All it took was a pledge to move across the bay and Col. James DeLapp received the unanimous support of the Mobile City Council during his confirmation as the city’s new Director of Public Works this week.
DeLapp’s appointment was officially confirmed by the council Tuesday, July 23. City spokesperson Geroge Talbot said a panel of employees and subject experts helped narrow a nationwide pool of candidates down to five before Mayor Sandy Stimpson selected DeLapp.
He comes to Mobile from the private sector, but DeLapp’s last duty assignment was as the 52nd Commander the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District. There, he managed 1,100 employees and a $1.4 billion military, civil works and international support program.
Councilman Joel Daves also pointed out that DeLapp was uniquely prepared for the position of public works director because of his efforts overseeing the Corps’ study of widening the Mobile Shipping Channel and the $3 billion recovery mission in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
“In the unfuate event that we were hit by another hurricane, that experience will be invaluable to the city of Mobile,” Daves said. “We are extremely fortunate to have an individual as talented and as suited for this post as Col. DeLapp.”
In the Army, DeLapp served in peacekeeping and combat operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, where he spent most of his time working to rebuild or repair infrastructure. In addition to his military experience, DeLapp has also worked in government as a congressional fellow to two U.S. Senators and the legislative assistant the Army’s Chief of Staff.
The position at the city of Mobile could test all his experience as the city continues major infrastructure overhauls to repair roads and upgrade its stormwater management systems. DeLapp is also taking the reigns after a tumultuous time for the department.
After a leadership shakeup in late 2018, the City Council launched an investigation into employees’ complaints about working conditions and their treatment at the hands of superiors within the department. In January of this year, a special counsel hired by the City Council released a report that found those complaints had merit.
Because some of the claims alleged cases of “racially based harassment” within the department, there was initially said to be some behind-the-scenes pushback from black members of the council who wanted to see a minority candidate selected for the position.
While none of those concerns were addressed to DeLapp directly at the meeting, Councilman C.J. Small did encourage Stimpson to continue efforts to make his administrative staff more reflective of Mobile’s racial diversity. Still, Small said he supported hiring DeLapp.
“I do want to ask the mayor to keep making those efforts according to what our state law says,” Small said, referring to the 1985 Zoghby Act that established Mobile’s current form of city government and included provisions meant to strengthen its minority representation.
The only other concern raised by a council members was that DeLapp is currently living in Baldwin County. Councilman Fred Richardson said there was no doubt in his mind that DeLapp was not only qualified but would also be an asset for the city of Mobile. However, he went on to note that multiple current and former members of Stimpson’s staff have not lived in Mobile.
“The mayor conducted a nationwide search and it brought him back to Baldwin County, and I’m not voting for anybody trying to direct the city’s business from another county,” Richardson said. “If you commit to moving to the city of Mobile, you’ll have my support.”
In response, DeLapp told the council that he and his family plan to move across the bay within his first six months on the job. That appeared to be enough to alleviate Richardson’s concerns.
In addition, Councilman Levon C. Manzie also warned DeLapp that counselors often get defensive about the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) that generates funding for road and instructure projects using a one-cent sales tax the council voted to extend a few years back.
“You are definitely qualified and we are certainly in need of this level of leadership over these various cities functions,” Manzie said. “However, I’m going to say this on behalf of all my colleagues that the CIP program is the City Council’s baby and we’ll protect it vigorously because we all stuck our necks out on the line in order to create it.”
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