The first Mobile City Council meeting with Sandy Stimpson as mayor on Nov. 5 was packed with unanimous decisions, but there were two issues that did hit a snag — a lease agreement to place a used city modular home in Plateau and the approval of Paul Wesch as executive director of finance for the city.
Former Mayor Sam Jones attempted to push through the modular home issue before he left office, but was unable to accomplish his goal.
The Jones administration cleared one hurdle by identifying the funding source for the trailer, which was drug forfeiture money. But since it was purchased with law enforcement funds, the trailer needed to be used for law enforcement purposes.
The trailer, which the Jones administration hoped to send to Plateau to be used as a welcome center for Africatown, was previously used by Mobile Police Department for the Fifth Precinct. Since the trailer was purchased with drug forfeiture money, there are stipulations attached to it.
In a series of emails provided to Lagniappe among the previous administration’s executive staff, including Chief of Staff Al Stokes, Director of Real Estate and Asset Management Bill DeMouy and then City Attorney Larry Wettermark, Wettermark notes the issues surrounding the trailer.
“The trailer to be used from MPD may have been purchased with drug forfeiture funds which would then implicate federal regulations,” reads an email from Wettermark on Oct. 16. It has since been discovered forfeiture money was used to purchase the trailer. “These regs require use of proceeds from forfeitures for law enforcement purposes only.
“The AfricaTown organization would not qualify as presently constituted, but it may be possible to amend their charter (or by-laws, etc.) to adopt some community/law enforcement interaction program in order to qualify.”
Although the trailer is on property owned by the Africatown Welcome Center, the Mobile County Training School High School Alumni Association will be the one on the lease. The lease includes language stating it will hold some type of law enforcement responsibilities.
Although the first hurdle was cleared, after the previous administration left a second hurdle stalled a vote on the lease agreement during the Nov. 5 council meeting.
Council attorney Jim Rossler and city attorney Flo Kessler asked the council to hold off voting on the lease because a state law prevents the use of a residential trailer being used for business.
“I looked at the state regulations and talked to the guy in Montgomery in charge of this and he confirmed if a manufactured home was designed to serve as a residence then it must meet (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) standards. If a modular building is for commercial use, then it must met the International Building Code standards,” Rossler said. “It appears the trailer the city is attempting to give Plateau is built to HUD standards.
“I asked the person in Montgomery if a HUD trailer could be converted to meet the International Building Code standard and he said no. He said there is no way for that to be done.”
The trailer in question was previously used for business when it was part of the Fifth Precinct’s station. MPD Chief Jim Barber, who was not chief at the time, said the department was not aware it was illegally using the trailer incorrectly.
The councilors debated not about helping the Plateau community, but in what way.
District 2 Councilman Levon Manzie, who represents the area, said Plateau needs a structure of some kind now. However, he and District 3 Councilman CJ Small, called for the city to look at building a permanent facility for Africatown.
“Africatown is a major historical landmark. It’s the last place a slave ship came here. There are people coming to the site and there needs to be a place for them to go,” Manzie said. “I think we need to put this trailer out there, but we need to look at building something that does justice to the history.
Small said the trailer that has been used two or three times is not what Africatown deserves.
Councilors Bess Rich and Joel Daves wanted to approve the lease, but said the city needed to make sure it was not going to break any state laws.
This is not the first trailer given from the city to the community. In 2005, the city provided a trailer for Africatown. The trailer came from a police station on Martin Luther King Avenue. In August 2012 the city gave the community another trailer. This one was also used as part of the MPD Fifth Precinct. A lease agreement was not made at that time.
The council decided to vote on the lease issue on Nov. 19 so that all legal questions can be answered.
Another item that was tabled during the Nov. 5 meeting is the appointment of Paul Wesch as the city’s executive finance director.
Since Stimpson just took over Nov. 4, the item was rushed on to the agenda. The administration said the finance director was needed as soon as possible because several hundred checks needed to be signed for city business before Wednesday.
However, since the appointment was put on the agenda at the last minute, some councilors did not receive the information about Wesch’s appointment.
The main subject of interest is his salary, which according to City Attorney Ricardo Woods will be $110,000. The previous finance director, Barbara Malkove, made $113,942.
Stimpson said he is not deterred by the council’s delay.
“There is business that needs to be done, but there is a back up system to sign all the checks,” he said. “The appointment will be on the agenda next week as well.”