The city spent more than $4,000 defending a lawsuit over the council’s failure to elect a president.
Records from City Clerk Lisa Carroll-Lambert’s office show that council attorney Wanda Cochran was paid $4,005 defending the suit. A letter from Cochran to Carroll-Lambert shows the attorney worked almost 27 hours on the case, at a rate of $150 per hour. The funds for the legal defense came from a line item in the council’s budget, Carroll-Lambert wrote in an email.
The suit, brought by tattoo shop owner Chassity Ebbole, argued that she — as a business owner and taxpayer — was harmed by the council’s failure to name Councilman Fred Richardson as council president. Instead, the council elected Levon Manzie as vice president and have left the presidency vacant for almost a year. Circuit Court Judge Robert Wood threw out the suit last month for lack of legal standing.
A vote for president was taken during a public organizational meeting following the 2017 elections. During the vote, Richardson received four votes and Councilwoman Gina Gregory received three. At the time attorney Jim Rossler and, later, Cochran, argued that state law requires five votes for the City Council to elect a president.
In the suit and during a brief hearing, Ebbole argued that five votes had never been required before in the selection of a president. She also argued that the supermajority rule listed in the Zoghby Act only applies to council business meetings and not organizational meetings.
Mary Zoghby, a co-author of her namesake bill, has previously said the supermajority rule applies to council president elections.
In previous years, councilors have held a “straw poll” vote in a private meeting to select a president before the public organizational meeting. Councilors would then vote unanimously for the candidate receiving a simple majority, or four of seven votes. There have been questions about the legality of those “straw poll” meetings. Last year, the council did not hold a private meeting and a president wasn’t selected before the open, organizational meeting.
While councilors hope the issue can be resolved, there is fading hope among some that it will be handled before the end of the calendar year. Meanwhile, Richardson has said he has been talking to attorneys and could be planning to bring a class-action lawsuit against his colleagues. Richardson said unlike Ebbole, he has standing to bring that type of suit. He said the residents of Mobile would join him in the class.
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