The Mobile City Council approved an agreement to hire Marion Steinfels to manage its communications, the same day the item was added to the agenda.
The original council agenda sent out Friday did not include the performance contract paying Steinfels $3,750 per month. Instead, the council introduced the agreement during its 9 a.m. pre-conference meeting. The item was added to the council’s consent agenda and approved at its 10:30 a.m. regular meeting.
Steinfels’ contract will be paid with money from the council’s operations budget, which received additional funding from cuts in Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s budget.
In September, the council amended Stimpson’s budget proposal to cut more than $700,000 from the WAVE transit system. While the majority of that money went to Visit Mobile, formerly known as the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, a total of $130,000 went to the City Council. Of that amount, $60,000 was put into the operations budget.
Before the increase, the City Council had been budgeted $223,425 for operations, according to the budget document. In contrast, Stimpson’s office was budgeted $411,891 in a “communications and external affairs” line item. The total budget for Stimpson’s office was cut by $90,000 this year to fall more in line with fiscal year 2015 actuals.
Council President Gina Gregory said the money cut from WAVE’s $6.1 million annual budget allocation went to fund a number of items. In addition to Visit Mobile and the council, the money was used to help fund Boys and Girls Clubs programs, among other items.
Several councilors were quick to welcome Steinfels aboard. Councilwoman Bess Rich said it would be good for the council to have someone working for them who could update the public on council meeting news, since Mobile no longer has a daily newspaper.
“We interviewed lots of prospective candidates and feel we’ve landed the best,” Rich said.
Councilman Fred Richardson said it was “past due” for councilors to be represented by a communications manager. He compared Mobile to Birmingham, where each councilor has an assistant assigned to them.
Councilman C.J. Small said the need for the position was evidenced a few weeks ago when “false” information was distributed through social media.
“Let’s get to work,” Small said … “The truth can come out.”
Steinfels said she’s excited to have the job and expects to help give the council a greater presence on social media, as well as preparing news releases for the media and communicating directly with the public.
Steinfels has worked as a consultant in the private sector and is a graduate of Huntingdon College in Montgomery. Gregory said Steinfels will have an office on the ninth floor of Government Plaza, where the council offices are located.
Steinfels’ contract runs through the end of the year, but comes with one-year options after that, Gregory said.
In other business, the council unanimously approved a nearly $800,000 contract with McElhenney Construction Company LLC for sidewalks in Toulminville.
The council also voted unanimously on a compromise Stimpson initially proposed to allow only elected officials to place items on meeting agendas in the future.