Councilwoman Bess Rich left the door open for a change in the Mobile City Council’s leadership with comments she made Tuesday.
When asked about a possible change in council president and vice president, Rich seemed at least willing to consider a change from current council President Gina Gregory.
“I think it’s a new term,” she said following the pre-conference meeting on Tuesday. “I’m open to assess the past four years.”
Rich added that she didn’t yet know who she’d support, or who would be in the running for those positions.
“I’m sure we’ll work it out,” she said. “We usually do.”
Last week, current council Vice President Fred Richardson expressed interest in replacing Gregory at the helm of the council, although he said he hadn’t openly discussed it with any of his colleagues.
Richardson, who has been the council’s second chair for 12 years, also expressed disappointment he wasn’t called upon to replace Reggie Copeland as president four years ago. He complained his colleagues “threw me to the wind.” Richardson has stated publicly that this will be his last term in office representing District 1.
Councilman Joel Daves said he didn’t want to comment on the issue.
The swearing-in and organization meeting where the vote will take place was moved to 10 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 6, per the Zoghby Act, the law that governs the city.
In other business, the organizer of a nonprofit aimed at job skills training for young people and those looking to rehabilitate themselves accused the city of using the guidelines of its Neighborhood Renewal Program (NRP) unfairly during his public comment portion of the meeting.
Nikklos Kidd, with Compassion in Action, told councilors the city did not give his organization priority when he applied for ownership of a home on the NRP list. Instead, he said because the home at 2872 Ralston Road is in a better neighborhood than most NRP properties, the city is looking to put it up for a competitive bid.
Typically, a nonprofit gets priority on a NRP property and is subject to pay only $2,500 for it, city attorney Ricardo Woods said. However, Woods said Kidd applied for the property in his own name and not the charity’s, so he was not given the same priority typically awarded to nonprofits.
Instead, the city has gone through the process of putting the house up for competitive bid to help recoup the more than $14,000 invested in preparing the property for sale, Woods said.
Kidd included a letter with his initial application in January stating that he was part of a nonprofit and the home would be used to further the nonprofit’s causes. Woods acknowledged the attached letter, but said the application itself had no reference to the charity.
“You’re lying,” Kidd said during the meeting. “It’s on file. You’re lying.”
Kidd argued that with all the money the city gives developers and industry to revitalize areas of town, it wouldn’t be out of character for the city to let his nonprofit purchase the house for the charity’s use. He told councilors the city is basically paying for the renovation of the Shoppes at Bel Air through a tax rebate deal.
“The city talks a lot about economic development; well, this is human interest development,” Kidd said.
As for his plans for the house, Kidd said he would have men from Wings of Life help fix it up and teenagers in the nonprofit program would cut the grass. He would then rent it out for “perpetual revenue” for the nonprofit.
The council also unanimously approved a resolution for longevity pay for Mobile Fire-Rescue Department personnel during Tuesday’s meeting. The raises will be based on how many years each individual has served in the department, amounting to a 2.5 percent raise for every five years of service up to 20 years.
Rich said it was her initial understanding that an addition of longevity pay for the Mobile Police Department in last year’s budget would automatically be applied to the MFRD, due to parity restrictions. When that wasn’t the case, she had hoped the raises for MFRD would be added to the 2018 fiscal year budget proposal. She said she was “dismayed” when they weren’t initially added.
“I want to thank everyone involved in the process,” she said. “I appreciate the council being 100 percent behind this as well.”
The council also approved money for new sidewalks in the south Dauphin Island Parkway area of the city. Councilman C.J. Small, who represents the area, said the sidewalks would be used to connect Gilliard Elementary, Palmer Pillans Middle School and B.C. Rain High School.
The council’s finance committee will discuss the renewal of the 1-cent sales tax increase at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 31, in the council conference room on the ninth floor of Government Plaza.
The tax increase currently funds the city’s capital improvement program, but it is set to sunset at the end of the 2018 fiscal year. In order to maintain the funding source, the council must vote before then.
As it stands, the renewal has enough votes to be continued, at least temporarily. The council is split on whether to continue the program indefinitely or have the tax increase sunset again.
Only Rich has expressed an interest in finding alternative ways to raise the revenue needed for the CIP. She chaired a taxation ad-hoc committee that recommended replacing the sales tax increase with a property tax. During the run-up to the last municipal election, Rich said she viewed the property tax as more fair and more business friendly and hoped her colleagues would re-examine the issue.