Sometimes even when you wear two watches you don’t know what time it is.
That definitely appears to be the case with Mobile City Councilman Fred Richardson, who wants to fight on, even as the long, unnecessary legal battle between the council and Mayor Sandy Stimpson is set to end. The councilman who favors wearing two wristwatches definitely doesn’t know time is up, nor does Councilwoman Bess Rich, who needs a wake-up call of her own.
When Richardson and Rich bailed out of last Thursday’s special City Council meeting to both ratify a new three-year contract with Carnival Cruise Line and pass the budget, it underscored the selfishness and subterfuge of the past year.
The pair sandbagged their colleagues and left the meeting with no quorum, thus making sure neither deal was closed. Richardson claimed the meeting wasn’t legal because of a lack of supporting documentation, while Rich offered the flimsy excuse that she couldn’t make it because she needed to attend a fundraiser at the Connie Hudson Senior Community Center. Even if we forget that going to a fundraiser is a pretty lame excuse for not doing your job, the council meeting happened early enough that others at City Hall had no trouble attending both.
The truth appears to be that the two main instigators behind this past year’s City Council dysfunction didn’t show up because they’d lost their war against Mayor Sandy Stimpson. And they also seem to have lost the war they were fighting inside the council itself.
Nearly a year of legal wrangling between the mayor and council is ending after everyone involved who doesn’t have “Rich” in their last name has come to their senses. A supermajority of the council is dropping the counterclaim to the lawsuit the mayor filed late last year. Stimpson’s office says he will also be dropping the suit he filed in order to have a judge determine matters related to whether the council has authority to contract on its own.
But Bess and Fred want none of this Kumbaya moment. On Tuesday they were still trying to find ways to keep wasting tax dollars to carry on a suit against the mayor. They’ll need the approval of their five fellow councilors to do so on our dime. But Bess still had the audacity to ask whether she could use discretionary funds to continue the fight should her colleagues vote against the Rich-Richardson battle plan.
Long gone are the days of “Councilwoman No.” The new Bess Rich is ready to fund anything County Commissioner Connie Hudson asks for and obviously thinks the taxpayers ought to be on the hook for continuing this senseless fight.
The childishness was on full display Tuesday when Richardson even blocked unanimous consent for a vote to allow Levon Manzie to be installed as council president after nearly two years of running the show as VP. Fred is still barking about getting screwed out of the position he wanted, and blocking up Manzie’s election until next week was one last wrench he could throw into the works.
The most obvious sign of the council’s sickness over the past two years has been the inability to even select its own president. Bess and Fred had worked the deal to get him in, but pesky laws got in the way, so they bunkered down where no one could have the job.
Let’s hope the time and money spent on this lawsuit won’t have been completely wasted if the mayor and remaining five councilors have learned to work together. It appears the council spokesperson, Marion Steinfels, will be returned to the position Stimpson fired her from around this time last year and will be given back pay, which is what the council wanted.
Stimpson will retain the power to hire and fire and contract, which is what he wanted. Unfortunately, there was no judicial ruling defining which entity can do what under the Zoghby Act, so these power issues are left hanging out there for future mayors and councilors to possibly litigate, but it’s in the city’s best interest right now that the bickering stop.
I think the council was going to lose its fight in court and that their rereading of the Zoghby Act was bound to leave them with egg on their faces in the end. There’s already too much precedent regarding the way the city has been run and the division of powers, not to mention the argument that the mayor could only spend $100,000 total on staff is ludicrous. Flyspeck towns across the country spend more than that on executive staff.
So I’m sure the closer things got to actual litigation the more pressure there was to settle. And I truly think the vast majority of the people on the City Council and in the mayor’s office have only the betterment of Mobile on their minds, so it made sense to stop fighting once goals were achieved.
But I can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with Bess and Fred that they would want to continue this fruitless endeavor that’s wasting not only money, but most of a term in office.
With Fred it’s become clear his promise to retire from the council has morphed into a run for mayor. A local political player a couple of weeks ago showed me a text from Richardson imploring this person not to make a mayoral run because Fred plans to take his shot in ’21. And Fred has all but said as much publicly. So it’s pretty clear his efforts to disrupt are tied to his perceived political future.
Richardson running might be the best thing that ever happened for Stimpson, should he go for a third term. The councilman has supporters who admire his hard work in District 1, but outside the district, many turn their noses up at his superhuman ability to never miss a publicly funded junket and his tendency to play the race card even when everyone else is playing dominoes.
He’s also often a quote machine who frequently needs translation, such as last week when he opined during a meeting that everything happening there might just be a dream. “The Matrix” lovers might want “Mayor Morpheus,” but it leaves others scratching their heads.
As for Rich, she threw her lot in with Richardson a couple of years ago, but has been kind of flying below the radar since then. Now that she’s out front with Richardson trying to keep a fight going that the voters want finished, I can’t imagine the people in her district will be thrilled.
Fred and Bess should not be allowed to waste more time and public money on their personal agendas. They need to be told it’s time to move on.
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