The Mobile City Council voted Tuesday, March 30 to recreate and reestablish its Police Citizens Community Relations Advisory Council for a third time.
The vote was more of a technicality, as the advisory council has been holding regular meetings with seven of its eight members appointed to serve. However, the resolution approved to authorize its existence had expired.
The vote Tuesday is also the first step in allowing the advisory council to receive one-time payments of up to $250 from each of the seven councilors’ discretionary funds. Advisory council Chairman Raoul Richardson said the funds would help the members pay for a website and email addresses to prevent them from having to use personal accounts for public interaction. The money would also be used for a digital meeting platform to allow members to meet remotely, he said.
In a statement, Richardson said the delay, while “regrettable” was “acceptable” to allow the council to “navigate tumultuous waters” to bring their requests to fruition.
“Ultimately the beneficiary of their wisdom is the law-enforcement professionals and the citizenry of the city of Mobile,” Richardson wrote. “Management by procrastination is never an effective tool in light of the potential for negative police-community interaction with the potential for deadly consequences. We as a council are grateful for the result given that the ordinance by which this particular Mobile Police Citizens Community Relations Advisory Council’s recent reiteration has its genesis more than six months ago.”
At issue for councilors on the funding was confusion over whether the commission needed to be a registered non-profit organization to receive public money. The answer is “no,” according to council attorney Chris Arledge, but the group will need a tax identification number to deposit a check from the city.
“They can get an identification number, it takes five minutes,” he said. “They can do it online.”
The commission would technically fall under the definition of an unregistered nonprofit association, meaning it doesn’t have a 501(c)3 designation from the IRS and, despite the belief of several councilors before a pre-conference meeting on Tuesday, it doesn’t need to have that designation, according to Arledge.
Councilwoman Gina Gregory said in the past she was not able to give funding to community groups because they didn’t have proper nonprofit status; Councilman Joel Daves said he thought the same was true.
“I thought you had to be some kind of organization,” he said. “It turns out you don’t.”
In fact, the council can give to any group, as long as the body deems it for public benefit.
“Once we deem it public, that gives it the starting point,” Councilwoman Bess Rich said. “It has to go to a group and not an individual.”
Daves, who has previously avoided making an appointment to the advisory council, said he supports this iteration, as long as councilors make sure their appointments meet the requirements of the resolution. Previously, members were required to participate in ride-alongs and take training courses.
The current members of the police advisory council are Richardson from District 4, Vanessa Davis from District 1, Dorothy Weaver from District 2, Damian Marks, vice-chair from District 3, Richard Rose from District 6, Tommy Carlisle from District 7 and Robert Adams, an appointment by Mayor Sandy Stimpson.
The city of Mobile will receive about $7 million in reimbursements from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Deputy Director of Finance Celia Sapp confirmed to the Mobile City Council on Tuesday, March 30.
“The majority of the CARES Act money will go into the General Fund,” she said.
The city is also eligible for an additional $60 million from the American Rescue Plan, Sapp told councilors during a monthly finance report at the body’s regular meeting.
Councilman Fred Richardson told Sapp the council would like to know when the money is available. Councilwoman Bess Rich told Sapp a number of cities were experiencing “heartburn” over the financial toll the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted upon local economies. However, she said, Mobile seems to have avoided much of that trouble. She asked Sapp if they had heard from other cities about issues related to that.
Sapp told Rich an upcoming meeting of the state’s large-city mayors could shed some light on those issues.
“It’s an interesting thing because some cities are doing well and others are not,” Sapp said. “It’s something that should be studied.”
Councilman Joel Daves, chairman of the council’s finance committee, offered an explanation. He told his colleagues cities that relied heavily on one industry were more adversely impacted by the pandemic than others. He cited New York City and its heavy reliance on the tourism industry, which dried up during a time when few people traveled for leisure, as an example.
“We’re fortunate to have a mixed economy,” Daves said of Mobile.
While tourism is a smaller part of the economy in Mobile, a driver is the industry at the port, which has remained steady throughout the pandemic. Daves also credited the continued good financial stewardship of Mayor Sandy Stimpson and councilors that have allowed the Port City to weather the storm.
“We came into this problem a year ago in a solid financial position,” he said. “I think we are getting through it well with a combination of luck and good work over the last seven years.”
With a laugh, Rich credited the city’s success because of big-box retailers like Walmart and Costco.
“I think it’s because we’re a big-box city,” she said. “Those were really rocking, while smaller stores and restaurants suffered and continue to suffer.”
Sapp also updated councilors on additional federal aid requests made by the city. She said the city is seeking reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the estimated $11 million in damage from Hurricane Sally and another $3.7 million in reimbursements for Hurricane Zeta damage. In both instances, Sapp said the city is “going back and forth” with the agency.
When asked by Councilman Joel Daves, Sapp said the proposed reimbursements would pay for about 75 percent of the damage estimates.
“We’ll keep you updated as the numbers become more solid,” she said.
Councilman John Williams asked about how the city did financially without a big Carnival celebration, assuming the city saved money on overtime for police officers, firefighters and public works personnel.
Sapp told Williams the city did save on overtime, but a full picture of how the municipality fared without Mardi Gras wouldn’t be known until next month’s report, as revenues are always reported a month behind.
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