Since we’re rather fond of bringing old rhythm and blues groups in for our famed New Year’s Eve MoonPie Drop, I’d like to suggest Hughes Corporation as next year’s headliner. In fact, perhaps they would be so kind as to come down to the Mobile City Council meeting in three weeks for a little audition.
If anybody needs to hear from Hughes Corporation ASAP, it’s our City Council. The band’s signature 1974 hit, “Rock the Boat,” repeatedly warns, “don’t rock the boat, baby.” And when they sing it in council chambers, all seven councilors should get up, do “The Bump,” then sit back down and take that simple phrase to heart.
Don’t rock the boat, baby.
It’s been a long time since Mobile has been on the roll we’re currently enjoying, which naturally means it’s time for someone to do something counterproductive. And that thing is the proposal to strip Mayor Sandy Stimpson from any ability to place an item on the council agenda for consideration. Sounds like the council might be bigger fans of the Black Eyed Peas song “Shut Up.”
If adopted, this proposal would mean Hizzoner must go to one of the seven councilors and pretty-please them into co-sponsoring an item to be placed on the agenda. Some councilors think this will lead to better communication between the mayor and council, but it sounds like a great opportunity for backroom horse-trading. “Yea, I’ll help you out, but first I need some ditches filled.”
What this proposal will do — whether purposefully or not — is take the “process” more out of the public eye than it already is. That’s not to say I believe there are a bunch of nefarious intentions, but this effort to control the agenda serves no one but politicians. I fail to see how it helps the citizens one bit.
In his usual blunt fashion, Councilman Fred Richardson helped explain some of the motives behind this push to muzzle the mayor when he said it has to do with who’s getting credit for the current string of successes. He particularly was irritated about what he deemed to be the mayor’s office taking credit for new sidewalks when it was an idea that sprang fully formed from the mind of Richardson and involved money he deems his to spend.
I’m sure there are other technical reasons that will be tossed around to explain why this is necessary, but if you’ve paid attention it’s clear the issue of who gets to take credit has been brewing for some time. We’ve already had silly complaints from the council concerning which way the mayor stands when he talks, and they’ve been involved in hiring their own public relations person for more than a month as well.
That’s fine. They are politicians and who gets credit in the political world is only surpassed in pettiness by who “broke” a news story in the media world. So I get it. But this is going too far.
I’m very dubious that successes like the holiday ice rink and Uber would have seen the light of day without the mayor’s office pushing them. But you know what, the councilors who voted for those things can still take credit. They got behind it.
By the same token, if the City Council doesn’t like something the mayor proposes, vote it down. That power is already theirs.
But therein lies the problem. People don’t want to have to actually explain their reasoning to the constituents or face the possibility of someone coming up to them in Greer’s and asking why they voted down Uber or ice skating or whatever else. It’s easier never to have to vote on it. It’s chicken sh*t, but sometimes that’s how politics works.
Making the mayor come hat-in-hand to ask a councilor to sponsor something on the agenda does the same thing. It creates an opportunity for the council to avoid potentially sticky subjects or to put the mayor over a barrel.
I think the seeds of this current controversy were sown in Bienville Square during the now-famous discussion of a squirrel-feeding ban. In that situation an initiative from the mayor’s office landed on the agenda without council approval and all hell broke loose once the citizens and media chimed in. I know council members took a lot of undeserved heat for that when they were blamed for a plan that was about as popular as scurvy.
Since then the mayor and council have pretty much operated under a handshake agreement not to put things on the agenda without at least one councilor’s approval. But that agreement was apparently strained when the mayor’s office wanted to pursue the ice skating plan and got no takers from the council.
In the end, though, the process worked as it should. The squirrel-feeding ban died from ridicule and ice skating passed and was far more successful than most expected.
Hopefully after three weeks of listening to their constituents, the councilmembers will realize this is their version of the squirrel-feeding Waterloo. Nobody wants this to pass, except the people sitting on the council. The reality is we elect a mayor to lead and to present ideas, and the council is there to approve, disapprove or alter those ideas so they work for the city. Compromise is a big part of it all.
Maybe the mayor’s chief of staff irritates some councilmembers with his style. Maybe Fred doesn’t think he gets enough credit. Maybe others are just more focused on the structure. It doesn’t really matter, because the mayor and council need to work together.
If councilors want more credit, bring more ideas to the table. But also try to look at this as a team sport. If Mobile moves forward, everybody gets some of the credit. Hopefully both sides can find a way to handle the agenda without locking the mayor out. Our city has been on a roll for the past two years and there’s no reason for the City Council to rock the boat by muzzling the mayor.
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