Members of the Mobile City Council have accused Mayor Sandy Stimpson of censorship, after his office removed City Clerk Lisa Lambert’s ability to send emails to all city employees at once.
The action is further fallout from an ongoing legal battle between Stimpson and councilors that has, at least temporarily, cost city employees 2.5-percent cost-of-living raises.
The issue stems from Stimpson’s request for a budget amendment to allow for a raise for all city employees, including ones he had appointed to positions. Councilors approved the amendment for the raises, but stripped out the employees hired outside the merit system. Councilors have defended the move as a by-product of the ongoing litigation between the two sides.
Stimpson almost immediately vetoed the amendment, fearing legal action because his office believes councilors cannot legally make changes to a budget amendment offered by the mayor.
Lambert sent a press release, distributed by council media specialist Marion Steinfels announcing the raises to employees using the “all-city” email list. After Stimpson announced the veto to reporters, Lambert attempted to send a council response to employees using the same list, but was denied.
In an interview with Lagniappe, Stimpson said he made the call to remove Lambert’s ability to write all-city emails over inaccuracies in the press release. Administration officials have also said they limited access to the list to human resources professionals within Government Plaza and Lambert had retained access until May 14 by mistake.
During a pre-conference meeting on Tuesday, May 21, Special Projects Director Matt Anderson told councilors the release was “politically motivated” and “erroneous.” As an example, Anderson mentioned that the release stated the council voted for raises, he told Councilwoman Bess Rich that the council didn’t actually vote to give the raises, but voted on a budget amendment.
Anderson described Lambert’s email situation as a “suspension” and told councilors that if there was anything she needed to send through the all-city email list she could first send it to the mayor’s office.
“I disagree that it was a political message,” Council Vice President Levon Manzie said of the press release. “It clearly articulated what six of us decided to do and said what we did as a response to what was proposed by the mayor.”
Councilman C.J. Small asked council attorney Wanda Cochran to look into whether Lambert has a legal right to send all-city emails.
In addition, Manzie asked Cochran to look into the possibility of the council passing an ordinance, codifying Lambert’s right to all-city email list access.
“I don’t know of any city clerk — and I’ve asked the state and local resources I have access to — I don’t know of any other city clerk that has had this type of censorship brought to her office … ,” Manzie said. “I hope it’s a decision the mayor would reconsider.”
Councilman John Williams, who was absent from the May 14 meeting but watched the live-stream, said he understands how Lambert’s dissemination of the council’s press release might look political in nature. He suggested maybe letting the mayor’s office know before something like that is sent in the future.
Councilwoman Gina Gregory said it might be best practices to not send any press releases to employees. Instead she suggested keeping communications with employees apolitical.
“News releases can go to the media where they are generally designed to go,” she said.
In other business, Rich announced the opening of a splash pad at Medal of Honor Park. The grand opening of SplashGround Express will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 25 at the park at 1711 Hillcrest Road.
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