Despite suffering a setback late last year, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office is less than a week away from unveiling a new annexation plan, headed by Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber.
When asked by Councilwoman Bess Rich during a regular meeting Tuesday, Barber said he was waiting for “numbers” from a “commercial area” before putting the finishing touches on a proposal he would share with councilors.
Following the meeting, Barber said the plan involved the annexing of 13,000 West Mobile residents and then working with county officials, including Sheriff Sam Cochran, on areas impacted by the movement of the city’s three-mile police jurisdiction.
“There is a way to do this so the county and city benefit and no one is left without services they need,” he said. “The revenue from annexation would pay for the public safety services in the other areas.”
Barber has previously hinted the plan includes shifting the police jurisdiction to within a one-and-a-half-mile radius, down from the full three miles.
Rich asked Barber about his plans because she is interested in scheduling a meeting of the council’s public safety committee to discuss the move.
Previous attempts to allow the same 13,000 West Mobile residents to vote in a referendum to join the city failed in a 4-3 council vote, due to lack of a supermajority.
Council President Levon Manzie, who voted against the annexation push late last year, told Lagniappe in an interview about affordable housing that he wasn’t “permanently against” growing the city’s border, but he wanted to see the city expend more effort in helping Mobile grow from within through initiatives that might grow public housing stock.
“I mean, while we’ve been having these deep and long, drawn-out conversations about areas that aren’t a part of the city, we haven’t necessarily had any conversations about areas that are a part [of the city] and have made Mobile what it is for the 300-and-some-odd years it has been a city,” Manzie said. “So, I totally believe that the measures we’re trying to reach can be obtained if we were to put that same level of ingenuity and creativity and energy into building up what we have. I’m not saying I’m universally and permanently against expanding the boundaries, but I just see so much potential within what we already have and so that’s pretty much where I’m at on that.”
In other business, the council continued to make changes to Municipal Court Tuesday, following complaints from judges about being overworked and underpaid.
On Wednesday, Feb. 26, the council voted to amend an ordinance to allow for the appointment of up to five part-time “adjunct” judges, who would be on-call in case a municipal judge was out sick or had to miss court for another reason.
On Tuesday, the council set “adjunct” judges’ rate of pay at $400 per docket. City attorney Ricardo Woods told councilors at a previous pre-conference meeting the rate was “fair.”
The council began discussing the issue of adjunct judges following a series of stories detailing the court’s use of part-time, fill-in judges appointed by the mayor’s office. While Woods contends state law allows the mayor’s office to appoint fill-in judges, former Stimpson judicial advisor Charles Graddick stepped down from the municipal bench “out of an abundance of caution.” Councilors also expressed their displeasure with the mayor’s appointments, with Councilman Fred Richardson calling them “illegal.”
The court also stopped using other mayoral appointees, which led to the need for more judges at the municipal level. Officials in the mayor’s office confirmed those previous fill-in judges were not charging the city.
After the meeting, Councilwoman Gina Gregory, who chaired an ad-hoc committee created to discuss the issue, said the council still needs to interview and appoint new judges, but getting over the initial legislative hurdle felt “good.”
“I hope, in appointing these new judges, this will do what [Presiding Municipal] Judge [Holmes] Whiddon and Judge [Karlos] Finley wanted, and takes care of the problem.”
In addition to setting a rate of $400 per docket, the resolution makes clear the new judges are not eligible for city benefits.
The council also postponed a hearing and vote on the appeal of developer Tom Townsend and attorney Buzz Jordan, who owns 401 Dauphin St., on a recent Planning Commission decision to deny allowing them to increase the occupancy rate of a planned music venue to more than 100.
Manzie, who represents the downtown area, requested councilors vote to delay the proceeding until March 31. At issue for the property is that it’s adjacent to residential property and outside the boundaries of either downtown entertainment district. Jordan would like to renovate it for use as a music venue, but he and Townsend have requested an occupancy of 750, which is not allowed by right.
The Planning Commission has voted down the proposal twice, including in January, but as Jordan pointed out on Tuesday, he had more support during the most recent commission vote. As for what he expects from the appeal, Jordan used an example from his day job.
“It’s like a jury trial,” he said. “You never know what a jury is going to do until they make a decision.”
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