The Mobile City Council voted Wednesday to reallocate more than $3 million, a portion of which would allow the Mobile Police Department to purchase body cameras for all sworn officers.
The move, which takes the money from a capital fund earmarked for economic development, restores the capital budgets of the MPD and the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department to the levels presented in Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposed budget. It gives MPD more than $3 million and the MFRD about $2 million in capital budgets.
With the funding secured, MPD Chief James Barber said the department would soon be asking the council to approve a five-year contract with TASER for Axon Flex cameras, which can be attached to an officer’s shoulder, or sunglasses. The cameras would activate once an officer turned on the blue lights in a vehicle, or once a stun gun was engaged.
The cameras would require the department to upgrade its stun guns, which would drive the price for the camera system up to about $480,000. Barber said the body cameras, because of where they’re worn, would replace the department’s aging in-dash camera system, which will save the city $300,000 to $400,000.
Barber said training on the body cameras would begin next month and the system should be fully implemented by this summer.
The remainder of the capital money would be spent replacing police and fire vehicles.
Councilors asked Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch if taking the money out of economic development would affect any commitments the city has made to industry in the area. Wesch said the account had about $4 million in committed money and $8 million that wasn’t committed. The money for the body cameras and vehicles came from the uncommitted funds, he said.
Councilman Fred Richardson noted the criticism the council and the previous administration took over transferring money from one account to another and asked Wesch if that’s what the current administration was doing.
Wesch said that they were certainly guilty of the same practice.
Chief of Staff Colby Cooper and Councilman John Williams clarified that the money used came from another capital fund.
“What others have accused the previous administration of was transferring from capital funds to operational,” Williams said. “This is different.”
Richardson disagreed, “whatever you call it, we’re moving money around,” he said.
Mardi Gras flag
Former councilors Jane Conkin and Irmatean Watson asked the council to resolve an issue involving the city’s official Carnival season flag.
A 1987 law, sponsored by Watson and Conkin, declared that a Carnival-themed flag would be the city’s official flag during the season. The city gave copyright of the flag to the local YWCA chapter at that time. Conkin said a group by the name of Wings now owns the copyright and a member of the group won’t give it back to the city.
Conkin and Watson asked current councilors to look at changing one or two things about the flag in order to allow the city to sell it to retailers and raise it during the Mardi Gras season.
Councilwoman Bess Rich suggested adding the date of the city’s first Mardi Gras parade to it, or simply staking claim to Mobile’s Mardi Gras origins on the flag.
The council unanimously agreed to approve a contract for professional security services, not to exceed $254,000 a year.
The money would pay for unarmed security guards on the second and ninth floors of Government Plaza, as well as for Fort Conde and the Historic Development Commission.
During a pre-conference meeting, Williams openly questioned the need for a guard on the ninth floor, where council offices sit. He said he feels safe in the building.
Councilman Fred Richardson said he believes any floor of the building where elected officials have offices should be guarded.
Hank Aaron Stadium upgrades
The council held over for one week approval on a $105,630 contract with Moody’s Electric for lighting upgrades at Hank Aaron Stadium.
Rich withheld consent to bring the item for a vote Wednesday because she said she was hopeful the administration would negotiate an amended contract with the stadium’s tenants, the Mobile BayBears. She said the baseball team hasn’t been paying rent on the facility.
“I hope we will have a contract with the entity that benefits and has not paid rent … “ Rich said.
Councilman Joel Daves retorted that the city itself is the entity that benefits from the lighting upgrades.
Stimpson said a holdover could affect the start of baseball season. Rich countered that the administration knew about the season last week and should’ve introduced the ordinance then.
Cooper said the city wouldn’t be in a position to enter into an amended contract with the BayBears next week.
In other business
The council held over for two weeks a vote to regulate the distribution of what it called “commercial handbills,” which includes any sample, device, dodger, circular, leaflet, pamphlet, paper, booklet, or other printed material that advertises or directs attention to any business, among other criteria.
The council also approved changes to its noise ordinance in residential districts. The change would allow MPD officers to enforce the noise ordinance if noise is clearly audible from a specified distance during certain times, instead of being forced to always use a decibel meter.