Months after the Mobile City Council passed an amended fiscal year 2019 budget, the group is still debating with Mayor Sandy Stimpson on how to implement it, as a resulting power struggle has resulted in legal action (see story on next page).
While the bigger question of whether the executive or legislative branch has authority to unilaterally execute contracts will most likely be answered in Mobile County Circuit Court, quibbles remain over funding in the spending plan passed in late September.
City Attorney Ricardo Woods confirmed during a council meeting Tuesday Stimpson has not yet signed the budget. Woods said staff members were correcting mathematical and grammatical “anomalies” in the document, as they do every year.
“The budget has not been finalized or put on the city’s website at this time,” Woods said. “We’ve fixed numeric issues in years past.”
But “anomalies” should be the responsibility of the council to fix, council attorney Wanda Cochran argued.
“There’s a lot of layers to this, but if there are anomalies, the council is the body to fix them,” she said. “If there could be some … written communication from [Acting Chief of Staff] Paul Wesch, or [Ricardo] Woods, that would be helpful.”
When Council Vice President Levon Manzie asked about the so-called anomalies, Wesch explained there was a shortage of about $3,000 to $4,000 in the performance contracts after the council amended them.
Councilors seemed concerned over the length of time between the budget’s passage and the staff’s ability to work out the issues in order to allow Stimpson to sign it.
“I’m greatly disturbed by what I hear,” Councilman Fred Richardson said. “What council does is final. You can’t fix the budget.”
Manzie questioned why addressing the so-called “anomalies” would take this long and described the situation as “Anomalygate.”
Richardson, along with Councilman C.J. Small, even questioned if it was legal for the city to operate under the 2019 budget if Stimpson hadn’t signed it. Small asked Manzie to write a letter to Stimpson to help clarify under which budget the city was operating.
“How can we operate on the 2018-2019 budget if he did not sign it?” Small asked. “What actions can we take? I have great concerns about whether we are illegally operating as a city.”
Richardson said he believes the mayor’s office is amending the budget now it’s been passed.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but something is going on and I don’t think it’s right,” he said. “This is something we have never seen before. Something is wrong.”
Woods said the actions are legal because the council passed the budget.
Mobile resident David Preston questioned Stimpson’s actions as well. He told councilors he believed the mayor is directed to either veto or sign the budget within 10 days of its passage.
In other business, councilors delayed a vote on an amended ordinance that would spell out their authority in contracting. The amendment will be discussed further at the Dec. 18 meeting.