A legal dispute over salaries for employees appointed by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson bled over into fiscal year 2020 budget discussions Tuesday.
Councilors and Stimpson are in litigation currently over a number of issues related to which branch has the authority to hire employees. Included in those issues is a disagreement over how much Stimpson can legally pay his appointed employees, who are not subject to the Mobile County Personnel Board or its merit system process.
Council Attorney Wanda Cochran and some councilors believe that the Zoghby Act — the state law that set up Mobile’s current form of government — only allows a total of $100,000 in the budget to pay for all of the appointed positions. The administration, as well as its predecessors, have interpreted Section 40 of the Zoghby Act differently. An attorney general’s opinion suggests that as long as the council approves the salaries they are legal.
At the same time, Councilman Fred Richardson argued at a meeting of the Mobile City Council’s finance committee on Tuesday that the budget, by law, must reflect the city’s current organizational chart. He also contended that the 2020 budget does not.
Executive Director of Finance and acting Chief of Staff Paul Wesch told Richardson the administration is currently working on a new organizational chart, but he wasn’t sure when it would be ready.
In an attempt to possibly rectify the situation before the budget is approved, Cochran has come up with a possible, two-part solution, which she shared at the meeting. The first part would have the council pass an ordinance further clarifying that non-merit, or Section 40 employees could receive no more than the $100,000 total mentioned in the Zoghby Act.
For instances where Stimpson would need to appoint employees outside the merit system, Cochran said the new organizational chart could include an “executive” section where all of those employees would be listed.
While Stimpson’s office has been making a concerted effort to move non-merit employees into the merit system, Cochran said this would allow for more transparency.
The council will hold a public hearing on Stimpson’s budget during its 10:30 a.m. meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
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