Exiting Mayor Sam Jones presented a seemingly innocuous agenda item during the Oct. 22 council meeting, but upon further inspection the issue may be more complex. Emails among top tier personnel in Jones’ administration show there was a push to give a trailer to Plateau Welcome Center, even though the legality of the donation is questionable.
On Oct. 22, the Mobile City Council approved spending $22,000 on repairing a trailer that will serve as the Plateau Welcome Center. A lease, which has not been finalized, will come before the council on Oct. 29. That date marks the last meeting for Jones and councilors Reggie Copeland and William Carroll.
The trailer being given to the center served as the Fifth Precinct police station while the permanent structure was being constructed.
Emails between retiring Chief of Staff Al Stokes, Director of Real Estate and Asset Management Bill DeMouy and exiting City Attorney Larry Wettermark show there was an effort to give the trailer to the community although regulations might not allow it as is.
The emails were provided to Lagniappe by anonymous source, but authenticated by Wettermark.
On Oct. 16, Stokes writes DeMouy asking for a status report on the trailer move. DeMouy is the first person to bring up a major issue.
“There is a question in finance whether (Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs) money was used to purchase the trailers and if so we cannot give them away,” reads an email from DeMouy to Stokes on Oct. 16.
Stokes replies less than an hour later saying, “Wettermark, get engaged and help make these obstacles go away. Mayor wants this project in motion, ASAP.”
Wettermark replies saying there is an issue with how the trailer was obtained.
“The trailer to be used from MPD may have been purchased with drug forfeiture funds which would then implicate federal regulations,” reads an email from Wettermark on Oct. 16. “These regs require use of proceeds from forfeitures for law enforcement purposes only.
“The AfricaTown organization would not qualify as presently constituted, but it may be possible to amend their charter (or by-laws, etc._ to adopt some community/law enforcement interaction program in order to qualify.”
The Plateau community, which encompasses AfricaTown, currently does not have function as a law enforcement entity.
The last email provided to Lagniappe lays out the administration’s plan. The accounting department was tasked with finding through what funds the city acquired the trailer.
If the trailers were purchased with drug forfeiture money, ADECA funds or a federal grant, then that would pose a problem.
“(If bought by forfeiture money, ADECA funds or a federal grant), federal regs may apply and legal will fashion a way to comply with the regs if at all possible,” an email from Wettermark states.
Mobile Comptroller Pat Aldrich is trying to sort out the source of funding for the trailer, but has run into problems.
“I have an old purchase order that doesn’t have any serial numbers. It shows two trailers were purchased with drug forfeiture money. It does have a name of the models purchased — Lincoln and Cavalier. However, no one knows what kind of model each is right now because they’re so old,” she said. “There was a third trailer that was purchased with capital money.”
If the trailer was purchased with capital money, that would mean the city paid for it, and there would be no issue.
However, Aldrich said the fire department has one of the trailers already, the Plateau Welcome Center will have the other and she doesn’t know where the third is located.
Wettermark said in an interview that he was unsure of the trailer’s funding, but a change to Plateau’s charter would allow for the transfer of the mobile home.
“All this does is make it legal to transfer the trailer over to the center,” he said.
Robert Battles, director of the Plateau Welcome Center, said he hadn’t heard of the city giving the center a trailer.
“The city donated a trailer about a year or two ago, but I don’t know anything about a new trailer,” he said.
Battles said the trailer was in disrepair. Wettermark could not identify where the older trailer came from in the city.
The donation also did not come before the council according to a search of the city’s website.