Current Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber will take over the duties of chief of staff on an interim basis, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced today.
The announcement came just days after acting Chief of Staff Paul Wesch was killed in a single-vehicle accident on Sunday, Dec. 27.
Wesch served two roles with the city, also taking on the job of executive director of finance. Replacing Wesch in the finance role on an interim basis is Deputy Finance Director Celia Sapp.
“While we are still mourning the tragic loss of our friend and colleague Paul Wesch, I have the utmost confidence in James Barber and Celia Sapp,” Stimpson said. “Both have been dedicated City employees for years and both worked closely with Mr. Wesch during his seven years of service to the citizens of Mobile.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 5, members of the Mobile City Council paid tribute to Wesch and shared condolences to Linda Wesch, his wife of 33 years, and his children.
The most poignant tribute came from Councilman Joel Daves, who read a resolution honoring Wesch during the meeting, but also made more extensive remarks about the man he had known for 40 years.
During his comment period toward the end of the meeting, Daves said Wesch had joined him out of law school at The University of Alabama at a firm in Mobile. At the time, he said, Wesch was in the process of obtaining a degree in finance that required weekend and night classes back in Tuscaloosa.
“Paul didn’t mind hard work then or later in his life,” Daves said.
Wesch enjoyed the political arena, Daves said, but shunned the limelight and instead enjoyed working behind the scenes.
This would come into play for Wesch before he was named Stimpson’s director of finance. Councilwoman Gina Gregory would be the one to appoint him to a budget and taxation advisory committee, having met him initially through emails back and forth.
“It was that wealth of knowledge I think that prompted the mayor to make Paul his director of finances,” Gregory said.
While choking up in her comments on Wesch, Gregory called him a “friend” and a “kind gentleman.”
“We really will miss Paul,” she said. “We’re very thankful for all the contributions he made to the city.”
Councilman John Williams said Wesch had a “special character,” and deserved credit for a lot of the successes Stimpson and councilors take credit for.
Stimpson used the opportunity to make his first official comments about Wesch since his death was announced Dec. 27. While he agreed with Williams on giving Wesch credit for many of the city’s successes, Stimpson said his former acting chief of staff never wanted credit. He said he’d miss having Wesch across the hall and joked that their intercom system was just him “hollering” through the doorway to see if Wesch was available.
Councilman Fred Richardson candidly said he had reservations at first about approving Wesch as the finance director, but those concerns were put to rest after the two men had a meeting in the councilman’s office.
“We had a long discussion and at the end of that discussion I was convinced that Paul would do us a good job,” Richardson said. “I told him, ‘don’t let us down’ and he did not let us down.”
Richardson called Wesch’s even-keeled approach to politics “smooth as silk.”
“He had this temperament where he was cool under pressure,” Richardson said.
Councilman C.J. Small also commented on Wesch’s character. He called him a “calm-spoken person,” who was “humble and meek at all times.”
Council President Levon Manzie, who worked closely with Wesch on city business, said he would often run into the former finance director in the parking lot, each either coming to work or leaving around the same time. During those quick face-to-face exchanges, Manzie said Wesch would always ask about the councilman’s family and health.
“My heart and thoughts go out to his wife, of course, his children, and everyone connected to him,” Manzie said.
In addition to the resolution honoring Wesch, councilors voted to approve a $58,802 contract with the University of South Alabama for a cultural resources survey at the future site of the Africatown welcome center. Stimpson said the survey, which includes an oral history with residents and an archeological survey, was being commissioned to alleviate concerns that the welcome center was being built in an “inappropriate place.”
Stimpson did not elaborate on what issues triggered this additional move other than to say it had to do with concerns over what happened there in the past.
Small asked Stimpson what his vision for Africatown would be over the next five to 10 years and also how he expected to attract visitors to the site and the area for multiple days.
On the issue of overnight visitors, Stimpson said the city has been involved with Visit Mobile from the beginning to try and make sure there are amenities in the area to attract overnight visitors.
“We want to put our best foot forward and make sure [visitors] have a great experience,” he said.
As for his vision for Africatown, Stimpson highlighted a few things “off the top of [his] head.” Stimpson said visitors could view examples of early housing in Africatown and show what different trades looked like. He said he also envisions a dock of some kind being built to allow visitors closer access to the Clotilda wreckage.
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