The city of Mobile has ended its relationship with Mobile Group, Inc., at least for the moment.
The company monitored the city’s stormwater management program for almost two decades but is no longer working for the city, according to Mobile Group’s attorney, Marshall Gardner.
“That contract has expired and the Mobile Group is no longer performing services for the city,” he said in a letter, ending the company’s 17-year relationship with the city. Mobile Group was first brought on to help the city comply with new EPA regulations in 1996.
The last contract to be approved by the City Council was on April 30, 2013, by a vote of 5-2 with councilors Bess Rich and Reggie Copeland opposing. The $498,240 contract was effective for monitoring until Sept. 30, 2013, but Mobile Group was also responsible for submitting the annual report by Dec. 31, 2013.
Gardner also said the claims that Mobile Group submitted an annual report late to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management are not true.
“The report was originally due to ADEM on December 30, 2013. My client’s employees worked through nights and weekends in order to finish the report on time. Part of the reason for the last minute rush was that the city was very late in furnishing certain information to Mobile Group, and once the information was furnished my client had to incorporate it into the report,” Gardner said in an email.
“The complete report and appendices, over 28,000 pages, was delivered to the City at 8:30 a.m. on December 30, 2013. This was the same protocol that Mobile Group has followed for years. It is our understanding that the City requested and received an extension of the time to file the report.”
During the pre-conference meeting on Jan. 7, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the city filed the report to ADEM on Jan. 3.
Every year the city must submit an annual report to ADEM by Dec. 31. However, the city filed the report on Jan. 3. Not submitting the annual report is something that has gotten the city into trouble before.
In February 2012, ADEM fined the city $17,750 for not submitting a report for 2008-2009. Then ADEM cited the city for failing to submit a report for 2007 and 2009. The later violation is coupled with other citations is what led ADEM to sue the city.
ADEM is now asking the Mobile County Circuit Court to fine Mobile $475,000. This will be decided upon during a Feb. 7 hearing between ADEM and the city of Mobile.
Stimpson noted during the Jan. 7 meeting that Mobile Group, Inc., which the city paid $498,240 to monitor the city’s stormwater system in 2013, did not turn in the report on time.
Gardner maintains the report was in on time.
However, the report needed to be reviewed before it was turned into ADEM Chief of Staff Colby Cooper said.
“The report was turned in to the city at the last minute, but the 28,000 page report needed to be reviewed before it was submitted to ADEM,” he said. “In order to certify and signoff on the report, it had to be reviewed before it was filed.
“The time period for the report was until September 2013, which was under Mayor Sam Jones administration, but it is this administration’s position that everything be reviewed before it was signed off on and sent to ADEM.”
As far as the city’s 2014 stormwater management monitoring program, Cooper said Stimpson and the administration puts that as its highest priority.
“We are looking at what was done in the past and how we should move forward,” he said. “Mayor Stimpson talks regularly with ADEM about what we need to do so the city of Mobile is no longer one of the troubling cities as far as stormwater management goes.
“In the next weeks, there should be more information coming out, but right now it would be premature to talk about it.”
Mobile Group was also the center of controversy when the 2013 contract was being discussed.
During several meetings about the contract, Councilman Fred Richardson alleged the contract with the company was delayed in being passed because a minority is in charge of the company — owner V.J. Reddy is Indian.
Public Services Director John Bell took a much less subtle approach when he wrote a letter to the council, Jones and staff, which accused Copeland and Rich of being racist.
In the letter Bell told Copeland that Richardson was right when he indicated the council’s delaying and denying the contract was race-related. Richardson never singled out a particular councilor though.
“Based on your action on (April 23) and actions I have observed, but ignored, I have to conclude that Mr. Richardson was correct when he indicated council action was a matter of skin color,” Bell wrote in the letter. “You have not acted alone. The misinformation campaign by Mrs. (Bess) Rich speaks for itself. What I cannot figure out is if she is incapable of understanding or if she is that good at twisting issues around.”
Bell later retracted the comments on the letter and apologized on May 7.