It may be too soon to write the eulogy for “One Mobile,” but a little more than six months after Mayor Sandy Stimpson took office and a week after the City Council defeated the nomination of former Mayor Sam Jones to the board of the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Service, Councilman Fred Richardson wore “mourning clothes” for his own district, which he complained was “disenfranchised” by the vote.
Richardson began the meeting by reading a proclamation on behalf of his district, saying the “Scud missile of division last week landed on the heart of One Mobile” and comparing the city to a rose garden. The council determined a single rose in the garden was unfit and “plucked” it, he said, discarding it by the side of the road. He went on to say that rose would grow and bloom more fully than any in the garden and concluded, “we will bloom where we are.”
Richardson’s proclamation, together with comments from councilmen C.J. Small, Levon Manzie and a spokesperson for the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, set the tone for rest of the meeting, where three routine agenda items were unable to gain approval because of abstentions from the council’s three black members.
Without any acknowledgement they were colluding, the three councilmen denied their colleague John Williams’ appointments on the History Museum of Mobile board and the Downtown Mobile Alliance while also blocking a $1,800 expense from Council President Gina Gregory’s discretionary funds for a project to install decorative street sign posts in the Williamsburg subdivision.
“It was a grievous process for me to watch the undeserved criticism placed on Mayor Jones nomination,” Small said beforehand. “Not only were the attacks unwarranted, but it was totally mean-spirited. As elected officials it’s our job to a set tone of exclusiveness, respect and fairness in city government.”
Small defended the Jones administration’s recruitment of Airbus and financial performance through the recession, while also pointing out Richardson’s district was largely supportive of Jones in the mayoral election.
Manzie, who represents the economically and racially diverse District 2, said he “respectfully disagreed” with the many people in his own district who oppose Jones’ appointment.
“I’ve been called everything to a racist to delusional,” he said. “I want to state for the record that I’m neither one. I’m not a racist, I’m a realist and I see that here we have a situation that is causing major disturbances across the length and breadth of this city. The reason I have objection to what is going on is not necessarily personality, but about it’s about the principle.”
Citing the Zoghby Act that outlines the city’s form of government, Manzie said, “for 29 years, the right of an elected council representative to appoint and fulfill a nomination to city boards, commissions and authorities was held [by the representative of that district] … What I have found in this instance is this is strictly political and it’s sad it has gotten to this point because for six months we’ve worked hard to unify and to coalesce to move this city forward progressively. To allow for this particular issue to cause a divide with the rest of the movement, I’m sad we’re at this particular junction. Richardson should have the right to select whoever he feels is best to sit on any board in this city.”
While the Zoghby Act does allow council people to nominate district representatives to various quasi-governmental boards, it also requires — without any guarantees — a supermajority of the council to appoint those representatives.
Stimpson himself did not take the council’s abstentions lightly and when the vote on the signposts failed, his entire administration stood up and walked out of the meeting. Later, he released a video explaining, “it was a contentious meeting but the reason I walked out was I didn’t want to be part of a political charade that was inhibiting city business. What had occurred was there was a couple of political appointees that were not approved, but when it got to a point where we were not going to put some signposts in a subdivision, that’s when I had enough, so I walked out at that point because it was encumbering us to move this city forward.”
Stimpson said he was frustrated but not angry and wasn’t going to “sit on sideline and let the City Council continue to play politics and keep us from doing city business.”
After the meeting, Richardson maintained his defiance but wouldn’t speculate about when the stalemate would end. But he also said he would put Jones’ nomination back on the agenda May 27.
“(If it’s) One Mobile, everybody is going to have to be treated the same,” he said. “We’re going to have to come together and run this city together … but I’m not going to have District 1 cast to the side while other folks move forward. That won’t happen.”
In other business, the council approved emergency expenditures for repairs to Girby Road and McGregor Avenue resulting from recent flooding. After a FEMA disaster declaration last week, the city expects the federal government to be reimburse as much as 75 percent of the $310,000 cost of repairs, which should take four to five weeks to complete.