The Mobile City Council voted unanimously to provide $250,000 in discretionary funds from all seven districts to support the renovation of Barton Academy, which is set to become a magnet middle school for advanced international studies.
The amount of funding increased from $245,000 at last week’s meeting, when it was laid over per council rules, to $250,000 this week due to the addition of funds from Councilwoman Bess Rich’s discretionary account.
Last week, Barton Academy Foundation President Elizabeth Stevens outlined the plan for the school, which would be run by the Mobile County Public School System. Once the inside of the state’s oldest public school is completed, the facility will house 300 students and between 40 and 50 faculty and staff members, Stevens said. There would be an opportunity to grow it even more when a second phase of the renovation project is completed in a building behind Barton.
In other business, the council authorized a $250,000 increase to a contract with Osprey Initiative, LLC to provide floating litter removal services. The council also approved an $82,000 contract with Bagby and Russell Company for lighting at Matthews Park.
The council delayed for one week, per its rules, a vote to hire a consultant to look at the future of the city’s affordable housing. Mayor Sandy Stimpson sponsored the agreement, which would pay Patricia A. Hoban-Moore $50,000.
Hoban-Moore, a former undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development office in Washington D.C. Before that, she served in HUD’s Birmingham field office.
Stimpson acknowledged during a pre-conference meeting that the city and Mobile Housing Board were in the process of displacing many residents when R.V. Taylor Plaza and Thomas James Place are torn down.
“We are displacing a lot of people,” Stimpson said. “This is an attempt to get ahead of the curve instead of behind it when it comes to public, or workforce, housing.”
Councilors were made aware of a new administration policy regarding social media by public service workers’ advocacy group President Wesley Young.
Young said the new policy infringes on workers’ freedom of speech because it limits complaints they can make on city-run websites. He also suggested the administration was singling out public service workers due to race.
However, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the new policy was distributed to all executive directors and senior directors and further disseminated to all employees. He said the administration was not singling any one employee out.
Councilors were quick to comment on the policy. Councilman Joel Daves said many businesses have policies regarding social media usage for employees. Council President Levon Manzie said those policies are implemented by private companies and not governments. If a new policy is in place, Manzie said, he wanted it to be applied equally as he said “I could list names of people receiving a city paycheck who have attacked me on social media.”
Despite the comments, city spokeswoman Jen Zoghby confirmed that the policy only extends to employees using city social media accounts and not their personal accounts.
However, a final page of the policy, which was leaked to Lagniappe Wednesday afternoon, asks employees to be “cautious about your digital media presence, especially when commenting on social media.” The page also calls a city job a “privilege” and warned employees that members of the community are ‘monitoring your comments.”
When asked specifically about the wording on the final page of the policy, Zoghby said employees are still free as citizens to express disagreement over city policies, but that the policy sets out rules for use of technology, like any corporate office.
“Citizens expect a level of decorum and professionalism from city workers they pay to hire,” Zoghby said. “This is not anti-free speech. Employees are certainly within their rights to protest policies they don’t believe in.”
Young also complained to councilors that administration officials had failed to allow some public service employees to collect all bonuses related to an incentive program implemented by Stimpson’s staff.
Councilman Fred Richardson complained that crews with the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System were cutting down as many as 20 live oak trees in Tricentennial Park.
“It has really robbed the park of its beauty,” Richardson said. “You used to not see the apartment complex hardly at all, now it’s all you see.”
Executive Director of Public Works Jim DeLapp told councilors MAWSS is installing a 96-inch pipe at the location. He added that the Mobile Tree Commission approved the removal of trees. Lagniappe reached out to Jesse McDaniel, a member of the Tree Commission, who said not only did the commission not approve the removal, but the commission does not have jurisdiction inside city parks.
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