Councilman Fred Richardson has taken to social media to accuse Mayor Sandy Stimpson of using Jim Crow-era tactics to lock him out of his city email account. There is a much simpler explanation, a city spokesman confirmed.
Richardson no longer has access to the city’s email service because he has failed to complete a cyber security test required for anyone with a city of Mobile email account, city spokesman Jason Johnson confirmed. More than 1,700 city employees and those with access to city email accounts have taken and passed the test without incident, Johnson said.
In a barrage of posts to Facebook over the weekend, Richardson seemingly compared the required test to a poll test and poll tax popular in southern states during the Jim Crow era.
“When I registered to vote, right here in Mobile, I had to pass a test, and pay poll tax,” Richardson wrote. “Just when I thought those days were gone, I get an email from the Stimpson (a)dministration stating I had to take a test, or my city’s (sic) network email would be locked out.”
The city was requiring the tests because of insurance, Johnson said. Richardson had been getting reminders about the test off and on since March.
“In order to comply with our insurer, we instituted a simple, brief and mandatory cyber security training for all employees who have a city email address,” Johnson said. “It was sent to all employees with a video that explains all the information they would need to complete the test in March. Employees who did not immediately complete the training were reminded repeatedly about it.”
When asked, Johnson said Stimpson and Municipal Judge Karlos Finley — two of Richardson’s opponents in the Auguest 24 election — both took and passed the test. Every member of the Mobile City Council except Richardson took and passed the training, Johnson said.
In a phone interview with Lagniappe, Richardson did not compare the test requirement to Jim Crow voting restrictions, but he said Stimpson did not have the authority to make councilors take the training.
“I’m not an employee of the city,” Richardson said. “The mayor can’t direct me. He can’t order me to do anything.”
The current District 1 councilor said the city’s information technology department should be more prepared for stopping malware attacks and shouldn’t have to rely on educating email users within the city to help stop it.
Richardson admitted that not being able to access city email will make it harder to do his job as a City Council member.
“I can partially do my job,” he said. “The mayor has cut off my arm.”
As for when he gets access to city emails back, Richardson said it’s up to Stimpson. He said he won’t complete the training or take the test.
“If they want me to know something, they should just tell me,” he said. “Tests don’t give you no information.”
In Facebook posts on Monday, July 26, Richardson told followers that he had a legal opinion from council attorney Chris Arledge crafted into a resolution. The resolution states that the mayor cannot require council members to take a test to retain access to city emails. Richardson wants councilors to vote on the resolution.
Although the email training began in March, the city is clearly trying to thwart possible malware and ransomware attacks that use tactics like phishing to gain access to valuable data through email servers.
Mobile County, which uses a different server than the city, announced in May a ransomware attack that the public recently found out put a number of employees’ personal information at risk.
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