So here we are at the end of a campaign that a year ago so many completely dismissed as a waste of time. Sam Jones is unassailable, they said, Sandy Stimpson is dreaming.
But now a University of South Alabama poll and even our most esteemed sports odds-maker agree it’s neck-and-neck. This race is going to boil down to who is more enthusiastic about getting out of the recliner, and who can get the most absentee ballots filled out in their favor, right?
As most people have made up their minds already, any column exploring the pluses or minuses of each candidate may fall on deaf ears. But I still feel the need to explain simply why I personally believe it’s in everyone’s best interests for the Love Jones Movement to end.
If you read this column with any regularity you’ve probably caught on that I’ve been outraged for some time by the pervasive dishonesty, stonewalling and outright disdain for the public Jones has fostered throughout the city government over the past eight years. Maybe Jones is a different guy than he was eight years ago, but the Sam Jones we have now is often angry and never open or clear about much of anything.
My objections to keeping Jones have nothing to do with his race or even that much to do with his policies. To me it’s all about openness and integrity.
For eight years we’ve had a mayor who hides behind a locked door in his office. When’s the last time he presented anything resembling a bold vision for the future? When has he stood up and said, “Mobile, here is something we WILL achieve, follow me!” He doesn’t even seem to care about simple things like litter and trash flowing into the Bay.
Information is the lifeblood of running an organization, and this mayor’s office holds almost everything so closely it is nearly impossible at times to get a bead on reality. Think back to the arguing over whether we actually had at $29 million budget shortfall or not. Jones made it practically impossible to actually look at the books. City Councilors have openly complained about being shut out of the information loop.
And I’d imagine Genghis Khan had a better relationship with the media than Jones does. His door is shut — unless you’re asking about a softball story that makes him look good. Simple questions are met with anger and obfuscation or just ignored forever. Here’s a simple example. For two months I’ve tried to just have his office tell me the last time members of the Mobile Housing Board were reappointed by the mayor — which appears to be never — and why one of the seats has been vacant for nearly two years. Is that a tough question? Does that require hours of research? Yet hey won’t answer.
It’s well documented this newspaper has had to sue the Police Department for public records in our efforts to determine whether police officers, city workers and their children went on ski trips and excursions paid for with federal money. Not only did the Chief of Police violate the state’s open records law in denying them for several months, now Jones’ city attorney is wasting taxpayer money blocking us from finding out who went. They won’t even supply the name of a single person who flew to Colorado in 2008 at a cost of $17,000, among other things. Honest people don’t act this way, folks.
It’s the secret, tricky stuff that has typically landed Silent Sam in hot water over the past eight years.
For example, the BayBears didn’t pay rent at Hank Aaron Stadium for several years and Jones kept that secret from the public, eventually pulling some slick move to absolve nearly $1 million in rent debt for a promise the team would fix The Hank’s leaky roof by 2017. He’s had missteps involving his campaign finances, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, The Gulf Coast Classic Football game, his unlicensed pistol, the Housing Board’s use of CDBG money, unorthodox handling of bids, and recently he even openly violated ethics laws and city procedure by ordering on-duty police officers to appear in his campaign commercial.
The mayor’s biggest political crony, City Attorney Larry Wettermark, has been given the power to appoint his personal law firm to millions in outside legal work for the city, something that to me smacks of the good ol’ boyisms that make Alabama such a political backwater. Even if it is technically legal, is it a good policy?
As a leader Jones has been a no-show. For example, the cruise terminal has been empty for years now with no real plan for when something should happen there, either a new ship or a repurposing of this building that costs the city millions each year. A leader would have a plan. As for Airbus, I doubt anyone truly believes we wouldn’t soon be building planes without Sam Jones. What role he played doesn’t appear to have been critical.
Jones annexed areas into the city with promises of new parks and services — promises he has just now shown interest in keeping as election time nears. He’s used our police and fire personnel as political pawns to frighten citizens into supporting tax increases that somehow never seem to fulfill our spending needs.
Even Jones’ most ardent supporters are often at a loss when you ask them to name what it is exactly he has done that makes it so vital to our future prospects that he get another four years. It always ends up being “Well we’d be a lot worse without him,” or ludicrous racial fear mongering that Stimpson somehow would like to go back to the days of separate water fountains, and tacitly that his supporters would encourage that.
As election time approaches Jones has dipped heavily into his trick bag of racial demagoguery, blasting citizens who leave the city as racists who don’t want to live next to black people, creating a “hill versus valley” rant and offering the impression he generally thinks the white citizens of Mobile are a bunch of racists because so many of them support someone who dared to run against him. The mayor’s tolerance of Public Services Director John Bell writing a racially insulting letter to City Councilors Reggie Copeland and Bess Rich was a real low point and a fine example of how he views relations with the council.
This newspaper has a strong record of digging into wrongdoing of people of all races and party affiliation. We call it like we see it, and what I see with Jones is someone whose decades at the public trough have given him a bulletproof sense of entitlement.
Stimpson has run an inclusive, positive campaign that talks about what we can achieve as a city and region. It’s true we can’t know everything he will do, but conversely it is obvious to me the broken road we will continue down with Sam Jones as mayor.
It’s time to give someone else a shot at driving the bus for a while before we go off the cliff. If we achieve nothing but more openness, honesty, positivity and an ability to have a conversation with our mayor, it will be a night and day difference. I am hopeful Sandy Stimpson will achieve far more than that, but just having someone in office who doesn’t think he’s owed the position and eschews the input of half this city’s residents will change the negative pallor that hangs over our city as we move forward.
Whether you agree with me or not, I hope each of you readers will weigh your options and vote your heart Aug. 27.
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