Following a lengthy public discussion, the Mobile City Council on Tuesday delayed for one month a vote on a proposal to create a police citizens community relations advisory council.
The proposal — sponsored by councilmembers Fred Richardson, C.J. Small and Levon Manzie — has gained support in the wake of the June 13 shooting death of 19-year-old Michael Moore by Mobile police officer Harold Hurst.
The decision to delay the vote followed comments Tuesday from citizens almost exclusively in favor of such a board. Only two speakers opposed the board’s creation. Councilwoman Bess Rich announced the item will be the topic of an upcoming Public Safety Committee meeting, although that date has not yet been set.
The proposed advisory council drew the endorsement of former Mayor Sam Jones when he was asked about it by Small at a pre-conference meeting.
Jones told councilors that while he didn’t agree with a police review board when he was mayor, he supported this proposal because its language didn’t require the police department to do anything and would be proactive, rather than reactive.
Jones, currently a commissioner on the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System board, doesn’t normally attend pre-conference meetings. Although there was a scheduled public hearing on a rezoning for a MAWSS lift station, when asked by Council President Gina Gregory, Jones said he didn’t have any details on it.
Although Jones left the meeting almost immediately after answering the councilman’s question, Small indicated it was not a political stunt. Instead, Small said he only asked Jones the question because he had already been asked a question by Gregory.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper disagreed, calling Jones a “political plant.”
The discussion follows dueling press conferences on Monday held by Manzie and police Chief James Barber, after Barber became aware of Manzie’s invitation to an elementary school friend — whom Barber accused of advocating for violence against police — to speak in favor of the advisory council at this week’s meeting.
In a statement released earlier Monday, Stimpson said he stands with Barber in opposing the proposed council.
“We do not play politics with public safety,” the statement read. “Committees of this nature are easily and often politicized. It is simply unfair to the police and the citizens.”
In the statement, Stimpson said the department has its own citizen advisory panel put in place to review officer-involved shootings. Some councilors went to a meeting of this group Monday night, but Small said he wasn’t impressed because it wasn’t representative of the community. He said there needed to be more women.
Among the citizens to speak in favor of the proposal were members of the Leaders for Truth and Justice group, including Sen. Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), who said she has always been supportive of law enforcement and had the crowd give a round of applause to the police officers in attendance. Figures said not only are police citizen review boards common throughout the country, but she noted the city has one for budget and finance issues. She said all citizens must work together to help fix the trust issues between the community and the MPD.
In other business, the council delayed a vote to finalize the rezoning of property for a Publix shopping center near the intersection of Florida Street and Old Shell Road. The decision to holdover the vote followed a public hearing on the matter.