Mobile County Commissioners did not mince words when they responded to Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s ongoing efforts to cut the city’s extended police jurisdiction in half.
The issue has a been a big concern for the county because reducing the Mobile Police Department’s extended jurisdiction from three miles outside of the city limits to a mile and a half could leave three unincorporated areas without any fire protection service and would also likely require additional sheriff’s deputies.
Because it would require significant funding as well as referendum elections to establish volunteer fire districts, the commission has previously asked the city to delay the rollback until next year — a request that appears to have fallen on the deaf ears.
After previously delaying their decision for two weeks, the Mobile City Council voted on Stimpson’s proposal this week, though it failed to pass because of dissenting votes from Councilmen Fred Richardson and C.J. Small and an abstention by Councilman Levon Manzie.
However, Stimpson has resubmitted the proposal on next week’s council agenda, despite ongoing concern from certain members and the entire commission. Because the legislation that authorized the rollback included time restrictions, the city has until Oct. 1 to accept the proposal or any change in the jurisdiction will have to wait until January 2018.
Before a budget hearing Thursday, Commissioner Connie Hudson said the county doesn’t have any problem with the city plan. However, she said the situation has been handled poorly by the mayor’s office and the rush to pass it with little discussion has been both “unfair” and “insulting.”“Our objective here is not to keep the city from doing what they chose to do, it’s to make sure that in working with them we can have these areas covered and we can provide those citizens those services that they need and deserve,” Hudson said. “Right now, if the rollback occurred and we didn’t have transitional help from the city, we’d have three areas that would have no fire coverage at all.”
Some city officials have expressed a willingness to help the county with the transition, but Hudson said conversations have “kept changing” since the rollback was first proposed in mid-August. Now, the Commission is requesting a written proposal that would outline what services the city could assist with.
However, communication seems to have broken down somewhere along the line. In a rare moment, Thursday’s meeting seemed to unite all three county commissioners, as they all expressed disappointment in the way Stimpson and his administration have handled this issue.
The area of Mobile that falls in Commissioner Merceria Ludgood’s district borders the city of Prichard, so her constituents would hardly be affected by the proposed change in the MPD’s jurisdiction.
Regardless, Ludgood still thanked the councilors who voted against the proposal — a decision that drew criticism from Stimpson’s administration and residents of Mobile. Specifically, Ludgood referenced a tweet by Stimpson’s Chief of Staff, Colby Cooper, targeting Manzie, Richardson and Small because they voted down the mayor’s proposed rollback.“I’m glad they were willing to take that bullet,” Ludgood said. “I know they’re now being attacked on social media all the way up to the mayor’s office, which I think is wholly inappropriate.”
There’s also been some speculation about the origins of the legislation authorizing changes to police jurisdictions like the one proposed in Mobile. Passed this year, Act 2016-218 was one of several bills that cleared the House of Representatives in the final minutes of the regular session.
Since the bill became law in May, the Decatur City Council has voted in favor of a similar rollback for its municipal police jurisdiction and appears to be the only city to have done so.
The legislation addressed non-contiguous annexations, but according to Hudson, a provision “was tacked on” to allow municipalities of a certain size to rollback their police jurisdictions.
Hudson said she didn’t think there was “a lot of thought and understanding” that went into the bill’s passing, and now, she said the county is feeling some of the “unintended consequences.”
Even Commission President Jerry Carl, who has been an outspoken supporter of Stimpson’s, said he was “angry” and “disappointed” in the way things have played out with the administration. He said it is hurting the relationship between two government entities that have long been partners in the region.“What this has done is start an avalanche,” Carl said. “We were given a punch list about four months ago of things the city feels like they’re paying too much money for. We’re glad to check that out, but what we’ve found so far is, there’s a lot of things they’re underpaying for.”
Though many details on that “punch list” weren’t discussed, Carl said some of the items included shared costs at the Mobile Metro Jail, as well as the rent the city is currently paying to use the county’s office space in Government Plaza.
Carl disagreed with the city’s assertion, saying “people in the city often don’t understand what all the county actually does. Continuing, he said the county is “carrying a lot of the load” for the city in some shared endeavors, but may not be able to if the city plans to continue drawing back its contributions in other areas.
If you’re going to set the rules and draw a line, we have to abide by the same rules,” Carl told Lagniappe. “We have to represent everybody in the county. We try to work as a team, but we’re being pushed to a point where we may have to respond, but I don’t want people saying that we’re, ‘trying to get even,’ because that is not our intent.”
On Friday, Stimpson’s spokesperson George Talbot sent out a statement to local media in response to some of the commissioner’s comments. While Talbot said the administration “appreciates the partnership” it shares with the county commission, he added that it’s Mobile’s job to “put our citizens first.”
“It’s a simple fact: Reducing the police jurisdiction will allow us to better serve and protect the people who live in the city of Mobile,” Talbot wrote. “We will continue to work with the commissioners in good faith on this issue, and our hope is that they will respect our commitment to improving the quality of life for the people of Mobile. ”