Mayor Sandy Stimpson came off the sidelines this morning and encouraged the full City Council to support the nomination of former Mayor Sam Jones to the board of commissioners at the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Service.
The council voted twice over the past month to deny Jones’ appointment, with the vote falling along racial lines and two votes short of the supermajority needed to approve it. Stimpson said that while he didn’t believe the vote was racially motivated, the perception within the community was that it was and it’s effect on his vision for “One Mobile” was tainted in the process.
“I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past two weeks and a lot of listening and a lot of praying, and I know a lot of you have been praying and for that I’m grateful,” Stimpson said in prepared remarks. “I, like you, hoped the city council would come up with an amicable solution, thus far they have not.”
Stimpson read a passage from Psalms about unity, then asked the council to take the first step.
“If anyone might be hesitant to appoint my former opponent to the city board, it would be me,” he said. “But I don’t want to stand in the way of this. As a matter of fact I want to add my voice to being the solution. In my opinion [Jones] is qualified, he is willing to serve, he can help unite our city and his nomination should be approved.”
Stimpson said he had a “private conversation” with Jones 10 days ago and called the former mayor just before the press conference to inform him of his support. He also invited Jones to participate in a forum June 11 at the History Museum of Mobile “to address the race issues in Mobile and [have] an honest conversation about how we can move forward together.”
Jones did not immediately return a request for comment but shortly after the mayor’s remarks, one councilmember, District 5 representative Joel Daves, said he had spoken with Stimpson and would honor his wish. Previously, Daves stood with councilmembers Bess Rich, John Williams and Gina Gregory in opposing the nomination.
“I haven’t made a secret of the fact that this has been a very difficult issue,” Daves said. “On one hand Sam Jones has a long history of service to our community but on the other hand, I had some reservations about the advisability of his serving on the water board and there are good arguments on both sides. But in light of the mayor’s request, I’m prepared to support the nomination and move on.”
Around noon, City Council President and District 7 representative Gina Gregory phoned local radio station FM Talk 106.5 and told Midday Mobile host Sean Sullivan she would also take the mayor’s advice, giving Jones the requisite number of votes to be appointed if the nomination resurfaces.
Later, she issued a statement reading: “While I have my own concerns about Mayor Jones’ appointment, I agree with Mayor Stimpson that our community’s concerns override any issues the Council has had with this nomination. Mobile has enjoyed more than 65 years of racial harmony thanks to leaders like John LeFlore and Joe Langan. It’s their leadership and judgment we should seek to learn from and repeat. This nomination comes after a very contentious mayoral election, in fact it felt like we were right back in the middle of that campaign these last few weeks. I didn’t feel the city had healed, and the nomination brought back all the animosity of the campaign. Now that Mayor Stimpson has reached out to the former Mayor and asked him to join the One Mobile movement, to put the divisiveness behind us, it is incumbent upon us as Councilmembers to do our part to continue the healing.”
Meanwhile, District 6 City Councilwoman Bess Rich, who was also the lone vote against former Jones staffer Barbara Drummond to the MAWSS board in March, said she was unmoved.
“I respect Mayor Stimpson opinion, but I have one vote and I take each issue on its merits and weigh its outcome,” Rich said. “As a former MAWSS board member, I know all members should possess certain skill sets and qualifications and these are very much the same as issues that come before city. I took issue with the way [Jones’] communicated with the City Council and managed the city’s budget and my position has not changed.”
District 1 representative Fred Richardson, who nominated and has defended Jones at great length, said simply, “what Mayor Stimpson said is the making of a great mayor.”
District 2 Councilman Levon Manzie elaborated, saying he was “proud” of Stimpson’s remarks.
“I’m proud and impressed and appreciate that the mayor is taking this stance,” he said. “I’m happy we may be able to move forward progressively. I think the mayor coming out on our side of this issue is a bold and courageous move, and I’m certain the councilors not in support would consider relenting under his influence.”
Councilman Williams said he was not prepared to comment immediately, but later issued a statement seeking more guidance from his constituents.
“Our Mayor’s remarks and the subsequent comments of my respected colleague Joel Daves came as a complete surprise to me,” Williams wrote. “I have since talked to both to hear their thoughts. I am completely confident in each’s pure motivation to see ONE MOBILE. but I must express my greatest concern for how “the process” may have been affected by their actions. I have the utmost respect for both Mayor Stimpson and Mr. Daves and consider each of them friends in our relationship in city government.
“Many people around the state and certainly throughout our city have expressed their disappointment of our conduct as elected officials in regards to this matter. Some, who don’t really care about our city, find this a subject of entertainment and amusement. Others who are invested in our future are deeply saddened by the process and its results. I have tremendous reservation with regard to further comment on this issue before spending the many hours available this weekend to reflecting, seeking personal advice, AND prayerfully considering the impact of such action.
“I ask you all: What will be the effects on the functioning of our governing body in the future as we work to advance the welfare of our city and its citizens? Will this mean more of the same conduct in order to achieve political objectives. Will this be the cure for what ails our city with regard to unity. I seek those answers….when I have completed my analysis of those questions, and when I am complete in my position I will act on the issue.”
Jones’ nomination does not appear on the City Council’s next agenda June 3, and Richardson would not indicate when he would reintroduce it for a vote.
The mayor’s full comments are below.
Updated at 3:30 p.m. to include the statement from Council President Gina Gregory, at 4:30 p.m. to include the statement from Councilman John Williams and June 2 to give credit where credit is due to Sean Sullivan and FM Talk 106.5.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s comments, May 30, 2014
I am here today to talk about the impasse involving our City Council over the nomination of my predecessor, Sam Jones, to the Mobile Area Water & Sewer System board of directors.
I want to share a few thoughts about this situation and offer my proposal to help us move forward as a city.
I’ve been in office slightly more than six months and everyday so far has been a learning experience. I’m sure I haven’t been perfect but can promise you that everyday my administration is dedicated to serving all the people of this city.
Our vision is clear, to make Mobile the safest, most business and family friendly city in America by 2020. Yes that’s an ambitious goal and I know for certain no one person can get us there. It will take all of us working together, united as one Mobile.
Now I’ve heard the phrase “One Mobile” tossed around a lot over the past few weeks and I want to revisit it just for a moment.
One Mobile started in the campaign as a vision for Mobile becoming the best it can be. It is a vision of racial harmony, equal opportunity and better quality of life for all of our citizens.
I ran on promise to make and work for One Mobile, particularly the underserved areas of the city that have been neglected for far too long. Today we’re making progress.
It’s early, but we’re already beginning to see results and that is giving us new energy and excitement.
Over the past few weeks, it’s been disheartening to see us distracted from the issues that we must address if we are to ever achieve our goals. And I’ve been frustrated when we’ve allowed our differences to impede city business.
I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past two weeks, and a lot of listening and a lot of praying, and I know a lot of you have been praying and for that I’m grateful. I, like you, hoped the City Council would come up with an amicable solution, but thus far they have not.
It says in Psalm 1:33, “behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”
One Mobile is about unifying the city. It is more than a word or a feeling, it is an attitude that reveals itself in action. Unity for unity’s sake means nothing.
The reason for unity is so we can come together to create and improve opportunity for everyone. How can we put that into practice? By helping when it is not convenient, giving when it hurts, by devoting attention to other’s welfare rather than our own and by working together to resolve differences.
The rift in our City Council, if not corrected, can spread and undermine all our efforts to build a better Mobile. We can’t afford to let that happen.
The good news is that it can be repaired. It starts with a single step. By approving the appointment of Sam Jones to the [MAWSS] board. Today iIm calling on the City Council to take that step and keep us on the path toward one Mobile.
If anyone might be hesitant to appoint my former opponent to the city board, it would be me. But I don’t want to stand in the way of this. As a matter of fact, I want to add my voice to being the solution.
In my opinion, he is qualified, he is willing to serve, he can help unite our city and his nomination should be approved.
To those who oppose this nomination, I ask for your considerations, your understanding and your willingness to see the greater good that can be accomplished by ending this debate. To those who support the nomination, I ask you to accept my hand and join together for the future of our city.
In that spirit, I would like to invite Former Mayor Sam Jones to stand with me, before our citizens and lead a conversation about how we can unify our city for the progress at such a pivotal time for the city of Mobile.
I’m planning to hold a community forum to address the race issues in Mobile and I want it to be an honest conversation about how we can move forward together.
We’re still working on the logistics, but we would like to do it on June 11 at the History Museum of Mobile. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can with more details.
Finally, I would like to challenge the news media and the commenters in social media to take a tone of civility and stop fanning the flames of controversy and work with us in good faith for a stronger community.
We have so much to be proud of and so much positive is is going on in Mobile. Our economy is improving, our children are seeing brighter opportunities, and we’re fighting crime blight and litter like never before.
Yes we have big challenges ahead of us but make no mistake, I believe in One Mobile and I’m willing to sacrifice for it. I’m willing to go anywhere, meeting with anyone at anytime and do everything and anything in my power to make it happen. I ask the community to join with us to support this effort. I need the help of everyone to reach up and to get beyond the issues that may divide.