Birmingham mayor elected to uncommon second term

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 19, 2020

 Mayor Pierre Boutros received recognition from the City Commission during a meeting Nov. 9 in honor of service this past year as mayor. Shortly after, he was nominated and elected to an uncommon second  consecutive term.

Mayor Pierre Boutros received recognition from the City Commission during a meeting Nov. 9 in honor of service this past year as mayor. Shortly after, he was nominated and elected to an uncommon second consecutive term.

Photo provided by Pierre Boutros

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BIRMINGHAM — For the first time in the better part of a century, the city of Birmingham will be served by the same mayor for two consecutive years.

Mayor Pierre Boutros was elected to a second term during the City Commission’s regular meeting Nov. 9. His No. 2, Mayor Pro Tem Therese Longe, was nominated and approved for another year as well.

Longe nominated Boutros for the second term while the commission was making appointments for the organization of government through the next year.

“A year ago, I was proud to nominate you as mayor,” Longe said to Boutros during the commission’s public Zoom meeting. “Your year as mayor has been extraordinary. Life as we knew it has been upended and paused. This pandemic has brought fundamental changes to the way we work, socialize, shop, attend school. … You, Mayor Boutros, rose to the challenge that the (pandemic) presented and demonstrated strong leadership for the residents of Birmingham.”

She recognized that, traditionally, the role of mayor is rotated each year among members of the City Commission. The mayor is tasked with running commission meetings and performing ceremonial roles throughout the year, while day-to-day governing is left to the city manager.

But she said, “Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.”

Commissioner Rackeline Hoff wasn’t convinced, though. She, Commissioner Mark Nickita and Commissioner Stuart Sherman all expressed concerns with the matter.

“Although I agree with much of what Mayor Pro Tem Longe has said — I think he is a tremendously personable, outgoing gentleman. He’s always treated everyone with respect, and he has always done his best to share our meetings,” Hoff said. “This was a most unusual year, and it was a difficult year. And he certainly didn’t have an opportunity to participate in the mayor’s position fully because usually there are so many other activities. That said, this is as I enter my 20th year on the commission … this is unprecedented to elect the same person as mayor, especially when we have six other very capable commissioners.”

She said she believes a “senior member of the commission” would be a better option for the 2020-21 term, as several City Hall staff roles will need to be filled in that time. In the past several months, City Manager Joe Valentine and Assistant City Manager Tiffany Gunter have both resigned, as well as the city engineer.

“We need a mayor who has more experience who can step forward to help the incoming staff members, and I feel that Mayor Boutros is not the person to do that,” she said. “I’m sorry, Pierre. I will not be supporting you for mayor.”

Sherman agreed with Hoff’s comments, saying the “unprecedented turnover in staff” was a concern for him.

“I’ve heard through the grapevine that is a direct reflection of what’s happened over the course of the last year,” Sherman said.

Valentine would not directly address whether or not leadership on the City Commission contributed to his departure. His resignation will be effective at the end of the calendar year.

“I have had the privilege of working a career in Birmingham that has afforded me the unique opportunity to serve in eight different capacities over the past 24 years, concluding with the past six and half as city manager,” Valentine said in an emailed statement. “As I look ahead to a new year, it presented a great time to pursue new opportunities with new challenges. I’m fortunate to have completed a 24-year career and have another 20 years to pursue additional work where I can leverage my skills. The timing was right for me, and I’m grateful for my service to the city of Birmingham. I am confident Birmingham will continue on a path toward success.”

Nickita said he was especially sad to see the loss of Valentine, calling him an exceptional city manager.

“We are in a position to select a city manager moving forward. That is going to be a challenge no matter how we look at it,” Nickita said. “That is a challenge that we can do better when addressed with higher levels of experience.”

Commissioner Brad Host said he, for one, would be pleased to be a part of an unprecedented situation.

“I would like to have our mayor continue,” Host said. “I truly feel Pierre puts his heart and soul into this, and more importantly, he’s a gentleman.”

Commissioner Clinton Baller agreed, saying he received a call from Boutros soliciting his support for a second term and if another commissioner felt they would be better suited for the job, they could’ve done the same.

“I did not receive a call from Commissioner Sherman. I did not receive a call from Commissioner Nickita. If they were interested in the position, they could’ve called and asked for my support,” Baller said. “I think we ought to just move on.”

When it came time to vote, the numbers were split between older and newer commissioners: Nickita, Sherman and Hoff all voted down Boutros’ nomination, while Longe, Baller and Host — all voted onto the commission last year — voted in favor. The deciding vote came from Boutros himself, who turned the majority 4-3 in favor of giving himself another term as mayor.

Baller then nominated Longe for a second term as mayor pro tem, which was approved by the commission unanimously.

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