Attorneys have billed the city more than $60,000 since December as mediation between the Mobile City Council and Mayor Sandy Stimpson continues as part of a lawsuit to determine which entity has the power to hire employees.
The two firms working to defend the council against the lawsuit brought by Stimpson have charged a total of $61,392 in the four months since it was filed. Attorneys with Cabaniss & Johnston have billed the city $16,700, $22,984 and $17,788 respectively. McDowell & Knight billed $3,440 and $480 respectively.
Council Vice President Levon Manzie said while he would have preferred to negotiate the issue outside of court, they had to defend themselves once the suit was filed. If the suit brings clarity to the larger legal question, he added, maybe the costs would be worth it.
“I would’ve much rather us not to go down this road; I’d rather we sit down and force ourselves to fashion a way forward … ,” he said. “We were forced to defend ourselves after being sued by the city’s chief executive.
The attorneys working for Stimpson have either all been covered under the $55,000-per-month contract with Burr & Forman, or are working for no charge, city spokesman George Talbot confirmed in a text message.
“We have no additional costs as of yet,” he wrote.
Following a council pre-conference meeting on Tuesday, April 16, Talbot said the city understands the costs behind the suit could be a concern for taxpayers, but getting a definitive answer as to which branch can hire employees is important.
“We always think about the impact on taxpayers of every decision we make,” he said. “I think we’ve done everything we can to keep costs down. We think the importance and the benefit of answering the legal question outweighs the costs.”
Stimpson initially filed the lawsuit after the City Council voted to rehire communications specialist Marion Steinfels, who he had previously fired. In rehiring Steinfels, councilors said they believed the firing was politically motivated.
Stimpson’s side believes the council, through the Zoghby Act — the state law used to set up Mobile’s current form of government — doesn’t have the authority alone to contract with employees. The exception to this is in hiring a council attorney and city clerk, which are specifically mentioned in the law.
The council, on the other hand, believes it has the right to hire a communications specialist via contract.
While she has yet to be paid while the lawsuit is ongoing, Steinfels has submitted invoices from December to March totaling $25,000. While the differences between Stinfels charges and the attorneys charges are striking, Talbot said the suit is not about pay.
“This is about the underlying legal question of whether the council has the authority to hire employees,” he said. “It’s our position … they do not.”
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