The Mobile City Council on Tuesday voted down an ordinance amendment that would have forced all capital money and projects to be distributed evenly throughout all seven council districts each year.
The council killed the amendment with five votes against it. Only Councilman Fred Richardson voted in favor and Councilwoman Bess Rich abstained.
Richardson had sponsored the amendment after his district was left out of a disbursement of $14 million in surplus funds as part of the fiscal year 2021 city budget. Citing a 1990 ordinance, Richardson argued that all districts have to be given capital resources and projects based on need and the city must make them as “equitable” as possible.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson has defended the disbursement of funds — used for various projects in other districts — by arguing that Richardson’s district received all of a previous year’s surplus money for projects related to the Midtown Publix and the Crichton fire station.
When asked previously by Richardson for an opinion on whether Stimpson followed the law, council attorney Chris Arledge argued the ordinance did not give a timeline for the spending and so Stimpson’s argument was valid. Richardson is seeking this amendment, in part, to add a timeline to the 1990 ordinance.
In a pre-conference meeting, Councilman C.J. Small asked Arledge if passing this amendment could have impacts on future economic development projects. For example, Small brought up the city’s funding of street improvements from the state docks to the Brookley Aeroplex in an incentive deal for Airbus.
Despite the fact that the funds discussed in this scenario came from gas tax revenue the council had approved for the incentive, Arledge said projects like that could be impacted in the future, if there isn’t enough money to go around.
To further clarify, the amendment mentions capital projects, not specific resources, Councilman Joel Daves told colleagues.
“It doesn’t matter the source,” Daves said. “It’s a capital improvement or repair.”
Richardson seemed to argue that while the amendment would apply to the mayor, the council could vote to send money to any district it wanted at any time.
“The mayor has to act in accordance with the law,” Richardson said. “The council can come back and change it, but the mayor has to do what the law says he should do.”
Daves argued Arledge’s legal opinion clears Stimpson of any potential wrongdoing when it comes to capital spending.
“The accusation that the mayor acted outside the law is without merit,” he said.
City Attorney Ricardo Woods argued that councilors and the mayor all acted legally in approving this year’s budget. He also argued that dispersing the city’s capital improvement project funds — which split $21 million among the seven council districts — was a way the city handled capital improvements equally, it wasn’t equitable because equity is based upon need.
At the end of a nearly hour-long debate, Council President Levon Manzie said approving the amendment would be detrimental to his district, which he claimed accounted for the most needs citywide.
Richardson called his needs assessment “hog slop” and listed various street projects, drainage projects and open ditches the city had yet to repair in District 1.
Small also argued the amendment would hurt his district and he couldn’t support it.
In other business, the council delayed by a week its decision to close indefinitely a portion of Conception Street and a portion of St. Emanuel Street to allow the Mobile Metro Jail to expand. The delay is to allow the city and county to finalize the paperwork.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here