Resolution of a power struggle between the city and the board of directors of the History Museum of Mobile will cost 19 personnel board employees their jobs, at least temporarily. A letter signed by Mayor Sandy Stimpson June 26 stated the employees would be laid off effective Saturday, Aug. 1.
“Pursuant to Mobile County Personnel Board rules and regulations, this letter is to notify you that your position … is being eliminated due to a consolidation and realignment of the city of Mobile’s departments and functions,” the letter stated. “This administrative decision is being made as the city develops a streamlined approach to the operation of the History Museum of Mobile.”
Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper confirmed the impetus for the decision hinged on an agreement between the City Council, the administration and the museum board to cede the museum’s operation to the appointed board. Cooper said as part of the agreement the city would enter into a performance contract with the board.
“We needed to break the impasse and there was no solution,” he said. “We had conversations with the City Council and decided this was a viable option going forward.”
The layoffs were ordered more than a month after the museum’s Executive Director David Alsobrook was placed on paid administrative leave — one that will last until Tuesday, July 7.
Cooper said the city would work out a lease with the board on the city-owned building and would fund operations through a performance contract moving forward.
A source with knowledge of the arrangement said there is still uncertainty among employees over whether or not they will have jobs after Aug. 1.
“Some, who had worked there for 40 years, left thinking they had lost their jobs,” the source said under the condition of anonymity. “That’s not the case. Many will be rehired.”
Cooper said to his knowledge, some of the 19 employees affected will be rehired once the board gains control of the museum. Five others will be transferred to other city departments.
In addition to the 19 laid off Friday, the source said two employees were let go last month due to “political wrangling.”
“The museum and staff are the victims here,” the source said.
Another point of contention is the date of the layoffs. Aug. 1 is two months before the start of the next fiscal year, meaning the board would have to find a way to pay its own employees while waiting for the city’s next budget to be enacted.
Cooper said the city and board will likely work out a prorated contract until Oct. 1. The fiscal year 2015 museum budget for personnel and operations was just over $1.2 million, Cooper said.
A second source with knowledge of the situation said four of the five employees to be moved to other departments include two administrative assistants and two public-service workers. The source was unsure where those employees would be transferred, but suggested one curator position would be moved to the Mobile Museum of Art.
While one source and Cooper implied at least some of the remaining employees would be rehired by the board, the other source said he “wasn’t very hopeful of that, especially those who remain loyal to [Alsobrook].”
In addition to the letter, Cooper notified employees in person of the pending layoffs. He confirmed he wasn’t alone when he showed up to break the news to employees.
“I had to tell 24 people they were losing their job so I brought human resources, a legal team [member] and a member of the Mobile Police Department,” Cooper said. “You have to be responsible in circumstances like that and there was no telling how they would react. I didn’t want to take a risk.”
Museum board chairman Greg Reynolds said he couldn’t comment on the layoffs or whether city employees would be rehired by the board. He said a lease and a performance contract have not been finalized, but when they are the board will do what it needs to do.
“Nothing has been finalized by the council, so I can’t comment on that,” he said.
Reynolds told other media outlets that the board would rehire some of the city employees.
At its last meeting, the board voted to proceed with an ad-hoc committee recommendation to pursue a resolution asking the city for a performance contract. The value of that contract has not been disclosed.