The Mobile City Council on Tuesday afternoon moved forward with the hiring of a spokeswoman, despite the formal, written objections of Mayor Sandy Stimpson.
Stimpson now has until Friday, Nov. 30 to execute the professional services contract with Marion Steinfels, or Council Vice President Levon Manzie will be given the authority to sign it, according to the resolution approved 6-1. Councilman Joel Daves was the lone dissenting vote.
City spokesman George Talbot told reporters after the meeting it’s unlikely Stimpson will sign the contract by the deadline, stating that the mayor’s office doesn’t believe the council has the authority to enter into the contract alone.
“The lawyers are talking,” Talbot said. “We hope we can resolve this without going to court ….”
However, taking the matter to court is not out of the question, Talbot added.
“I think it’s amicable, but we just have to resolve that question,” he said. “I don’t think we’re looking at a long, protracted litigation.”
In a letter to councilors, Stimpson argued the contract exceeds the council’s authority. He further states the legislation creating Mobile’s current form of government — the Zoghby Act — allows “only the mayor” to “appoint or remove … all officers and employees except those appointed by the council.”
Later in the letter, he cites the Zoghby Act stating, “the only officer or employee appointed by the City Council is the city clerk.” The council must also stay out of the “appointment, or removal of city staff.”
Councilors did not comment during the regular meeting or at a pre-conference meeting and were not available immediately after to comment. The councilors adjourned to an executive session to discuss economic development matters and did not reconvene.
Stimpson fired Steinfels in October, following tension between the mayor and council over amendments to the 2019 fiscal year budget. The mayor’s office declined to comment on the firing at the time, citing privacy regarding personnel issues. Councilors believe the firing was politically motivated.
At the council meeting two weeks ago, City Attorney Ricardo Woods told councilors their public discussion of Steinfels and asking for her to be rehired by Stimpson violated the Zoghby Act. Further, Woods said the hiring of Steinfels over Stimpson’s objections would be a further violation of law.
Council Attorney Wanda Cochran said she believes contracting authority lies with the City Council and they can use it in this case.
Legal disagreements were a sticking point in another issue at Tuesday’s meeting. Wesley Young, president of a local public works employee advocacy group, asked councilors about employees not receiving the 5 percent raises the council passed in the budget.
Stimpson’s office has said the raise in the budget will be replaced with an incentive program. Tuesday, Woods defended the decision by telling councilors that Stimpson has the sole authority in the Zoghby Act over raises and compensation. Woods added that the incentive program has already been approved by the Mobile County Personnel Board.
The council’s approval of the raises, which added $104,000 to the $896,000 budgeted for the incentive program, negated the mayor’s program, Cochran argued. Councilors are leaving the issue up to the attorneys to straighten out.
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