy, the council’s budget and finance chair, explained that those numbers came from an incomplete workup of their proposal. He said there were never plans to cut from the police budget.
“What we presented was our first pass. What you see here is our second and more complete pass that addresses all the needs of the city,” Lundy said. “It appears that through the TMZ-style press offers you get from the (public information) office of the Mayor that the willingness to be on one accord doesn’t exist.”
Reporters covering Bell’s press conference got word of the council’s budget proposal and asked the mayor about it.
He said he had not received it.
“I appreciate the council educating the news media before they come back and tell the leadership of this city,” Bell said. “That’s the game that’s being played here: shifting numbers, causing confusion, and these citizens deserve a council and a mayor that can be clear.”
Bell said he and the department heads will go over the new proposal before discussing it with the city council.