After receiving a resignation from Mobile City Council attorney Wanda Cochran, two members want to change the way the body hires a legal adviser.
In a letter to councilors obtained by Lagniappe, Cochran wrote that it has “been a distinct honor to serve the council since the beginning of the new term in 2017.”
“I have truly enjoyed representing the council, engaging with each of you on special projects and working with your wonderful staff,” Cochran wrote. “While I remain fully committed to the interests and future of the city, I feel it is time to step aside.”
The effective date of Dec. 31 was chosen in order to give members an opportunity to hire someone else.
Cochran appeared to be in the middle of a council spat regarding the legality of a special called meeting where councilors voted to approve the 2020 budget and hire a different attorney to finalize a settlement agreement with Mayor Sandy Stimpson in a lawsuit he initiated.
Council President Levon Manzie said he was told the meeting was legal, while Councilwoman Bess Rich and Councilman Fred Richardson said they were each told it was inappropriate. The meeting was called and the items were passed. Rich and Richardson also wanted to keep fighting the lawsuit, despite a majority of colleagues wanting to settle it.
In a statement of her own, Rich wrote she hoped Cochran would reconsider “for the sake of the city.”
“There is absolutely no doubt the council and city have benefited greatly as a result of her thoroughness, diligence and professionalism,” Rich wrote. “The city is much better off because of her work, especially the efforts on our behalf, to make certain transparency and compliance with applicable laws. After being represented by someone so dedicated to those principles, it will be nearly impossible to fill her shoes.”
In a separate statement, Richardson said Cochran would be “sorely missed” if she chooses to leave.
“Over all my years on the council I’ve not before seen a lawyer with Wanda’s capabilities and commitment,” he wrote. “She didn’t just bring her unmatched expertise in all things including municipal law to the position, she also brought her love of our city and her desire to see it progress and thrive.”
Council President Levon Manzie said he’s enjoyed working with Cochran over the last two years.
“She’s done an outstanding job,” he said.
However, Manzie said he’d like to change the process up a little bit and instead of having a councilor simply recommend a name, he wants the council to send out a request for proposals and hold interviews for the position.
“I’d like to have a process in which names are submitted and we winnow them down,” he said. “Then we could interview two or three.”
Councilman John Williams called Cochran “a brilliant mind” and said she “works very hard.” However, he said he disagreed with some of her opinions.
“I have no hatred, no ill feelings and I hope the feeling is mutual,” he said. “I have learned a lot from her and her approach.”
As for her replacement, Williams said he’s not too sure the council needs a full-time attorney to handle its legal questions and draw up ordinances. Instead, he thinks the council could put a local firm on retainer for legal advice. The firm would not be affiliated with Burr & Forman, where city attorney Ricardo Woods works.
“There are some very capable attorneys out there,” he said.
Cochran was named the council’s attorney at the start of the most recent term in late 2017. She was appointed by a split 4-3 vote to replace former council attorney Jim Rossler after the latter opined that a supermajority of five votes was needed to elect a council president. Cochran eventually agreed with Rossler’s opinion, but only after the council approved her contract.
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