Mobile city councilors spent the bulk of their discretionary money this year on travel, postage, capital improvement and parks, according to 2014 records.
As of Aug. 31, all but two councilors spent all of the $25,000 allotted to them in 2014. Only Councilmen Levon Manzie and C.J. Small had any left over with a month left in the fiscal year, according to records. Manzie had $4,596 left and Small had $10,046.
Council Vice President Fred Richardson and President Gina Gregory racked up the most in credit card charges. Richardson spent $10,003.89 on the city credit card, while Gregory spent $5,854.86.
Manzie spent the third most on the credit card at $5,171.37 and C.J. Small followed with $3,782.53.
Councilman Joel Daves had $374 in credit card charges, while Councilman John Williams had $60.
Councilwoman Bess Rich didn’t make any credit card charges in fiscal year 2014.
The majority of credit card expenses go toward travel, Comptroller Pat Aldrich said, and the records confirm it. For instance, both Manzie and Richardson spent more than $1,500 for a National League of Cities trip to Washington, D.C., according to records. Richardson, Small and Gregory each spent a little more than $3,000 in London on a trip to Farnborough International Airshow.
Gregory and Richardson each spent $2,500 on the 2014 Chamber leadership exchange to St. Louis.
Richardson also made credit card purchases on trips to Savannah, Ga. and Birmingham. Manzie has also charged the credit card for trips to Montgomery, Austin, Savannah and Los Angeles.
Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said councilors email the administration with a request to use discretionary money. The email must also copy City Attorney Ricardo Woods and Council Attorney Jim Rossler, who must sign off on the fund’s use before any procurement is made.
Rossler said, legally, the expense can be used on anything “that serves a municipal purpose.”
“It goes through a vetting process,” Rossler said. “It includes the mayor’s office, city legal department, council attorney and finance.”
Rossler said if councilors want to donate money to a charitable organization, for instance, the city would draw up a performance contract. If councilors wanted to purchase an item, Wesch said, depending on its cost, the city might have to seek bids on it.
Only Richardson spent more than his allotted $25,000, as of Aug. 31, with a negative balance of $596.27, according to records. Aldrich said that amount would be taken out of his allotment this fiscal year.
In addition to meal and travel charges for the London trip, Richardson, Small and Gregory also paid $1,857 each to Springdale Travel for airfare and hotel.
Rich opted to transfer all of her discretionary funds into the capital improvements budget. The money will go toward landscaping improvements and beautification within her district, at the intersection of Airport Boulevard and Hillcrest Road, Rich said.
She said the project was picked by the District 6 residents’ council and will include planting and landscaping.
“They picked it,” Rich said. “I felt like rather than split it among smaller projects, it’s better to get [the residents’] suggestion.”
Councilman Joel Daves said $5,000 of his allotment last year went toward a donation to America’s Junior Miss that had been promised by his predecessor Reggie Copeland. Another $1,854.38 went toward the James M. Seals Marching Band. Daves also spent $3,444 in discretionary funds on one speed hump in his district. He put another $6,784 toward capital improvements in his district.
Aldrich said discretionary funds do not roll over from year to year, so councilors will place remaining funds in capital improvements toward the end of a fiscal year.
Richardson spent $6,888 on speed humps in his district and said he plans to spend more on additional humps in 2015. Richardson also gave $5,000 to the Lynnwood Neighborhood Association to help fix a sign at the entryway of their community that was damaged by a tornado in 2012, he said. Richardson, like four out of seven councilors, also gave money to Postmark Ink to pay for mail-outs. He spent $1,051.30 on mailings. Daves spent $3,867, Small spent $3,940 and Manzie spent $615.57 on mailings.
The 2015 budget increased the discretionary funds for councilors from $25,000 to $40,000 to cover the cost of postage and mailings, since the cost of mailings was previously included in the City Hall overhead fund and made the responsibility of individual councilors.
Councilman John Williams spent his discretionary funds on five nearly equal payouts. He gave $4,940 to the Independent Living Center to help them reinforce the second floor of their building for wheelchairs, he said.
“They raised all, but $10,000,” Williams said. “I told them, I can get you half.”
He put $5,000 into capital improvements and gave $5,000 to the Southern Skyline Community Inc. and the Skyline Garden Club for community improvements. He gave another $5,000 to help pay for batting cages at Mims Park.
Gregory gave $2,358.35 to the Japanese gardens at Langan Park. She used $3,307.14 to help put lights at Overlook Road and Avonlea Circle. She gave $4,000 to the Municipal Park Baseball Association and put $6,295.42 into capital projects.
Manzie gave $4,000 to the Africatown community, $1,000 to the James Seals Booster Club for band instruments, $2,900 to the Harmon Seahawks Athletic Association and $500 to the Mighty Tigers Marching Band.
“My goal was to be responsive to the needs and the requests of the citizens of District 2,” he said.
The money for the Africatown community will help develop a self-sustaining community garden, Manzie said, as well as community cleanups and blight eradication.
Small gave $1,800 to the Maitre Park Ravens.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson also received $25,000 in discretionary fund money in 2014. He gave all of his allotment to Mobile United for the various conversations on race, Aldrich said. The forums will continue until next August, Mobile United’s Chris Barraza said.
While smaller conversations are still happening on a weekly basis, Barraza said, Mobile United is planning another big community forum for January. The next forum will deal with the justice system, in the wake of the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.
Stimpson’s discretionary allotment did not increase in 2015.
Discretionary fund records from fiscal year 2013 were unavailable because councilors did not receive discretionary funds that year, Wesch and Aldrich said.