The number and salaries of mayoral appointees on staff for the city has come as a surprise to some on the Mobile City Council, who want to take a deeper look at the positions in the future.
As part of the debate over the fiscal year 2019 budget, councilors asked Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration for a list of employees hired outside of the Mobile County Personnel Board process. Lagniappe requested and received related public documents as well.
There are a total of 123 employees Stimpson or the council have hired outside the merit system, accounting for more than $6 million annually.
“I was surprised by the number and I was surprised by some of the salaries,” Council Vice President Levon Manzie said.
Councilman John Williams agreed, raising questions about whether all the positions were approved by the council.
“There were people I knew as city employees, but what I didn’t know is they’re nonmerit,” Williams said. “Why did that happen?”
In addition to questioning the legality of some of the positions, Williams said the council would need to look at whether all of the positions are necessary.
City spokeswoman Laura Byrne said the administration believes they are.
“The names on that list were appointed to carry out the mayor’s mission,” Byrne said. “We don’t appoint nonessential employees.”
She added the appointment process has pros and cons. For instance, appointments can allow Stimpson to pick the best person for a particular job, but appointees do not get the safety net offered by the Personnel Board.
While Williams has challenged the salaries, citing a Zoghby Act requirement limiting nonmerit employees’ salaries to $100,000, Byrne said the city’s legal counsel has told the administration that’s not the case.
James Barber, as executive director of public safety, has the highest salary on the list at $150,000 per year. Several employees, including George Talbot, as senior director of external affairs; Paul Wesch, as executive director of finance; and Florence Kessler, assistant city attorney, are paid roughly $125,000 per year.
Jeff Carter, former director of the Bloomberg Innovation Team, makes $118,000 per year as the city’s chief innovation officer. Terrence Smith, current director of the mayor’s innovation team, takes home $100,000 per year. Presiding Municipal Judge A. Holmes Whiddon makes $101,000 per year. Thirteen additional employees are paid at least $100,000 per year, including Police Chief Lawrence Battiste, who makes $120,000 per year.
Former presiding Circuit Court Judge Charles Graddick makes $100,000 as a senior judicial adviser and council members take home $19,800 each per year. Mayor Stimpson makes $89,000, according to the list. Byrne, as deputy director of communications, takes home $50,000 per year.
Council Communications Coordinator Marion Steinfels makes $65,000 per year. This is $20,000 more than her 2016 starting salary of $45,000.
Williams acknowledged the “slight bump” Steinfels was given, but said “she’s a hard worker.”
Not included on the list are the salaries in the city clerk’s office. Employees in the clerk’s office are part of the merit system. City Clerk Lisa Carroll-Lambert is the only employee in the office making more than $100,000 per year. She takes home $108,000 per year.
This story was edited on Oct. 3 to clarify that City Clerk employees are part of the merit system.