The claws came out amid discussions of board appointments and budget amendments during the Mobile City Council meetings Oct. 15.
Councilors Reggie Copeland, Gina Gregory, Bess Rich and John Williams wanted to put off voting on the four proposed appointments to the Industrial Development Board until Mayor-elect Sandy Stimpson comes into office in just three weeks.
Mayor Sam Jones had recommended Carol Franklin, Thomas Tyrrell, LeBarron McClendon and Thomas Oldweiler serve to four unfilled six-year terms on the IDB.
The board has the legislative authority to acquire, own, lease and dispose of properties in areas in which corporations may develop industry, according to its legal description. Troy Wayman, vice president of economic development for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, said the city’s IDB provides members to a joint city/county industrial park board that handles such property issues.
The board is also legally empowered to offer tax incentives to businesses and issue bonds. Its members are not paid.
Copeland said he would like the appointments held over for several reasons.
“There have been vacancies on the board for six or seven years, and there have been no appointments. Also, one recommended appointment has withdrawn. Another recommendation said if the council wants to go a different way, they understand,” Copeland said. “I think we might as well let the new mayor make the appointments.”
City Council Attorney Jim Rossler noted during the council meeting that one position had been unfilled since 2006 when a member resigned and another had not been filled since November 2012.
“We would have to look at the terms because they would have to be retrograded. They can’t just all serve six years because the appointments should be staggered,” he said.
Jones was not happy about the talk of delaying decisions until after he left office. When a later unrelated issue about spending money for Herndon Park Ball Field lighting was first broached during the pre-council meeting, Jones quipped, “Want the new mayor to inspect that for you too?”
The councilors turned a deaf ear to the swipe, but during the council meeting the four proposed appointments were withdrawn by the administration.
Copeland recommended the issue be tabled, but Chief of Staff Al Stokes and Jones said they would withdraw the requests.
“In interest of good name and character, I request to withdraw the appointments,” Jones said. “A similar situation occurred with two good employees in the Office of Strategic Initiatives (Angela Williams and Barbara Wolfe) and their names were dragged through the mud. In fact, the office is closed now. I would not want the same thing to happen to the four recommended people.”
The Office of Strategic Initiatives is in fact closed, but still received an appropriation of almost $80,000 in the current budget.
Retiring City Finance Director Barbara Malkove said the office closed after the start date of the 2013-2014 Fiscal Year, which began Oct. 1, and the money budgeted doesn’t necessarily have to be spent.
There was also subsequent discussion about waiting to vote on two budget amendments until Stimpson took office.
The two proposed amendments to the 2013-2014 budget, which were approved, gave the Centre for the Living Arts (CLA) $125,000 in addition to the $100,000 already budgeted by the city to the organization, and to appropriate for the first time $25,000 to People United to Advance the Dream. The funding would come from the city’s excess in reserves if approved.
Rich thought the new expenses totaling $150,000 should have Stimpson’s input, but ultimately the councilors approved both expenses before the mayor-elect took office.
The CLA’s Robert Sain said the $125,000 was actually just correcting an error on the budget, and it should have been allotted $225,000 all along.
A new contract between the city and People United to Advance the Dream was also given the green light after members talked about the group’s actions.
The Rev. Jacob Davis, who is with the group, said for several years People United to Advance the Dream has been attempting to enter into a performance contract with the city, but hasn’t had success. However, he said the group has been making strides through private donations.
“We have held events and reached out to people, and it has been making a difference,” he said. “There are gang members turning from doing wrong.”
People United to Advance the Dream also organizes the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade for the city.
No council raises
One of the agenda items not approved dealt with giving raises to the council and mayor.
Councilman Fred Richardson requested the council change the way the mayor and council receive raises, proposing they be linked to employee raises. Gregory, Rich and Williams opposed and the potential change was quashed.
Under the current system, the opportunity for council and mayoral raises must be done in a specific window six months before an election. That means the opportunity for a raise only comes around every four years.
Richardson is requesting the rule be changed so the city elected officials’ raises are tied to employee raises as they are for the Mobile County Commissioners.
“All I’m asking is for the same law for the city as the county commission has,” he said. “In 2000, the omnibus pay raise was approved for the county. An omnibus pay raise would give the council and mayor a raise when the employees get a raise.”
The councilman said he isn’t expecting money anytime soon, but would still like to see the city council and mayor’s pay raise structure to be like the commission.
“This isn’t going to be discussed by the state for a year or two. I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about making things fair,” Richardson said. “I’ve been here for 17 years without a raise. The councilors who were just elected will come in making the same money I did in 1997.
“I’m also not asking to raise the base for the City Council’s salary. I’m only asking for the state to consider linking the councilors and mayor’s raises with the employees.”
Even if the request was approved by the state tomorrow, Richardson said, the councilors wouldn’t see a raise for some time.
“Just because the council would receive a raise when the employees did, doesn’t mean it will happen right away,” he said. “The employees didn’t have a raise for years until this budget.”
Richardson said he is trying to make it clear the request to the state is not about money, but about changing the structure.
Rich said the job of an elected official is more about public service than money.
“In our current system, there is a way for a raise if needed. However, the role of an elected official is not about money. I’ve always looked at it as a public service,” she said. “I realize that is my opinion, but it shouldn’t be about money.”
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