Does Sam Jones get on the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Systems board, as he’s dreamed since boyhood? Do the City Council folk eventually just choke one another out? Did the former mayor’s computer order itself to be erased after he lost the election, or was an actual human responsible? Will Fred Richardson find a way to make all of this a racist conspiracy? Will Batman and Robin escape The Penguin’s evil clutches?
These are the questions that cause a burning sensation when most Mobilians start thinking about Government Plaza these days — ever since Richardson decided to bring Mobile’s Great Divider back onto the scene by nominating him for the water board gig.
Just adding a pinch of Sam to the mix suddenly has everyone in an uproar as to whether he’s the greatest Mobilian since Joe Cain or the worst since whatever maniac designed Airport Boulevard. The talk about progress, Airbus, balancing the budget and stopping our littering ways is on the back burner. It’s all about rancor and division and questions about what sneaky thing Sam’s crew pulled before he left.
On the council the coalitions are lined up against one another — and it’s not black versus white, as some want to make it — but pro-Sam versus no-Sam. Seems like it wasn’t enough for Silent Sam to get run out of office, now there must be a public debate on his value moving forward.
The pro-Sammers want to see their political king lifted back into a place of some power, but the no-Sam group is still dealing with PTSD from years of having him strong-arm votes, withhold information and dissemble about the city’s finances. There’s a lot of pride on the table and who’s willing swallow theirs is a tough guess.
Mayor Stimpson has surely realized by now he is going to have to wade back into this thing, but this time as a facilitator — someone who can convince everyone this fight over one man is no good for themselves or the city. But in this strong-council-weak-mayor form of government, a coalition of three can create as much trouble as three teenage boys with a gross of bottle rockets and a 12-pack of hot beer.
After being passed over for the council presidency then having his nominee voted down, it’s unlikely Richardson can swallow much more of his copious amounts of pride. Fred always seems to be fighting battles from the Civil Rights Era and treats every slight as if it were delivered by Bull Connor, so it’s hard to see him backing down. On the other side it also seems unlikely more than one of the no-Sam councilors would switch votes, simply because giving Sam one more win is galling as hell.
So who’s going to be the one to play statesman and move things forward? Jones could do it by simply saying he’s not interested in the job and that he hopes everyone will vote for Fred’s next nominee. But he’s said publicly he won’t do that because it’ll hurt Fred’s feelings, or some such nonsense. If there’s one thing we know about Sam from his eight years on the 10th Floor, he never backs down from a political fight.
Hard to tell what Councilman C.J. Small might do. He hasn’t said much since joining the council and typically seems to let Richardson lead the way. That leaves Levon Manzie the newbie whose district isn’t quite so solidly under his feet and who ran as someone who wasn’t going to be just a rubber stamp for Sam or Fred.
Small and Manzie’s arguments for voting for Sam — because no one has ever voted against another council member’s appointee — sounds like the kind of things old redneck politicians generally use to hold back progress. Maybe some of these little boards all over Mobile County would be better off with a bit more scrutiny of who’s going on.
Would either councilman have voted to approve someone who flies a Confederate flag in his front yard, even if he explains he’s “just a history buff?” Hard to imagine.
In this case the votes are falling against a mayor who clearly was not forthcoming with the citizens about the city’s financial state and who withheld public information from members of the council, the media and the public routinely, despite the law. Don’t forget, this newspaper had to sue to get 6,000 pages of public records the Jones administration and police department claimed didn’t exist, and that’s just one example.
To make matters even more complex there’s now more funny business with it coming out Jones’ office computer was erased after he lost the election. While Stimpson’s office is trying hard not to exacerbate the situation, the facts that are known are pretty fishy and the story’s been swimming around for months.
There’s no doubt the computer hard drive was erased. The city says they tried to recover information on the computer but it was unsuccessful, and that it’s not really an issue because the important information was backed up elsewhere.
But the central questions of why it was wiped and who ordered it still remain. Insiders have told Lagniappe it was former communications director Barbara Drummond who made the order, and she was pushing for more 10th Floor computers to be wiped as well. She has publicly denied such accusations. Not surprising, as she is in the last leg of a campaign to join the Alabama House of Representatives and become a wheeler-dealer in her own right.
Drummond also has already been placed on the MAWSS board and is waiting for Sam to join her. Perhaps they should share a computer there.
Regardless as to whether it was Drummond or Jones who ordered the computer wiped, the question of why remains. If he just wanted to get rid of photos of himself partying in Cancun during Spring Break or his collection of cute cat videos, he could have just trashed them as personal data, but you’re not supposed to arbitrarily erase public computers.
Maybe there wasn’t even a big reason to do it, other than to be aggravating. The world may never know.
All I do know is something’s gotta give. Gridlock may work in Washington where nobody really wants much to happen anyway because it’s usually horrible, but we’re where the rubber meets the road here. If ditches don’t get covered and roads don’t get paved because the council is fighting over one guy, well, Sam’s computer may not be the only thing erased.
THE GADFLY BY LAURA RASMUSSEN
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