The Mobile City Council voted against allowing 13,000 residents of West Mobile a referendum on whether to join the city, following an expedited hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 19.
The vote fell along racial lines with the four white councilors voting in favor and the three black councilors voting against the proposal that would allow 13,000 residents of West Mobile to decide on annexation. Despite a simple majority of councilors allowing the vote, the item failed due to a lack of a supermajority of five votes, which is required by the state law that sets up Mobile’s form of government.
Before making the vote, the council heard from former mayors Mike Dow and Sam Jones, who were for and against annexation, respectively, as well as three residents on each side of the issue.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson said if annexation fails Mobile will suffer the same fate of other cities that have become islands and aren’t able to grow. He added it was a vote for public safety due to the city’s eligibility for more federal police-related grants if the population moves back over 200,000.
“Members of the council have said they’ve voted along with the mayor on public safety,” Stimpson said. “Depending on how this vote goes, some of you won’t be able to say that.”
In voting “no,” Councilman Fred Richardson conflated the cost for services inside the entire 70,000-population police jurisdiction with the cost associated with a small percentage of that population. Because of this conflation, Richardson argued the city couldn’t afford the additional population. The total net revenue increase by taking in the proposed areas would have been $2.2 million after the fifth year, according to estimates from the mayor’s office.
Councilors in favor of both rolling back the police jurisdiction and annexation have been fearful the two issues would be conflated.
The increased city funding brought in through annexation would give more money to other areas of the city, Councilman Joel Daves countered. He said opponents have not shown evidence to dispute Stimpson’s numbers.
Councilman C.J. Small brought up concerns over the timeline for this proposal, arguing the plan should have been brought to council before October. Small said a “yes” vote would stretch resources more thinly than they already are, referencing a long backlog of infrastructure projects in his district.
Small also argued the proposed annexation potentially bringing in more new white citizens than new black citizens was not a racial issue, but a middle class and poor issue.
“People I represent already feel like second- and third-class citizens to people out in West Mobile,” he said. “It’s not a black and white thing because I represent black people and I represent white people.”
Small also took issue with more than $60 million the city currently holds in reserve, as it is supposed to under state law, saying he would vote to allow the annexation referendum if a check for $20 million was written out to District 3 so he could address infrastructure issues.
Small and Council President Levon Manzie both also mentioned postcards that were mailed out to people in certain areas of the city that pushed annexation and urged citizens to call their councilor. They said the mailers had the result of causing a backlash and raised concerns about who was funding such efforts.
“They woke up a sleeping giant,” Manzie said.
Check back for more on this story later today…
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