Mayor-Council Act of 1955

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The Mayor-Council Act of 1955 is the Alabama State Law which establishes and defines the structure and powers of municipal government for the City of Birmingham under the Alabama Constitution of 1901. It was created to give citizens greater representation in local government and to establish a balance of power between the city's executive and legislative branches.

Specifically the movement to change the form of government was shepherded by business leaders who wanted to give the city's political leadership a more progressive voice during a time of heightened racial tensions. The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce's Senior Citizen Council asked the Birmingham Bar Association to study various forms of government and propose the form that would "best serve Birmingham and provide greater representation than the ... three-member commission." The BBA found that a, "strong Mayor-Council form of municipal government is best suited to the present and future needs of a greater and better Birmingham."

Birmingham citizens voted in a referendum on November 6, 1962 to adopt the Mayor-Council Act. The March 5, 1963 Birmingham municipal election attracted four mayoral candidates and 76 hopefuls for the nine at-large council seats. Albert Boutwell defeated incumbent Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor in a runoff to become the first mayor under the new act.

He was sworn in on April 15 of that year, but For the first five weeks of his administration the former City Commission continued to meet, refusing to recognize the new government. As their legal challenge proceeded through the courts, the city operated with two governments. It was during this contentious transition period that Bull Connor, acting as Police Commissioner, turned Police dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators participating in the Birmingham Campaign for Civil Rights.

2010 changes

The idea of having the office of Mayor and all nine council seats on same ballot was suggested to state representative Merika Coleman-Evans by Leona Payne as a way of lessening the politicizing of city business when multiple Council members were running for Mayor without having to step down. The law changing the election cycle for Mayor passed in 2010.

2016 changes

Significant changes were made to the Mayor-Council Act during the 2016 legislative session. House Bill 399, sponsored by Oliver Robinson and signed into law (Act 2016-276) by Governor Robert Bentley, expanded the Birmingham Water Works Board to six members and gave two appointments to the Mayor of Birmingham.

A separate measure, House Bill 515, was also sponsored by Robinson, who acknowledged that William Bell had sent him a "wish list" of proposed changes that he brought to the Jefferson County Legislative Delegation. It transferred several powers from the council to the mayor, including the authority to authorize the creation, reorganization or abolition of city departments; to appoint outside counsel; and to authorize and approve line-item changes in the city budget. The law also voided any existing or future city ordinances that conflict with its provisions, and changed the terms of the council president and president pro-tem from four years to two years.

Despite objections from the City Council and Council President Johnathan Austin, that bill passed and was signed into law as Act of Alabama 2016-277. In January 2019 The Birmingham City Council unanimously passed another resolution asking state legislature to reverse the 2016 changes.


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