Shelia Y. Smoot (born July 6, 1963 in Beecher, Michigan) is a former Jefferson County Commissioner for District 2. She served as Commissioner of Roads & Transportation and of Community & Economic Development. She was first elected in 2002 and was the first African American woman and youngest person to serve on the Commission.
Smoot was born in an unincorporated suburb just north of Flint, Michigan to Leonard and Mildred Smoot, Alabama natives who moved north when her father took a job with General Motors. She visited Alabama in the summers to stay with her aunts.
She graduated from Beecher High School where she played drums and xylophone in the marching band, founded a nationally-recognized dance team, announced sports games, and was elected student council president. Her first interest in politics came when she interviewed Michigan Congressman Dale Kildee for her school newspaper.
Smoot attended Michigan State University in Lansing and graduated in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts in telecommunications with a minor in political science. She was active in college in several black campus organizations and on the college judicial board. After graduating she worked in the Beecher Community School District, then for WDZZ-FM in Flint and WILX-TV in Lansing, and also attended some graduate courses at Eastern Michigan University.
Smoot moved to Alabama in 1992. She has one brother, Leonard, Jr, in Alabama and another, Marvin, in Beecher. Her daughter, Mecca, was born before her move.
Journalism and marriage
After moving to Alabama, Smoot landed a job as a reporter at WVTM 13's Anniston bureau, and was later promoted to a cover Birmingham City Hall for the station. She left in 1996 to become news director and anchor for WBHK-FM (KISS 98.7) and began teaching journalism courses at Miles College.
She was hired by WBRC 6 in 1997 and, a year later, was assigned to the consumer beat by newly-hired news director Mark Casey over her objections. She propelled her "Fox 6 on Your Side" segment into one of the station's most popular features by taking business owners, contractors, landlords and others to task for poor customer service. Among the issues attracting her attention was the poor maintenance of grave sites at Shadow Lawn Cemetery. The program won several awards and Smoot pulled double-duty as a weekday noontime anchor.
While at WBRC, Smoot launched a weekly radio program, "Know Your Rights with Shelia Smoot, which aired statewide. While reporting on the Blizzard of 1993, Smoot's crew picked up Robert Ward, Jr, whose car had broken down, and gave him a ride home. He began calling her, and they eventually became friends. He proposed to her on Christmas Eve, 1997. They married at Reo's on Valley Avenue on January 2, 1999, followed by a honeymoon on a Caribbean cruise which was marred by influenza. Within two years, their relationship came apart in a rather public manner as he accused her of stalking and harassing him, and was granted a temporary restraining order against her.
After Casey was succeeded by Scott Hollowell as news director, WBRC's management decided not to renew her contract, which expired on November 9, 2001. She immediately began considering a move into electoral politics.
While a reporter, Smoot served on the Board of the Alabama Associated Press, as a Fellow of the Investigative Reporters and Editors, as regional director of the National Association of Black Journalists, and as president of the Birmingham Association of Black Journalists. Since 2001 she has hosted an "Alabama Business" segment on ABC 33/40 and the "Smoot on Your Side" call in show on WAGG-AM.
Smoot defeated incumbent Steve Small in a bitter 6-way campaign for Jefferson County Commission District 2 in 2002. She spent her time on the Commission advocating for affordable housing, public transportation, and economic development. She established a computerized "Performance Review Program" for the County's Roads and Transportation Department. She pushed to establish a demonstration passenger rail connection between Birmingham and Bessemer. She used resources from her discretionary accounts to repair and improve equipment at parks across her district. She split the former office of Community and Economic Development into separate directorships. She also spearheaded the clean-up and redevelopment of the Trinity Steel site in Titusville.
Smoot cast the deciding vote for a controversial 1¢ sales tax for school construction proposed in 2004 by Commission President Larry Langford and aligned herself with Langford in numerous bond swaps and other deals that were influenced by bribes and corruption. Documents from her office were subpoenaed for the investigation, but she was not charged with any criminal activity arising from those deals.
As Commissioner, Smoot held positions on the boards of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the Metropolitan Arts Council. She participated in the Class of 2000 for Leadership Birmingham and volunteers with the Boy Scouts of America, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP, the Urban League, the Alabama Democratic Caucus, and the Birmingham Jaycees. She is on the Executive Committee of the Alabama Democratic Party and on the legislative committee for the Alabama County Commission Association. She also traveled as a delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Smoot was re-elected in 2006. Her power in the commission was reduced as Bettye Fine Collins took over as Commission President and she and Commissioner Larry Langford (later William Bell) formed a Democratic minority.
In the Spring of 2009 Smoot became embroiled in a controversy over her habit of parking in a "No Parking" zone at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. The issue was taken up on Matt Murphy's radio program and elicited a response from Smoot in which she claimed to have been "doing business" that justified her use of the No Parking area.
A state audit of the county's finances showed that Smoot had been issued a county vehicle, but also received a vehicle allowance in 2005 and 2006, and that income taxes for the benefits were not deducted. Smoot contends that the auditors had incorrect information.
Steve Small, Jr
|Jefferson County Commission District 2
Sandra Little Brown
2010 and 2014 elections
Smoot announced her intent to run in 2010 for the 7th District Congressional seat being vacated by Artur Davis, who decided instead to run for Governor of Alabama. In her announcement, Smoot promised to work for the many people in the district affected by poverty and unemployment. She listed rural health care, technology and transportation infrastructure as priorities in her plans to "get things on the ground." Smoot was defeated by attorney Terri Sewell in the Democratic primary runoff.
After leaving office, Smoot took a job as director of community outreach for The Cochran Firm.
In the 2014 Democratic primary Smoot challenged incumbent Sandra Little Brown for a return to the County Commission. During the campaign she highlighted her experience at the Courthouse, saying "...I know where the bullets are and I know where the bodies are buried." She pledged to restore county-provided indigent health care to the level mandated by the Alabama Constitution of 1901. Smoot and Brown advanced to a runoff, which was won by Brown with a 26-vote margin. Smoot did not concede the election while a challenge was filed by Ervin Hill. The Jefferson County Democratic Party reviewed the results and agreed to dismiss the challenge.
Smoot is divorced and has one daughter.
- "Sheila [sic] Smoot and Robert Ward, Jr., January 2, 1999" (February 21, 1999) The Birmingham News
- Daniels, Malcomb (October 24, 2001) "Fox 6's Smoot out of job." The Birmingham News
- Temple, Chanda (May 13, 2002) "Ex-reporter Smoot promises solutions as commissioner." The Birmingham News
- Howell, Vickii (December 26, 2002) "Ex-TV reporter Smoot draws parallel to politics." The Birmingham News
- Wright, Barnett (November 10, 2006) "Smoot may seek Davis' seat if lawmaker runs for Senate." The Birmingham News
- "A public official, a no parking sign, and Matt Murphy" (May 4, 2009) WAPI-1070 - accessed May 7, 2009
- Bryant, Joseph D. (June 13, 2009) "Shelia Smoot launches campaign for Congress." The Birmingham News
- Velasco, Eric (June 20, 2009) "Alabama audit flags Jefferson County commissioner Smoot." The Birmingham News
- Longley, Kristin (July 9, 2010) "Beecher native Shelia Smoot campaigns to be first black woman to represent Alabama in U.S. Congress." Flint Journal
- Wright, Barnett (May 30, 2014) "Jefferson County Commission candidate profile: Shelia Smoot, District 2." The Birmingham News
- Wright, Barnett (August 4, 2014) "Shelia Smoot's run for Jeffco seat appears over; Dem Party clears way for Sandra Brown election victory." The Birmingham News