In a 5-2 decision Tuesday, Oct. 6, the Mobile City Council voted to increase the pay of the council and the mayor, starting with the November 2021 term.
For the council, the raise represents an increase of about $10,000 per year to $42,900 per year, if a member attends the legal minimum of 48 meetings annually. The raises would give councilors a base salary of $24,600, an additional $300 for each meeting they attend and a $325 stipend per month for “local” expenses. The approved raise would increase the mayor’s pay from $89,000 to $125,000 per year, starting with the term following the 2021 municipal elections.
The two dissenting votes came from Councilman John Williams and Councilwoman Bess Rich, who both questioned the optics of the move during a time of economic instability created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe it’s terrible timing,” Williams told his colleagues. “It sends the wrong message. We have a number of people in this city who are unemployed and facing devastating times.”
Rich brought up a number of other concerns, including that council members are technically elected to a part-time position.
“The average part-time job in Mobile is ‘nowhere close’ to what is being proposed for council members,” she said during a pre-conference meeting.
Rich was contemplating introducing an amendment that would tie council salaries close to those of first-year patrol officers within the Mobile Police Department. However, there was no appetite for the amendment and she didn’t bring it up.
Councilman Joel Daves introduced the ordinance regulating pay for the city’s elected officials. He has previously argued since the last time council salaries have increased in 1997, the city’s budget has almost doubled and city employee wages have increased by 50 percent.
Daves has also argued the council and Mayor Sandy Stimpson have had an impact on turning the city’s financial situation around and each elected official should be compensated for it.
Councilman Fred Richardson seemed to be the loudest advocate for the raises, arguing he knows of no other job where someone doesn’t receive a raise for 24 years. Richardson, who has announced a run for mayor in 2021, mentioned he would not be on the council when the raises take effect.
“It’s inconceivable for someone to work on a job for 24 years without a raise,” he said. “If not now, when? If not you, who?”
Richardson also argued while council positions may have been considered part time in 1985, technology has changed that. Councilors, Richardson said, can’t clock out during a four-year term.
“Citizens could not contact us in 1997,” he said. “Once we left City Hall we were through. Now, citizens have 15 ways to contact us. I’m up all night responding to emails, phone calls and text messages.”
In other business, councilors revoked the business licenses for the operator of a trio of boarding houses on Broad Street two weeks after owner Randall Petrie and his attorney, B.J. Lyon, asked for more time to make improvements.
At a public hearing two weeks ago, Petrie said he was working to transition the houses from a room rental system to more of an apartment-style system and was making, or had already made, renovations to the structures.
At the council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 29, Councilwoman Bess Rich asked for proof Petrie was making the improvements. On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Council President Levon Manzie confirmed Petrie had not yet pulled building permits for the work.
In addition to the renovations, Petrie had told councilors he had reduced the number of tenants at the houses and wanted to stay in business to help provide affordable housing to workers downtown.
The council voted down a resolution asking Stimpson to amend the recently approved 2021 fiscal year budget to make the spending of $14 million in surplus funds more equitable. The vote failed 3-4 with Richardson, Rich and Councilman C.J. Small voting in the affirmative.
Although the city’s 2021 budget was approved at the end of September, both Richardson and Rich asked colleagues to back them in challenging the mayor to add funding for Districts 1 and 6, after surplus money was spent in all the other council districts.
While Rich acknowledged that more than $1 million of the surplus money was set to be spent on the extension of Navius Road in her district, she argued other districts were awarded park improvements with the money. In the past, she told colleagues, park improvements came out of capital improvement fund money and not surplus money.
In addition to park improvements across the city, a chunk of the surplus money will help fund the Heritage House Museum in District 2’s Africatown area.
Richardson’s district was left out of the additional capital spending altogether, which he and Rich have argued is illegal based on a city ordinance that requires capital improvements be made based on need and be as “equitable” as possible.
Stimpson has previously explained District 1 was left out during this round of funding because, in a previous year, the district received all of the surplus money for projects, like the Crichton Fire Station and the infrastructure improvements for the Publix Shopping Center in Midtown.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Richardson argued the city-funded improvements for Publix were part of an incentive package to lure the grocery chain to the area.
“If that was weighed against me, then what about the millions we’ve spent as incentives for Airbus in District 3?” Richardson asked. “We’ve improved Broad Street tremendously. Didn’t nobody come back and say District 3 isn’t getting any money.”
Councilors also delayed for two weeks a discussion on a vacation of a portion of two streets to allow the county to expand portions of Mobile Metro Jail. The issue will be set for debate at an upcoming administrative services committee meeting.
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