The Mobile City Council delayed for a week, per its rules, a proposal by Mayor Sandy Stimpson to give city employees across-the-board 2.5-percent raises, after questioning administration officials about who would be eligible for the pay hike.
At issue, during the council’s pre-conference meeting on Tuesday, May 7, was the definition of city employees. Councilors argued that the term “city employee” referred only to those employees hired through the Mobile County Personnel Board. Administration officials said that their definition of “city employee” also included all the employees appointed by Mayor Sandy Stimpson, outside of the Personnel Board, or the merit system.
“This doesn’t tell us who is going to get the raise,” Councilman Fred Richardson said of a budget item on the council agenda. “Will all merit system employees get it along with those working part time?”
City attorney Ricardo Woods confirmed that most of the $1.6 million budget amendment would be put toward an “across the board” cost-of-living raise.
Richardson argued that so-called contract employees are not city employees. Ricardo agreed, but added that the city only has “three or four” contract employees. He said mayoral appointees, or non-merit employees, are considered city employees and not contractors by the administration.
Also at issue is a debate over the certification of the budget. Councilors questioned how they would be able to legally amend a budget without Stimpson first certifying it with his signature. Members of the council argue that he has yet to sign the budget they approved last September, which included amendments gutting GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico, Stimpson’s Innovation Team and a fund used to hire outside attorneys.
Stimpson’s administration, for months, has worked around that not by placing employees in other departments, but by having them work at GulfQuest, or as members of the Innovation Team.
Councilwoman Bess Rich questioned the legality of such moves, but Councilman John Williams and Director of Special Projects Matt Anderson told her Stimpson has the authority to place employees in whichever department he chooses.
Administration officials said Stimpson delayed his signing of the budget due to a discrepancy of about $3,400. That issue was resolved with a budget amendment the council passed earlier this year. It appears Stimpson’s office thought passage was sufficient to certify the budget.
Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch told councilors that while he believes they are “splitting hairs” in reference to the budget certification, he said the administration could get Stimpson to certify the budget as early as Wednesday, May 8.
Woods also told councilors to avoid holding the raises “hostage” because of the ongoing litigation between Stimpson and the council. He immediately admitted that he didn’t believe they were trying to do that.
The $1.6 million budget amendment resolution was on the council’s agenda for first read, which means, by the board’s rules, it is eligible to be held over for one week. Administration officials said they had no issues with the council delaying the vote.
If everything “holds to schedule,” city spokesman George Talbot said, the raise could be approved by both the council and the Mobile County Personnel Board before the end of May and employees could be seeing in the increase on their paychecks by June 14.
Talbot said good fiscal management and restraint has been the key to having the funds available for the raises.
“It’s made possible through … revenue is doing well through the first half [of the year],” he said. “Department heads have been doing a great job controlling costs.”
The raises are expected to cost about $1.3 million, and the remaining $300,000 will be used to hire more personnel in the engineering and grant departments, according to Talbot. He also said the increase in personnel is a direct result of the number of projects the city has in the hopper.
In other business, the council again delayed for one week a vote on expanding the downtown entertainment district to include parts of St. Louis Street and the city’s waterfront.
At issue is the addition of a third entertainment district, due to the size of the proposed expansion. Wesch told councilors state law prohibits entertainment districts larger than 1/4-square miles. The previously planned expansion would be the eastern-most district downtown beyond that threshold.
Council Vice President Levon Manzie said he hasn’t heard anything but support for the latest entertainment district plan, but he wanted to be as transparent as possible and sided with Williams on a request to delay the vote one more week.
Councilors also formally asked for the names of the members of a committee tasked with picking the best project for Mobile Civic Center redevelopment. Rich and Manzie said they would send a letter to Stimpson making the request. Administration officials have previously declined to name the members publicly to avoid any conflicts.
“I’m not asking for this information for nefarious purposes,” Manzie said. “I’m asking for it because there are residents in my community asking about it ….”
Mobile resident David Preston asked the council about the information during its regular meeting. He also asked that councilors spend the appropriate amount of time considering the project that is ultimately selected.
Preston wanted to know what residents make up the committee and whether or not all of the Carnival associations currently using the Civic Center for balls are adequately represented.
Manzie told Preston that he was planning a series of public meetings on the topic as soon as more is known about the project.
Talbot said the city would be releasing the names of selection committee members as soon as Tuesday. He said members were city employees, Mobile citizens and members of various Mardi Gras associations.
As for the Civic Center’s future use as a Mardi Gras events venue, Stimpson has said that 2020 will be the last season for its use and a temporary solution would be the renovation and use of a large warehouse on the Brookley Aeroplex. Current plans for the Civic Center redevelopment do not include a large arena.
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