In a continued tug-of-war on the ninth floor of Government Plaza, members of the Mobile City Council argued over whether the body could add an item to the agenda, or assign a committee meeting Tuesday without an elected president.
The item in question was the contract for new council attorney Wanda Cochran. On Monday, Nov. 6, the council hired her on a 4-2 vote, with one abstention, but failed to approve the resolution and no terms or conditions were discussed at that time.
At the same meeting, councilors voted by a 3-2 margin with two abstentions to retain former council attorney Jim Rossler. There weren’t enough affirmative votes to retain him.
At a preconference meeting on Tuesday, Councilwoman Gina Gregory argued that since all seven members voted, but only two voted to not retain Rossler, that he should still be council attorney because neither side got a majority of those who voted. She said an abstention should not be counted as a “no” vote.
Councilman Fred Richardson argued that “people abstain all the time” and City Clerk Lisa Lambert counts them as “no” votes. When Lambert corrected Richardson, he corrected his initial statement.
“An abstention does not count as supporting a motion,” he said. “Only a ‘yes’ can support a motion.”
Cochran told councilors Tuesday that they had an opportunity at the previous meeting to appeal the results and didn’t. Councilman John Williams then asked if members could still challenge the vote. He didn’t get an answer.
Councilman Joel Daves said he agreed with Gregory that an abstention should not count as a “no,” but the ruling was never appealed “so, it stands.”
Councilman C.J. Small urged his colleagues to discuss Cochran’s contract and the vote in a future committee meeting and move on with other business.
The suggestion to assign the issue to a committee presented the council with yet another debate. This time the disagreement hinged on whether Councilman Levon Manzie, as vice president, could carry out the duties of a president who hasn’t yet been elected. The argument also extended to Cochran’s contract, which the attorney asked councilors to add to the agenda Tuesday.
Council rules stipulate a president must be among the three council votes to add something to the agenda when it’s past the deadline for the clerk to do so. Rules also stipulate a president must make appointments to committees and assign items to committee meetings.
Gregory argued since no one on council has been elected president, Manzie has no one to fill in for and thus can’t carry out the duties of the office. Cochran disagreed and said based on the language of the Zoghby Act, which spells out the rules currently governing the city, Manzie could, in fact, take on the duties of the president.
Cochran’s contract was not added to the agenda, but will be automatically part of the next week’s agenda. Following the pre-conference meeting, Manzie said he would assign the issue to committee and appoint members to the committee that takes up the matter. Manzie, however, said he didn’t feel it was his place to form other committees unless or until a need to do so arises. He said that job will go to the president when one is elected.
In other business, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration asked councilors to table an agreement with Activation Management to provide an easement to allow for a portion of a city parking lot to be used for visitors to downtown attractions, including the Colonial Fort of Mobile, which the company controls.
By rule, the council delayed a vote on a Stimpson initiative that would give Mobile Police officers the option to write tickets for minor offenses instead of making custodial arrests. The initiative would cover many nonviolent offenses, including all state law misdemeanors, but can’t include drug or alcohol offenses because state law prohibits it.
Richardson applauded the administration for its efforts on the matter, as did Reggie Hill, the founder of Success 4 the Future.
“I commend the administration for being bold and offering something to help protect citizens … ,” Hill said.