Of the 41 current boards and commissions to which Mayor Sandy Stimpson and members of the Mobile City Council appoint members, more than half have vacant positions, or have appointees serving on expired terms.
Only 15 boards, councils or commissions had a full complement of members on current terms, according to information obtained by Lagniappe through a records request fulfilled by City Clerk Lisa Carroll Lambert’s office. A similar request made to Stimpson’s office was not fulfilled by press time. More than 26 of these boards or commissions had members serving on expired terms or had positions completely vacant.
One such board is the Police Citizens Community Relations Advisory Council, which came about as a result of the Mobile Police Officer-involved shooting of Michael Moore. Of the eight positions on the council, including one appointee each from every councilor and Stimpson, only six slots are currently filled, according to the information from Carroll Lambert’s office. Both Stimpson and Councilman John Williams failed to make appointments to the council. Stimpson’s office had no comment on his vacancy, but Williams said he didn’t feel like his not having appointed someone to that board was impacting its ability to meet.
“The board was not supported,” Williams said. “It had meetings all over town and nobody went to them.”
Councilman Fred Richardson agreed with Williams on the lack of community support, but argued poor citizen attendance was due to poor publicity and an inability, or unwillingness, of the board to reach real solutions.
“I don’t know of one time that board made an announcement about a meeting,” Richardson said. “They were afraid to do that because they didn’t want to offend the police department.”
The board’s vision differed greatly from its initial intent, Richardson said.
“They wanted it to be an arm of the police department,” he said. “The intent was to help citizens engage with the department, but they didn’t want to go down that road at all.”
Council Vice President Levon Manzie also admitted the board didn’t get the proper support and was basically no longer functioning, despite six of its eight members set to serve until November.
Councilors have publicly discussed reforming the Human Relations Commission after being confronted by a number of LGBTQIA advocates at a recent City Council meeting, following remarks by Mobile County Treasurer Phil Benson that some found offensive.
Despite the talk, only one of the commission’s eight members is serving a current term, according to information from Carroll Lambert’s office. Kimberly McKeand is set to serve until 2021 in Manzie’s Second District.
Councilman Joel Daves questioned if the initial incarnation of the committee ever met. He added he believed issues like Benson’s comments would be an appropriate topic for such a committee.
With debate ongoing about the future of the Civic Center, the council’s Civic Center board remains idle. Williams called that particular board “worthless” and said he didn’t need another opinion when it comes to what to do with the decades-old building, especially when they would likely be given the same information he has.
“I don’t remember the last time that was active,” he said. “I think the City Council will do just fine on this one.”
Daves said the committee’s goal was to advise the center’s management company on how best to use it. The future of the arena itself is “not the appropriate topic” for the committee, Daves said.
“We will need that to require wholesale public involvement,” he said, of the Civic Center discussion.
Much like with the police board, Richardson said the Civic Center board did not receive enough support from the city. Specifically, Richardson said once Stimpson announced the Civic Center would be demolished, the board lost its reason to meet.
The History Museum Board is another that seems to have a few members serving on expired terms. Each councilor gets three appointments to the History Museum Board, which means it has a total of 21 members. Of the 21 members, five are serving on expired terms.
“There are too many people on that board,” Daves said. “More than 20 people is too many.”
Councilors’ ideas on how to deal with boards and commissions in the future varied. For instance, both Williams and Daves believed the council had too many boards and commissions. Specifically, Williams argued to get rid of boards that aren’t “fulfilling a responsibility.”
“[If] the board has no reason to exist, it shouldn’t,” he said. “All the boards that need to be functioning are functioning.”
Daves agreed, saying there are “too many.”
“There are a number of them that really don’t have anything to do,” he said.
Other councilors want to take a slightly different approach to the situation. Richardson suggested meeting with the members of each board to give them fresh council support. He said he believes in the council’s boards.
“The more participation we have from citizens in government, the better our government will be,” Richardson said.
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