After being unable to come to consensus this morning, the Mobile City Council will discuss the parameters of attorney Wanda Cochran’s contract at a committee meeting at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 27.
John Williams will chair the unnamed committee that will also consist of Councilman C.J. Small and Councilwoman Bess Rich.
During a pre-conference meeting Tuesday, councilors failed to agree on several aspects of Cochran’s contract, but the biggest sticking point appeared to be how many votes it would take to approve it.
Councilman Joel Daves argued that the contract itself is separate from the vote to retain Cochran and thus would need a five-vote supermajority, per Zoghby Act regulations.
“Retention is one thing,” Daves said. “The agreement … is separate. It’s a resolution and requires five votes.”
Others, including Councilman Fred Richardson, Councilman Levon Manzie and Rich argued if it only takes four votes to retain an attorney, it should only take four votes to approve the attorney’s contract.
“I don’t see this as being separate from retaining legal counsel,” Rich said. “It is all part and parcel …”
Richardson took it a step further, arguing essentially the mayor’s office hires attorneys without council consent.
“I have not seen a contract to allow the mayor to hire an attorney,” Richardson said. “If it takes five of us, what about five of him. A contract is a contract.”
Complicating the issue is the council has never had to decide on a contract of this scope for an attorney before. During Jim Rossler’s tenure, the only term seemed to be his hourly rate.
Cochran’s hourly rate was set at $150, which falls in line with the budget for 2018. The rate had originally be set at $200.
During the meeting two residents spoke in favor of tradition and allowing four votes to elect a council president. One, former mayoral candidate Anthony Thompson, said while the disagreement is along ideological lines, many in the community feel it’s a racial issue. Allowing the traditional vote to stand would alleviate those issues. He said a failure to stand by tradition would lead to a glut of extreme candidates in municipal elections in four years.
Tradition or not, Mary Zoghby, the co-author of the eponymous law now governing Mobile’s mayor-council form, has said repeatedly that going with tradition could lead to legal challenges. She has said the law clearly lays out that five affirmative votes are needed to select a council president.
In other business, the council approved an amendment that would give Mobile police officers the option to write tickets for minor, nonviolent offenses instead of making custodial arrests. The initiative would cover many nonviolent offenses, including all state law misdemeanors, but can’t include drug or alcohol offenses because state law prohibits it.