It will take five votes to elect the next president of the Mobile City Council, attorney Wanda Cochran wrote in an opinion released Tuesday afternoon.
The announcement follows more than a month of speculation, after the council appeared to be deadlocked at its Nov. 6 organizational meeting when Councilman Fred Richardson received four votes and Councilwoman Gina Gregory received three votes. At the time, former council attorney Jim Rossler told councilors the public vote would take a supermajority, or five of seven votes to pass.
The council has been without a president because of the legal question concerning the number of votes necessary to elect a council member to the position. In previous years the council has held a “straw poll” behind closed doors to elect a president by a simple 4-3 majority. Following the poll four years ago, the council voted publicly to unanimously elect Gregory as president.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson weighed in, but did not support Richardson or Gregory. Instead he put his support behind current council Vice President Levon Manzie. Manzie is currently chairing the meetings until a decision on the body’s president can be made.
At a pre-conference meeting, Stimpson said Manzie has done an “incredible job” as the acting chair. He added he wished for a quick resolution to the impasse.
Citing the state law that has set up Mobile’s current form of government, Richardson seemed to take exception to Stimpson’s opinion on the issue.
“The Zoghby Act makes it a removable offense for a council member to tell the mayor who to hire,” Richardson said. “He should stay out of our business.”
Councilman John Williams seemed to take exception to Stimpson’s plea to resolve the matter. Williams said council business has not been negatively affected by the impasse.
Mary Zoghby, who co-wrote the law establishing Mobile’s current form of municipal government, has repeatedly stated that she believes it takes five votes to elect a council president and that it had been done illegally in previous attempts.
In a letter obtained by Lagniappe, Cochran gave councilors reasons for calling for an executive session to discuss the matter.
“I am of the opinion that it would be detrimental to the best interest of the City Council as my client to allow public access to any meeting in which my comments and opinions are sought by the council or the legal ramifications and legal opinions in question,” she wrote. “As part of my professional responsibility to the council I must insist that any such meeting be conducted in an executive session, as permitted under the Open Meetings Act.”
Under the 2005 law, it is legal for the council to hold an executive session for this reason, but Alabama Press Association attorney Dennis Bailey said councilors must discuss the opinion in a public meeting.
Cochran agrees, according to the letter.
“As provided in the Open Meetings Act, if any deliberation begins among the members of the council regarding what action council should take based on the advice given, the executive session shall be concluded and deliberation shall be conducted in the open portion of the meeting,” she wrote.