I was lying on the couch the other night having a cold one and thinking about how it’s been more than three months since Mobile’s City Council and mayor were ordered to go to mediation regarding their inability to get along. “Three months seems like a long time to mediate,” I said to myself as I drained the bottle and placed the empty neatly on the table next to several of its dead homies.
Mayor Stimpson filed suit against the council in December to once and for all have a judge decide which entity holds what power in Mobile’s city government. But the judge punted the decision and ordered mediation, and we haven’t heard a thing since about when or if this process will ever end.
On TV, The History Channel was droning on about British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement, and the declaration he had secured “Peace in our time” with the Nazis. WWII documentaries always make me sleepy, my eyelids grew heavy and soon I was drifting off and having the strangest dream …
I was in a large, cold, grey room and there at a large, cold, grey conference table sat Mayor Sandy Stimpson, the City Council and Neville Chamberlain. Neville was also cold and grey, as he’s been dead 78 years, but somehow still reading from a sheet of paper and looking rather dapper.
“Let’s see … it says here you’ve been in mediation for more than three months? My goodness! How can that be possible? Why, it only took me a couple of days to get the Munich Agreement together, and that moved 800,000 people from Czechoslovakia to Germany and stopped a war. How hard can it be to get a mayor and City Council to stop fighting with one another?” Chamberlain said.
“As a student of history and an author of many, many books, I’m pretty sure your agreement with Hitler didn’t work out so well, Mr. Chamberlain. And why are you here anyway? Michael Upchurch is supposedly our mediator,” Fred Richardson scoffed.
“I’m sure Mr. Upchurch did as much as he could, but it’s been more than three months of this piddling about. They decided to call in the ‘Big Dog,’ if you will. And despite what some might call a ‘poor outcome,’ Mr. Richardson, it really wasn’t my fault Hitler turned out to be a rather dishonest chap. So, instead of splitting hairs about who appeased which bloodstained dictator, perhaps we can get to the issue at hand,” Neville said. “Now, where do things stand?”
“Mr. Chamberlain, I’m glad you’re here. Since you have experience dealing with dictators, this might be right up your alley,” Levon Manzie said, giving Gina Gregory a sly wink. “We feel like the mayor thinks he can do whatever he wants and treats us like unloved stepchildren on a regular basis. This is a strong council form of government! We’re the ones who are supposed to be in charge.”
“Now, hold on just a second, Levon,” Stimpson said. “Let’s not forget this all started because the council wants to hire its own employees. That power is clearly the mayor’s under the Zoghby Act. And as far as running the show, you guys can’t even manage to elect your own president. How are the people of Mobile supposed to believe you can actually come up with innovative plans and execute them?”
“Oooh, so it seems there’s another mediation opportunity here,” Neville piped in. “I’d like to hear more about this ‘council president’ impasse after we sort this bit out. Here, Mr. Manzie, please take one of my cards and call me later.”
He held out an ornately calligraphed business card, but Richardson intercepted it. “I’ll take that!” he said.
“Take charge, Fred!” Bess Rich wailed. “You deserve to be council president because you’ve been here so long!!”
“Please, madam, calm yourself!” Neville said. “Let’s try to stay on task here. Tea Time is approaching and I’d really like a crumpet, or perhaps a very dry British ‘biscuit’ of some sort. Mr. Mayor, can you please tell me what you hope to get out of this mediation?”
“Look, Neville, when I took office the fellow before me said my number one problem was going to be trying to keep the City Council from grabbing up the mayor’s authority, and man, was he right. They’ve tried to keep me from putting items on the agenda, they’ve whined about all the great people I hire from Baldwin County, they hated my chief of staff, they hired their own public relations person to fight with my office and now they’ve implemented an ordinance that makes it so the mayor can’t exercise a contract unless they put their stamp of approval on it first,” Sandy said. “I even have to submit all bids to them now. It’s out of control! I just want them to back off and let me do things the way they’ve always been done.”
Neville turned to the council’s side of the table and said, “OK, what’s the deal?”
“We just think the mayor does too many things without telling us what’s happening,” Gina Gregory said. “His office makes deals and enacts new policies without even giving us a chance to comment. He fired our spokesperson and won’t let us hire her back. And we should definitely be seeing all the contracts before they go into effect. That’s just good business. We just want the mayor to treat us as equals.”
“Seems simple enough!” Neville said. “I think we’re making great progress! I can almost taste that crumpet now. I can’t understand for the life of me why this has taken so long. So, Mr. Mayor, you’ll agree to let them hire their spokeswoman back and include them on contracts and other business, and councilors, you’ll agree to let the mayor lead without enacting new policies to make his life harder, and also agree not to hire any more employees. Everyone agree?”
Neville waited, but there was only silence. “Someone speak up. Tea Time and all. I’ve been dead 78 years, I’d like some tea!” he said forcefully, but no one answered.
“You all do realize if you don’t come to an agreement, this will end up back with the judge and then the loser will probably appeal and it could mean spending most of the rest of this term in court?” he asked.
“Yes!” they all said in unison.
“Well, um, I say, let’s just declare this ‘Peace for this afternoon’ and hit the crumpets!” Neville said.
I woke up suddenly, just in time to hear the History Channel narrator say, “And the war droned on and on.”
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