The contentious nature of Monday’s deadlocked presidential vote bled over into brief squabbles Tuesday between the Mobile City Council and members of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration.
First, there was a disagreement between councilors and the administration over the best use of $100,000 in capital improvement funds. Stimpson’s office was hoping to use the small portion of a larger $1.6 million agenda item to fund a citizen survey on infrastructure needs — an item that was unanimously approved during the regular meeting.
However, in the pre-conference meeting, Councilman Fred Richardson argued that spending $100,000 on a survey was unnecessary because each of the seven councilors had already gotten a list of needs from constituents during the normal capital improvement process.
“The citizens are going to be confused,” Richardson said. “If it’s CIP, that’s us. That’s the council.”
Richardson told councilors he would offer an amendment to give council control over the $100,000 item, but ultimately decided against it.
Executive Director of Planning and Development Dianne Irby told councilors the survey would help the city prepare for capital improvements going forward and clarified that the money for the survey would not be coming from CIP funds.
Councilman Levon Manzie seemed to have the same concerns as Richardson.
“My concern is, over the last three years, we’ve built up a robust citizen engagement and repeated it back to you,” he said. “I don’t want to put out competing information. I hope the administration will work in concert with the council.”
Irby told Manzie that the intention was to work with council on the survey.
Councilman C.J. Small asked Irby if recorded 3-1-1 calls could be used as a way to survey the public. He added that many residents he’s spoken with have lost faith in the 3-1-1 system and feel their complaints have been ignored.
Irby said the survey would be different than 3-1-1 because the phone system is primarily used for complaints, while the survey would encompass more than that.
Councilwoman Bess Rich said she understood the concerns but didn’t feel the surveys would do any harm, asking only that the council be “at the table” during the process.
Richardson then asked Irby if the city would have the money to act upon the infrastructure issues the survey highlights. For example, he asked if there was extra capital money to close open, parallel ditches in Trinity Gardens.
“Hello,” Richardson said, as Irby paused. “If the answer is ‘no’ than it’s related to the CIP and we’ve already put out notices. We haven’t started on everything they told me in 2016.”
Richardson later asked for the item to be discussed during a meeting of the council’s finance committee. At issue there is the council president makes committee appointments and there is currently no organized finance committee because there is no council president.
There was also some unusual chippiness during an exchange between city attorney Ricardo Woods and councilors over a request from the managers of the Colonial Fort of Mobile for access to more visitor parking.
The city was requesting the council accept a non-exclusive easement to would extend Activation Management access to part of a city-owned parking lot, which would allow visitor parking for downtown attractions like the fort, the History Museum of Mobile, the Gulf Coast Exploreum and Gulf Coast Ducks. The item was delayed due to typical council rules.
During the pre-conference meeting, councilors wanted Woods to explain the parameters of the deal. From his seat in the council conference room Woods told councilors “I’ll send it to you.”
Councilors pushed Woods to answer more specific questions about the easement, but he seemed reluctant to do so. At one point, Woods told councilors to find the information in the agenda packet. Councilman John Williams was not pleased with Woods’ answers.
“I’m a very patient guy, but you’re in our meeting and we’re asking you questions,” Williams said. “We’d just like an answer.”
Woods responded with “I don’t know what else to tell you,” before Scott Tindle, with Activation Management, was called upon.
Tindle said the goal of the easement was to provide parking for visitors across from the fort, as much of the lot in question is taken up by workers who arrive early in the morning. Currently, Tindle said, there are four spaces reserved for visitors in the lot.
In response to Woods, Councilman Joel Daves reminded the city attorney that the agenda packet contained 307 pages of documents.
“There’s no way to get to it without paging through,” Daves said. “It’s not beyond our capabilities to page through it, but it is tedious.”
Williams argued that simply reading the document “doesn’t answer our questions.”
Rich called it “vague.”
Richardson added there’s no need for this item to even be on the agenda, as it’s an administrative matter.
“This is the city’s property,” Richardson said. “If the city would like to reserve some of the parking for visitors then put up a sign. They don’t need a contract to do what they want to do.”