Fireworks at Birmingham City Council meeting

Fireworks at Birmingham City Council meeting

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Mayor Bell gestures during a heated argument. (WBRC video) Mayor Bell gestures during a heated argument. (WBRC video)
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -

It's been a while since we've seen a major blow-up at Birmingham's City Council meetings, but today the council and Mayor Bell appeared to be making up for lost time.

It all started when Greg Calhoun, the owner of Montgomery-based grocery store chain Calhoun Foods, got up to give an update on negotiations between him and the mayor's office to try and bring a grocery store to so-called food deserts like downtown or Pratt City.

Calhoun said he wasn't getting much help from the mayor's office, and that's when city council members began to accuse the mayor of not wanting to help African-American-owned businesses.

"Unless there's a real reason, I don't see why we can't do business with this company, unless there's a real reason," said Council President Roderick Royal. "We practically give the kitchen sink to folk in this city."

"There seems to be a disdain for African-American businesses in this city, and there's something strangely wrong with that when the leadership looks the way it does," said Council President Pro Tem Steven Hoyt. "I'm not against white wealth, but I believe there should be some African-American wealth to go along with it."

Those comments got Bell's attention but he didn't speak up until Hoyt said Bell didn't call him after some members of his family were the victims of a crime.

"I do not play with people's families, that's what I'm trying to say," Bell said, raising his voice. "If I had known your daughter was involved, I would've been the first one down there on site. I didn't know your daughter had been attacked until you told me."

From there, Bell became enraged at the accusation his administration isn't helping minority-owned businesses, drawing the owner of Calhoun foods into the fight at one point.

"When you look at the hotel that's being built," Bell shouted, and at one point pounded his hand on the desk. "The majority of the people working on that project are African American businesses. And to say I disdain black businesses in this community? That is a flat-out lie.

And this man up here knows that it's a lie, and this man is just throwing fuel on stuff that is not true, and I'm not gonna stand for it. And I'm not gonna stand for you to come down here and imply that my staff, a black woman who's been trying to help more black-owned businesses than anybody else in this city ever has, and you're gonna try to impugn her character and that of this administration? I'm not gonna have it."

Bell then pounded his desk again as he said, "I'm just not gonna have it."

Shortly after that, Calhoun walked out of the meeting saying he's throwing in the towel on this project. But outside of city hall later he said he's still hopeful he and the city will reach a deal.

The mayor's office took the unusual step today of releasing a timeline detailing all of their interactions on the Calhoun project. Bell says Calhoun has canceled four meetings, Calhoun says he never had a meeting scheduled.

In the meantime, the future of a grocery store in any of these food deserts appears to be very much up in the air.

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