The failure to elect a president continues to divide members of the Mobile City Council. This time it’s happening in a court of law.
Councilman Fred Richardson now joins L.A. Body Art owner Chassity Ebbole as a plaintiff in a suit against the city and the six other councilors claiming the failure to elect a leader has hurt taxpayers and kept the council from conducting proper business. A hearing on the suit is slated for Friday, Aug. 10, at 9 a.m. in Circuit Judge Robert Smith’s courtroom.
The suit seeks to force the City Council to continue with historical precedent and elect a president with a simple majority. Richardson initially received four votes to Councilwoman Gina Gregory’s three during an organizational meeting late last year. The council has been without a president since the beginning of the latest four-year term.
Richardson supported himself for president, while Councilwoman Bess Rich, Council Vice President Levon Manzie and Councilman C.J. Small also voted for him. Gregory voted for herself, while Councilman Joel Daves and Councilman John Williams supported her.
At issue is the Zoghby Act, the law that created Mobile’s current form of government. The act requires a five-vote majority to elect a council president, according to Mary Zoghby, one of the law’s co-authors. Wanda Cochran, council attorney, agreed.
Supporters of Richardson, including Ebbole, argue that previous council presidents were elected by a simple majority and that the rules were changed once Richardson received that many votes. Previous presidents were elected by a straw poll in closed-door meetings. The legality of those previous meetings has been questioned by an attorney for the Alabama Press Association.
The addition of Richardson as a plaintiff is in response to the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case. It gives the court proper jurisdiction, plaintiffs argue in court records.
“Plaintiff Ebbole would further assert that the joinder of Frederick D. Richardson, a member of the defendant council, as a plaintiff gives this court subject matter jurisdiction,” court records state.
Cochran had argued previously that the case should be dismissed because Ebbole’s lawsuit does not rise to the level of injury needed to establish proper standing, Cochran argues.
“Ms. Ebbole alleges only that she is a ‘resident and concerned citizen of Mobile’ who has been deprived of ‘effective governance,’” records state. “To have standing, a plaintiff must allege a real, tangible legal interest in the subject matter of the lawsuit and must also have suffered an injury in fact to a legally protected right.”
Smith will hear arguments on those motions and others on Friday at 9 a.m., according to court records.