Attorney Patrick Sims will have until Dec. 15 to investigate claims of racially based harassment within the city’s Public Works Department; the Mobile City Council authorized the move in a 5-1 vote at its regular meeting Tuesday, Nov. 6.
The investigation follows months of complaints from employees about alleged harassment and mistreatment in the department, some of it racially motivated.
Councilman Joel Daves was the lone dissenting vote. He said the state has authorized the Mobile County Personnel Board to act upon workplace grievances and, consequently, it should handle an investigation.
“The council has no way to redress workplace grievances,” he said. “If there was a resolution before us that asked the Mobile County Personnel Board to investigate, I’d be fully behind it.”
Daves said he believes it will set a negative precedent for the council and also believes it pits the mayor and councilors against each other, a move he thinks is unwise.
Councilwoman Gina Gregory was absent from the meeting.
Sims, as special counsel, will be paid $200 per hour and will report the findings of the investigation to a committee of three councilors by “no later than Saturday, Dec. 15,” according to the resolution. The committee and Sims will work together to outline the parameters of the investigation.
Council Vice President Levon Manzie said there is no indication the investigation will pit the two sides of city government against one another, as city attorney Ricardo Woods has repeatedly said the administration is in favor of an investigation. Acting Chief of Staff Paul Wesch reiterated support Tuesday.
Manzie called the allegations very serious, especially given workers have risked their employment to bring such concerns to light. Manzie and other councilors implied the investigation could also help trash pickup, which has been lagging behind schedule for months.
Councilman Fred Richardson argued councilors had asked the administration to investigate the claims on its own and they were ignored. Wesch said the city constantly investigates personnel issues in various departments. He said what Richardson means is the administration didn’t investigate the claims to the extent he and other councilors wanted.
In other business, councilors briefly discussed a resolution to rehire Marion Steinfels as the body’s communications coordinator through a professional services contract. The contract is almost identical to the one former council attorney Jim Rossler wrote in 2016 but Mayor Sandy Stimpson never signed, council attorney Wanda Cochran said. Instead, Stimpson appointed Steinfels to the position in 2016 and fired her last month for what councilors believe were political reasons.
Councilman John Williams asked if Stimpson’s office had been notified of the agreement. Manzie asked Cochran to distribute the agreement to administration officials. Daves said he had concerns the agreement would further strain the relationship between the council and Stimpson’s offices.