As summer hands off the baton to fall for its brief sprint in the Port City, slightly cooler temperatures and lower humidity will not be the only changes we will see. Over the next few months Mobile city government will experience the most fundamental transformation it has seen in nearly three decades.
And it seems like these changes can’t come soon enough.
In August, voters went to the polls and chose Sandy Stimpson as the city’s next mayor, defying the odds and an odds-maker.
Stimpson is not a total outsider. He made the rounds in the Chamber and other civic and business circles, but he most certainly is not a part of the same regime who has essentially been running the city government since 1985.
With the announcement of the members of his executive staff so far, it is clear there will be some new blood and energy pumping through the glass confines of Government Plaza.
I’m not saying there aren’t already some great folks over there — there are and some have been there for years and should not only keep their jobs under the new administration, but be promoted. But there is also a lot of dead weight that could be eliminated. Just ask the aforementioned “great folks,” and they can tell you exactly where to find all said deceased weight.
I’ve always been a big fan on the loofah. Exfoliation is key for not just healthy skin, but also a healthy government.
Over the next few months, the Stimpson administration is going to have the rare opportunity to be able to go in and slough of all that needs to be, well, sloughed. And so far, it looks like they are going to super-seize that opportunity, as they have already said they would have a forensic audit performed and will go through the budget line by line, as soon as it is made available to them.
I am not suggesting there was a concerted effort by previous administrations to just go in and waste as much money as possible in every department. I am not at all. But they were there for a loooooooong time. And you know how it is, even in your own households and businesses, you just start doing things a certain way and adding layers and extras that may not be essential in the good years that seem to somehow hang on even in the lean ones.
And then you just get busy with other things and used to doing the same old things the same old way, even if it’s not the best or most cost-effective, and eventually you just end up with layer upon layer of things you really don’t need.
From inefficiencies in operations and spending to salaried positions that were seemingly created to say “thanks for working on my campaign,” to unethical people who just need to go, everything and everyone can be put under the “is this the best way this can be done for Mobile?” microscope. And that’s a great thing for this city.
But that microscope and loofah (an unlikely pair), not only need to examine and scrub what’s going on inside the glass house on Government Street but also inside the brick and mortar one just down the road at Mobile Police Headquarters.
Over the weekend, Chief Micheal Williams announced he would be on medical leave until his retirement, which he announced just after the mayoral election, would be in November.
The Chief is leaving behind a legacy of running a department with very little transparency and a department where some of his officers seemingly just ran wild, using city credit cards and federal funds (ahem, your tax dollars) like they were their own, while still others were running lucrative side businesses through the department, which have proved problematic for other departments. But most of all, there just seems to have been a general lack of leadership and chaos over there, creating a big ol’ mess for the next to chief to clean up.
From the moment Williams took office, we had difficulty getting police reports for something as silly as a section we used to run call the “Police Blotter.”
But it went so much deeper than that.
They refused to release documents to the media on simple policies, such as officers moonlighting, which proved to be a huge area of corruption in the New Orleans Police Department.
There was such an outcry by many of the media outlets in this town for more transparency, there was a summit of sorts earlier this year to discuss their policies on how they released information.
Though, it didn’t do much good, at least for Lagniappe.
As documented in this newspaper for nearly a year, the MPD under Chief Williams refused to release records on the publicly funded youth Explorers program — to the point we had to sue the department to get them. Williams went so far as to sign an affidavit saying they had turned over all records related to our request. Once we finally got the files containing literally thousands of documents, including ones Williams had sworn under oath did not exist, we found reports showing improper use of federal grant funds and their own department heads warning the chief the program was in “complete disarray” and lacked oversight that “required immediate attention.”
On an Explorer trip to New York City, Williams himself set the budget, and his officers in charge of the trip exceeded that budget by over $9,000!!! Instead of making them pay it back personally or firing them, he used seized drug money from a special fund to pay it back.
Can you imagine what would have happened to you if you had done that in the private sector? Hello walking papers! But instead, one officer who was in charge of this, not only didn’t get reprimanded, she got promoted.
You have to wonder what other good uses we could have put that drug money to instead of paying off the excessive spending that took place on a big fat trip to New York City? I can think of a couple.
The new police chief will without a doubt be the most important person Mayor-elect Stimpson hires, as the department seems to need the super-size loofah right about now.
I am sure there are fine candidates within who could get the job done, and maybe even with more expediency because they already know who the bad apples are and where all the bodies are buried, but they also would need to have the courage to clean house. And that may not be so easy to do for those who have been there a long time. Or, maybe it would be easier, as they are tired of seeing it.
Obviously, if Mayor-elect Stimpson can’t find the right candidate within, he will have to look outside for someone who can restore order and integrity back to the city’s most important department.
But either way, rub a dub dub, this whole city could use a good and thorough scrub.