The rules committee of the Mobile City Council is considering changes that would limit Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s ability to have items added to meeting agendas.
Historically, the mayor has been able to sponsor items and have them added to the agenda without first consulting councilors. A rule change proposed by Councilman John Williams, chairman of the committee, would require the mayor to first obtain a council sponsor for any item he proposes, before it ends up on the council agenda.
Williams said the change would help open up communication between the council and the administration.
“If we require a council sponsor on every item, we ensure communication,” he said.
The proposal, which committee members casually suggested could be limited at first to a three-month trial period, would allow Council President Gina Gregory to assign any item suggested by the mayor to a council committee for discussion, or to a member representing a specific district.
For example, Williams said proposals involving finance could be sent to Councilman Joel Daves, the chairman of the finance committee, for review before they make it to the council agenda. In another example, Williams said a proposal for new bleachers at Dog River Park would first come through his office for review before being added to the agenda.
After the meeting, Williams also suggested allowing any councilor to sponsor a mayoral addition to the agenda.
Williams said recent administration proposals, like a proposed law banning puppy sales at the flea market, or the proposal to ban the feeding of squirrels and other wildlife in city parks, were tipping points for him.
“I don’t think it ought to be on the agenda without, at least, one council member interested in it,” Williams said. “The mayor has other avenues for presentations.”
In the case of the animal feeding ban, councilors complained that City Attorney Ricardo Woods, not Stimpson, was listed as the sponsor of the item.
“That was the straw,” Williams said to reactions over the ban. “That’s when I said, ‘I’ve had enough. We need to get ahold of our agenda.’”
Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper told councilors the administration made a mistake in listing Woods as the sponsor and assured them the mayor sponsored the item.
Cooper added that Stimpson is not prepared to do anything that would “abdicate” any of his power as the city’s top executive. As a compromise, Cooper said moving forward only Stimpson would be listed as an item sponsor.
Cooper also asked about how the move would affect personnel decisions. Williams said all of those items would go through Gregory.
George Talbot, a spokesman for Stimpson’s administration, said after the meeting there are a lot of questions they will need clarifications on in order to follow the council’s wishes.
Stimpson said he would work with the council on the issue, but had reservations about it.
“They’ve slowed down the process of government and added another layer of red tape,” Stimpson said in a phone interview, following the committee meeting. “We’ll deal with it.”
Stimpson added that the move is setting a dangerous “precedent” for moving the city forward.
Councilors also discussed where Stimpson stands when he delivers comments, during council meetings. Stimpson will routinely stand with his back to council during the portion of the meeting where he makes public comments. Williams said the council has asked Stimpson to address them and the public, if he chooses to, during these comment periods.
George Talbot, a spokesman for Stimpson, said the mayor means no disrespect to the council when he turns his back to them to address the audience.
“The reason he does that is he feels it’s disrespectful to turn his back on citizens,” Talbot said.