The Mobile City Council approved the fiscal year 2022 general fund, capital and Convention Center budgets, with strong opposition from one member.
Councilwoman Bess Rich, who will be leaving office in November after not running for reelection, took issue with the general fund portion of the $347 million spending plan due to its “allocation of funds to non-merit employees and the utilization of surplus funds to address pressing needs” in the city.
The budget was approved by councilors on a 4-2 vote, with Rich and Councilman Fred Richardson dissenting. Council President Levon Manzie was absent.
In a prepared statement she read live at Tuesday’s meeting, Rich criticized Mayor Sandy Stimpson for appointing too many employees outside of the Mobile County Personnel Board’s merit system, without the proper checks from the council and public.
“Merit jobs are advertised to the community and establish a salary based on a job description,” she said. “The intent of the merit system is to create universal employment standards devoid of political pressures.”
She asked several questions that were not answered about who conducts interviews for the appointed positions and who comes up with salary suggestions, among others.
Rich also argued the merit system protects the city from a loss of “institutional knowledge” when administrations leave office.
“Mayor Stimpson’s administration has significantly increased the number of non-merit employees over the last few years,” she said. “These employees work at the pleasure of the mayor. What that means for the citizens of Mobile is when this administration leaves through transition, those non-merit employees must submit their resignations.”
Rich also criticized Stimpson for his failure to use surplus funds for routine city services like more police protection; storm-related, yard debris pickup; and capital improvement projects.
“Where is the administration’s long-term plan to address these problems and how do they intend to utilize the surplus funds to address these chronic problems?” Rich asked. “It sure appears that public services are being squeezed for the sake of showing a huge economic surplus.”
Rich added that the general fund budget does not help come up with solutions for the city’s shrinking population numbers.
“The budget does not address the issue of why Mobile continues to have a dwindling population base,” she said. “Yes, annexation will increase our numbers, but annexation doesn’t address crime, traffic and blight. It takes planning and resources to stabilize our population and our neighborhoods.”
All of Rich’s issues were with the general fund budget and she tried to separate the resolution connecting all three budgets to allow her to approve the capital and Convention Center budgets, but she was rebuffed by colleagues. She moved to amend the resolution, but it failed 3-3, with Councilmen Joel Daves and John Williams, as well as Councilwoman Gina Gregory, voting against the motion.
A previous motion to delay a vote on the budget also failed on a 2-4 vote, with only Council Vice President C.J. Small and Richardson voting in favor.
In other business, the council delayed calling for a public hearing on the city’s new zoning regulations for at least one week. While it appears the administration and council are going to easily work through remaining issues on the revamp of the Unified Development Code, Rich had concerns about approving a call for a public hearing before actually seeing a final document.
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