As members of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration contemplate a renewed push for annexation, the three city councilors who voted against it the first time have not changed their minds, which could prove challenging for those in favor of the city moving its borders.
The November council vote to allow 13,000 residents in West Mobile to decide whether they wanted to join the city failed 4-3, due to lack of a supermajority. The vote fell along racial lines, with the four white councilors voting in favor and the three black councilors voting in opposition.
Council President Levon Manzie, who confirmed he labored over the first vote, said he has not seen any new information that would change his mind at this point.
“At this very moment, nothing new has been presented to me,” Manzie said. “There is no new information and no new concept that would cause me to vote any differently.”
While Manzie’s thinking has not changed, he added that the thinking among the constituents of District 2 has also not changed. For a change to take place, Manzie said, the city will need to propose a plan that members of his community can get behind.
“We need more persons at the table to furnish a plan that is amicable to the people in my community,” he said.
Councilman Fred Richardson said his thinking on the issue has not changed, either, and it would not change.
“My position is the same,” he said. “My vote would be the same.”
Councilman C.J. Small said his position on the issue has not changed either. He said he wanted to wait until the new U.S. Census numbers come out. Fresh data would allow the city to have a more accurate picture of what West Mobile looks like, he said.
“We really don’t know whether there are 5,000 people or 30,000 people out there,” Small said. “We’ll know in a few months.”
Public Safety Director James Barber has said he will present to council a plan that includes annexation of the 13,000 residents who had unsuccessfully lobbied council previously. Barber said the plan also includes the county and city working together on reducing the three-mile police jurisdiction to a mile-and-a-half. He said Sheriff Sam Cochran approves of his plan.
City spokesman George Talbot said the administration “fully intends to reintroduce” an agenda item related to annexation.
“The mayor is meeting regularly with the council president and other members on the issue,” Talbot said. “It’s at the top of his agenda. We believe it’s a good step for us as a municipality if it’s done correctly and the City Council is on board.”
A reintroduction of the annexation issue is based on whether the administration can drum up enough support for it to pass the council, in order to avoid an “unnecessary fight,” Talbot said.
Cochran sharply opposed the city’s plan to pull services from the jurisdiction during a council committee meeting on the subject earlier this month. At the meeting, he warned councilors he would hire away most of the 44 officers working in the jurisdiction in order to bring on enough deputies to police the area. He argued the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) already receives a lot of its new deputies from the Mobile Police Department (MPD) because they pay $500 per month more on average.
As for the police jurisdiction, Richardson told Lagniappe Stimpson “has the answers in his hand” and called the spending of resources on non-citizens a “self-inflicted wound.”
Richardson correctly argued that state law does not force the city to spend any money in the police jurisdiction, outside of the roughly $2.2 million it takes in from business license fees out there.
“There’s no law requiring him to spend it to put beats, precincts and captains out there,” he said. “I had no idea we were doing that. Nobody told us that.”
The city has 44 officers patrolling the police jurisdiction, but there are no designated precincts outside of the city limits.
Richardosn said Stimpson could pull those resources back without council approval if he wanted to.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “He doesn’t have to clear it with council.”
While Richardson blames the creation of beats in the jurisdiction on members of the current administration, Barber has publicly stated the policy goes back to the Mike Dow administration.
“If that we’re the case, why would they not vote to annex when Sam Jones was mayor?” Richardson said. “Are they saying they didn’t want to join when Jones was mayor, but do now that Stimpson is mayor?”
Manzie said he believes annexation and a rollback of services within the police jurisdiction are “separate and distinct” issues. Small said he believes the two issues are linked.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, members voted to hire the Atchison Firm to serve as council attorney. The council approved the contract 6-1 with only Councilwoman Bess Rich voting against it.
Rich brought up a number of concerns prior to the vote. She said the Atchison Firm represents MCSO and she questioned their loyalties on issues related to the police jurisdiction debate. She also noted the firm’s relationship with Stimpson’s administration and brought up the role attorney Jim Atchison played representing the council in the settlement of a lawsuit Stimpson brought against the council.
Specifically, Rich was concerned the opinion of former council attorney Wanda Cochran had been ignored in the run-up to the settlement. Rich told the audience Cochran had advised councilors they could not hold a meeting discussing the settlement less than a week from the time they delayed a vote on it. Coincidentally, Rich said, she was on vacation and missed the meeting.
As an answer to Rich, Manzie said he supported the Atchison Firm “whole-heartedly,” adding that Rich was on vacation with the vote on the settlement took place. Councilman Gina Gregory also defended the decision, saying all the questions surrounding the firm had been asked and answered during the interview process.
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