An attempt by members of the Mobile City Council to make last-minute changes to the dispersal of grant money for the city’s community development department left members of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration steamed Tuesday.
The attempt by Councilman Levon Manzie to make two amendments to the city’s 2015 Action Plan led to an exchange after the meeting between Manzie and members of the administration, including Stimpson.
During a confrontation immediately following the meeting, Stimpson asked Manzie why he hadn’t brought up the amendments during the council’s pre-conference meeting “so we could discuss it.” Manzie said he wasn’t sure he was going to ask for the amendments at that time.
Before the meeting, Stimpson’s office released a statement saying it supported the 2015 Action Plan, which would “guide the administration of Community Development Block grants, HOME Investment Partnership Grants and Emergency Solutions Grants the city receives from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
The plan would direct resources to provide decent affordable housing and a suitable living environment, according to the statement. It would expand economic opportunities for low and moderate income persons and would establish projects to be funded through the grant awards of more than $3 million total.
In addition to smaller projects, the Action Plan would approve a $650,000 housing rehabilitation program and a $120,000 rental rehabilitation program.The plan would also provide $513,265 for an affordable rental housing program and another $200,000 for engineering and design for a rehabilitation of Baltimore Street.
During a discussion of the plan by councilors, Manzie offered the first of two amendments, which would’ve taken $50,000 for housing rehabilitation and put it toward funding for sidewalks along Mobile Street, north of Springhill Avenue.
Before a vote, Senior Director of Community and Housing Development Nigel Roberts told councilors he believed sidewalks along that portion of Mobile Street were needed, but the issue came down to timing.
He said any change would result in having to start over on a 30-day comment period, and with the application due on April 10, it would jeopardize the allocation of all of the grant money.
Despite the objections of Roberts, the council passed the amendment 5-2, with councilmen John Williams and C.J. Small dissenting.
Manzie also asked that $120,000 be taken out of the rental rehabilitation project and added to a project to build a walking trail in the Africatown community. He told councilors they had made a commitment to Africatown residents and should stick to it.
Roberts told Manzie funding would be appropriated for the walking trail next year, when more would be available.
Williams told councilors that they had already “derailed the plan” with their previous vote and asked that it be reconsidered.
Small agreed, saying it wasn’t worth risking millions of dollars for a few thousand. He also asked that the first amendment be reconsidered.
Councilman Fred Richardson said the programs would not be in jeopardy if the amendments were added. He went on to say that previous Action Plan budgets had been submitted late without a problem.
“The only way we can jeopardize these programs is if the money is used inappropriately,” he said. “We are not breaking any laws and not putting the programs in jeopardy.”
After the meeting, Roberts said budget submissions have not been late in the past.
Moments later, the council approved a motion by Council President Gina Gregory to reconsider the amendment and holdover for one week a vote on the entire Action Plan. The motion carried by a 6-1 vote with Councilman Fred Richardson as the lone dissenter.
After the meeting, Mayor Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper called the move by councilors “politically motivated.” He added that the Action Plan item had been on the agenda for five days, giving councilors “ample time to review” it.
Cooper said the federal money was too valuable to play politics with.
“This is not the place to have political agendas play out,” he told reporters after the meeting.
After the meeting, Manzie repeatedly told Roberts that he had discussed the walking trail issue with residents. Roberts said he had weekly meetings with Africatown residents and Manzie said he met with residents more often than that.
In other business, the council approved a $1.1 million contract with Sunset Contracting for the installation of a roundabout at the intersection of North McGregor Avenue and Museum Drive.
The council also approved a number of amendments to city code, including fire and building codes, to align them with codes newly published International Building Codes. The moves followed a series of public hearings held Tuesday, in which no one spoke for or against the new codes.
The council also appointed Fred Moore to the Electrical Examiners Board, Adam Metcalfe to the Board of Adjustment and Austill Lott to the Mobile Museum of Art Board.
Stimpson told councilors and visitors to the meeting about his invitation to the White House last week. He said he joined five other mayors and four governors to discuss large infrastructure projects.
Stimpson said he was allowed five minutes to speak about the Interstate 10 bridge project in front of White House staff and a bevy of private investors. He said a public-private partnership is one of the avenues the city is traveling to find funding for the $850 million project.
Stimpson also reported that he traveled the famous Azalea Trail last week and touted a Keep Mobile Beautiful project to revitalize it. Stimpson said the idea for the trail sprouted in 1933 and by 1940 more than 100,000 visitors came to travel the trail.
“It’s a good opportunity to get back to our roots in that regard,” he said.
He also commended councilors for their affirmative vote to allow for installation of three synthetic turf soccer fields at Herndon Park on Sage Avenue. One field would be soccer-specific, while one could be used for both soccer and football and one could be used for soccer and lacrosse.
He said the fields should be in place by August.