Crime prevention, zoning and infrastructure improvements were the topics of discussion during a political forum featuring all three mayoral and a majority of District 2’s council candidates Thursday evening.
The forum, hosted by the Historic Old Dauphin Way Association, began with incumbent Mayor Sandy Stimpson and challengers Municipal Judge Karlos Finley and Councilman Fred Richardson speaking for five minutes each.
Stimpson largely spoke about his record, which he said included pulling the city out of financial trouble. He told the group city-owned buildings had a combined total of $125 million in deferred maintenance when he took over and vehicles for the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department and Mobile Police Department were aging beyond repair.
“Eight years ago we saw a city on the brink of financial ruin,” he said. “In the last seven years, we’ve balanced the budget, with a surplus and added a rainy day fund.”
Stimpson also took credit for helping the City Council manage the popular Capital Improvement Program, which has funded the repaving of more than 600 streets and has rebuilt a portion of Ann Street.
The program started with a 1-cent sales tax increase that was earmarked for infrastructure improvements. The program splits a $21 million piece of that revenue equally among the seven council districts. As Richardson would later point out, Stimpson initially vetoed the tax increase and his veto had to be overridden by councilors at the time.
Despite his initial veto, Stimpson has clearly come to embrace the program and members of city staff help the council organize the projects.
Stimpson also pointed to more than $70 million invested in parks during his time as mayor. He also mentioned projects like the Three-Mile Creek Greenway and the city’s $33 million acquisition of bayside property at Brookley, a portion of which will be set aside for a public park.
Finley made a point of touching on topics he said were the main concerns of residents in the Old Dauphin Way neighborhood.
One of the top concerns among neighbors there, Finley said, is gun violence. Like many of those living in Old Dauphin Way, Finley said he has spent evenings playing a game of “fireworks or gunshots.” The judge’s solution to the issue relies on new technology, like ShotSpotter. However, he did mention the technology would record conversations and warned about that.
Finley also spoke about residents’ concerns over zoning and the possible implementation of the new unified development code, which he said folks fear favors developers.
“We can’t just let some people walk around zoning laws,” he said. “The rules have to be equal.”
As mayor, Finley said, he would make sure residents are properly notified before any new development is discussed by the Planning Commission.
While there has been debate over which side is favored in the new zoning code, the proposed UDC requires developers to have a community meeting, which wasn’t a requirement before and puts in place two overlay districts — one in Africatown and one in Spring Hill — which have both already been approved by their respective communities.
Finley also mentioned doing more to help the homeless and combat mental health issues. He brought up the need for the city to invest in a curbside recycling program as well.
Richardson defended former Mayor Sam Jones and went on the offensive the hardest against Stimpson during his comments.
Defending the former mayor from Stimpson’s comments related to the city’s finances, Richardson said Jones had to weather the Great Recession. Richardson also dinged the incumbent by taking credit for the CIP. However, more than one councilor has taken credit for creating the program since its inception.
“Of all the legislation we’ve passed, the most transformative legislation the city council has ever passed is the CIP,” Richardson said.
Richardson also discussed his record as a supporter of the city’s economic development issues. He told the group he had a hand in bringing in Austal and its 4,000 employees, as well as Airbus. Richardson also appeared to lampoon Lagniappe for its previous coverage of his taxpayer-funded travel habits.
“If you don’t sell your city, nobody else is going to sell it,” he said.
While Stimpson also mentioned the Midtown Publix development and improvements along Florida Street and Old Shell Road, Richardson said it was he who brought those developments to the city. Richardson also took credit for luring CVS to the corner of Dauphin and Florida streets. He said it almost got him “run out of office.”
Four of the five District 2 council candidates were available at the forum, including incumbent Councilman Levon Manzie, former councilman William Carroll, Reggie Hill and Mark Minneart. Kimberly McKeand was absent from the forum.
Manzie took a portion of his five minutes to not only defend his record but to answer attacks about his availability as a council representative. Manzie told the group he has held more community meetings than any other councilor with 76. He also highlighted the money spent through CIP funding and the impact it and his leadership has had on the district during his time in office.
“District 2 is on a better path now than when I took office seven and a half years ago,” he said.
Carroll spoke about crime and the 16 burglaries over 24 days in his Oakleigh neighborhood.
“We should have a quality of life in this city where no one is afraid to go outside,” he said.
To help with crime, Carroll said he believes youth should be given more opportunities for recreation in the city. Specifically, Carroll spoke out against charging residents for programming at community centers.
Manzie has previously offered to pay the summer camp fee out of his discretionary account of any child or family turned away for lack of funds.
Hill attacked the current CIP and said even more money could go to districts that need it. Specifically, Hill asked for more equity in the program, pointing out that areas east of Interstate 65, including District 2, had bigger issues when it comes to infrastructure than areas west of the interstate. Therefore, he said, those areas to the east need more funding.
“For districts 1, 2, and 3, we need a little bit more money in our areas,” he said. ‘We could go a couple of years where the money is split differently.”
Minneart took a bit of a different approach than the previous speakers. He spoke about annexation first. He said he favors the annexation of a portion of West Mobile that would add 13,000 to the population numbers. He attacked councilors who voted against the 2019 proposal for what he called “political reasons.”
“That could have cost the city $50 million over the next decade,” Minneart said. “I will not negotiate the future prosperity of the city for petty political reasons.”
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