The Mobile City Council will enter 2018 without a duly elected leader, almost two months after the seven councilors and Mayor Sandy Stimpson were inaugurated for another four-year term together.
At issue is a continued debate over which of two council factions will gain control if a president is chosen. The debate started when Councilman Fred Richardson received four votes for president to Councilwoman Gina Gregory’s three. Council attorney Wanda Cochran has since affirmed that according to the Zoghby Act, the law establishing Mobile’s current form of government, it takes five votes to elect a new council president. Since neither Richardson nor Gregory received five votes, no president has been elected.
In comments made to followers and friends on Facebook, Richardson said he considered supporting current Vice President Levon Manzie for president, but has since decided not to.
“Unfortunately for [Manzie] though, we soon learned that the votes the other group was promising Councilman Manzie were only if he could get another member to support one of them as council vice president,” Richardson wrote. “When another member was unwilling to support one of them for fear it would give the administration control over council, they withdrew their support for Councilman Manzie as president.”
In an interview with Lagniappe, Richardson said he changed his mind when a coalition of Gregory, Councilman John Williams and Councilman Joel Daves told him they’d support Manzie if one of them was elected vice president.
Richardson said that would’ve given Stimpson too much power over the council.
“With John, Gina, or Joel; that’s like picking Sandy, Jr.,” Richardson said. “I’m not voting for anyone for president, except Fred Richardson.”
Richardson mentioned comments Stimpson made earlier this month in support of Manzie as council president.
Williams called Richardson’s Facebook post “not worth the paper it’s written on.”
“Like a lot of things and a lot of comments, it’s based on a lot of fluff,” he said. “It’s absolutely not true.”
Instead, Williams characterized the discussions as an attempt to compromise and end the dispute.
“The three of us (meaning he, Gregory and Daves) were willing to move on and let the side of four (Richardson, Manzie, Councilman C.J. Small and Councilwoman Bess Rich) have the presidency.”
Discussions broke down, Williams said, when it came time to select a councilor to serve as vice president, with Manzie moving up to president. He said the debate has the feel of partisan politics, even though it’s local.
“I was willing to take the position (of vice president),” Williams said. “So, we would have balanced leadership.”
Williams said discussions stopped when the other side wouldn’t compromise.
“We weren’t willing to hand over everything,” he said.
He added he still supports Manzie for president. Daves had no comment on the issue. Manzie, Rich and Small could not be reached for comment at the time this report was published.
In an email, Gregory said she still supports Manzie for president.
“Levon has had my support for president since before we went to Charlotte for the National League of Cities City Summit,” she wrote … “It is quite obvious that neither Fred or I have the five votes needed to be elected president, and a compromise is needed. Since being elected VP, Levon has demonstrated that he is ready and capable to fill the president’s position.”
Williams said he wishes Stimpson hadn’t gotten involved, but also argued the council didn’t necessarily need a president.
“I don’t think [Richardson] is suited to be president,” Williams said. “I don’t think he’s suited to be the next mayor.”
In case anyone has to fill in for Stimpson, even temporarily, Williams said he’s comfortable with the governor deciding. In most cases, a special election would determine who would follow Stimpson if he couldn’t serve out his term.
Richardson, on the other hand, feels the president is a necessary position. For one, Richardson said, an elected president has to pick permanent committee assignments for a term. When needed, Manzie has convened ad-hoc committees. Richardson also believes that without a strong president, Stimpson would have too much control over the council.