Candidates for Mobile City Council District 1 discussed the future of city-owned buildings, police body camera policy and annexation during the first of a series of candidate forums hosted by Mobile United, the League of Women Voters and WKRG News 5.
The series of candidate forums kicked off Monday, Aug. 2 and will continue with each district through the end of next week before culminating in a mayoral debate on Monday, Aug. 16.
District 1 candidates Herman Thomas, Cory Penn, Tim Hollis, Tony-Toni Wright, Perry Berens and Chamyne Fortune Thompson.
The forum moderator, WKRG anchor and reporter Peter Albrecht, gave candidates between 15 and 45 seconds to answer a series of questions culled from WKRG viewers, LWV members and Mobile United.
All candidates said they believe police body cameras should be worn by every member of the Mobile Police Department who interacts with the public, but they differed on how the information should be released.
Hollis said the video should be made available to the City Council-appointed Police Citizens Community Relations Council. Penn said he believes the department should follow the city’s ordinances.
Thompson said the videos should be made public “when necessary.” Thomas said “the film” should be “released immediately.” Wright said “everyone should be held accountable” and Berens said the video being public would help tell both sides of the story.
Candidates were asked their support of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s 2019 annexation proposal that would’ve allowed about 13,000 residents of West Mobile to vote in a referendum to join the city. The proposal was defeated by the City Council on a 4-3 vote in favor of annexation because it required a supermajority of five votes to be approved.
While all the candidates agreed that the supermajority rule should stick around even if black members of the council were to make up a future majority of seats, each differed on their view of annexation.
Thomas called annexation an “important issue” and said the current council didn’t spend enough time discussing it. He added that while residents had “legitimate concerns” the city must grow.
Thompson said she is pro-growth and is in favor of a plan that benefits residents. Wright pleaded with the public to get more educated on the annexation issue and Berens said there are enough issues within the city limits without adding new residents.
Penn advocated for improving the quality of life for residents of District 1 before taking on new residents, but agreed with Thompson that a plan for growth has to be created.
Hollis said he is pro-annexation, but would need to speak to residents of District 1 before making a decision.
Candidates were asked about Stimpson and the city’s work on diversity and inclusion.
Wright said the government is more diverse than when he was growing up. Berens said Stimpson has “done a good job” in terms of diversity.
“He’s made improvements compared to the previous administration,” Berens said.
Hollis said the diversity looks good at the top, but there are “inconsistencies.”
Penn said the “diversity and inclusion” is good.
“The city is progressing the right way, but we can always do better,” he said.
Thomas cautioned residents to look at mayoral appointments to boards, like the Planning Commission.
“We can do a better job reflecting the diversity of the city,” he said.
Thompson said the diversity conversation has to be about more than just race. She pointed out that the seven-member City Council has only two women and one — Councilwoman Bess Rich — is not seeking re-election.
“We need more diversity on the council,” she said. “We need to work a little more to ensure all voices are heard.”
The candidates were asked about investment in city-owned buildings, including the Civic Center, GulfQuest Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico and Ladd-Peebles Sports and Entertainment Complex.
Berens said the Civic Center could be repurposed to house research and development, or the property could be used for halfway houses.
“I see all kinds of things it can be used for,” he said. “It’s a beautiful structure.”
Ladd, on the other hand, could be a great outdoor venue for concerts and other events, especially given the COVID-19 pandemic, Berens said.
Wright and Thompson both believe the Civic Center and Ladd can still be used to attract concerts and other events to the city, while Thomas advocated using a public-private partnership to revitalize a “beautiful part of the city.”
Thomas called Ladd “an important part of this city and the Maysville community.” Like with the Civic Center, he believes the city could invest in a public-private partnership to help expand its footprint.
Penn and Hollis both said the city must upgrade the center. Hollis said he was against the downsizing of Ladd and believes the venue should stay a part of the city’s plans, so it can host events like the annual classic game usually featuring two Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Penn said a city investment in Ladd is an investment in the Black community and those types of actions are important.
“We have to invest in us,” he said.
As for GulfQuest, the candidates were each asked how they would handle the building, which cost more than $40 million to construct and used federal grants that could prevent it from being used as a completely different facility.
Hollis and Penn both said the city should look at the federal grant restrictions to see what can be done. Wright called it a “bad investment” and Thomas said the city needs to find another use for it. Berens called GulfQuest a “bad idea.”
“How it got as far as it did is ridiculous,” he said.
Thompson said the city “has to do something” with the facility.
“It’s not working, obviously,” she said.
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