The Mobile City Council on Monday decided on a new vice president and attorney, but couldn’t come to a consensus on who should be the body’s next president.
The scene played out very much in line with how some had predicted it would in hushed tones over the past few weeks, with Councilman Fred Richardson receiving four votes and Councilwoman Gina Gregory receiving three votes. After being nominated by Councilman Levon Manzie, Richardson received support from Councilman C.J. Small and Councilwoman Bess Rich. Gregory was nominated by Joel Daves and received support from Councilman John Williams.
It was stated at the time of the vote that a supermajority, or five votes of the council, would be needed for either presidential candidate to assume the office.
“Since 1985 we’ve elected the president with four votes,” Richardson said. “Historically — for 32 years and I’ve been on council for 20 — we’ve never called for a supermajority before.”
Richardson said he was challenging the outcome because it was a “departure from tradition.”
“I just want this on the record,” he said.
Richardson said the rules were switched against him in this year’s vote.
“Since 1987 it took four votes,” he said. “ … They’re going to come back (now) and say it’s five votes. Something is wrong.”In a controversial move, the council decided to buck tradition and not hold a private meeting or executive session and “straw poll” before the official swearing-in ceremony. It is typically in this meeting where councilors have decided on leadership positions.
The body decided on its officers during the private meeting four years ago. At that time Gregory received four votes to Richardson’s three. The official vote that year, held after the swearing-in ceremony, was unanimously in favor of Gregory.
Mary Zoghby, an author of the Zoghby Act creating the city’s current form of government, said in a phone interview Monday afternoon that despite the way the council has handled the vote in the past, five votes are needed for almost all council actions, with the exception of the budget.
She also believes the way the vote had been handled in previous years could have been challenged in court. As for moving forward, Zoghby said the councilors will just have to work something out.
Finding no resolution on the president vote, the council tabled it and unanimously picked Manzie as vice president. Manzie then became chairman of the meeting and apparently will act as president until one is officially elected.
Former council attorney Jim Rossler was replaced by Wanda Cochran by a 4-2 vote after Manzie’s appointment. Williams abstained from the vote, while Daves and Gregory dissented. Since it was not a resolution or ordinance, it was determined that the vote for legal counsel could be a simple majority. In a vote to retain Rossler, Richardson and Rich were “no” votes, while Williams, Daves and Gregory were “yes” votes. Manzie and Small abstained.
Councilman John Williams said he was surprised by the move to replace Rossler.
“It’s unlike this council for me to be surprised,” he said. “I hope this isn’t a precursor to how it’ll be (the rest of the term) because it won’t work.”
When asked if she agreed with Rossler’s opinion that five votes would be needed in order to elect a council president, Cochran said she would need more time to review the issue. As for being named council attorney, Cochran said it was “quite an honor.”
“I have some big shoes to fill,” she said. “Jim Rossler is an amazing attorney.”
This post was updated to clarify Williams’ vote for council attorney.