Mayor Sandy Stimpson ignored the wishes of members of the Mobile City Council last week and gave 2.5-percent raises to every city employee, including ones hired outside the merit system.
In a vote on May 14, the Mobile City Council approved a budget amendment to give cost-of-living pay hikes to city employees hired through the Mobile County Personnel Board. Based on legal advice from attorney Wanda Cochran and because of an ongoing lawsuit between the two sides, councilors left out workers appointed by Stimpson, known as non-merit, or Section 40 employees.
Stimpson responded by threatening to veto the amendment because he didn’t believe councilors had the authority to make changes to a budget amendment outside of the normal budget process. In an interview in late May, Councilwoman Bess Rich said councilors do have that authority.
Ultimately, Stimpson did not veto the amendment, but instead just circumvented the Council’s vote and gave every employee a raise, his office announced on Thursday, May 30. Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch told Lagniappe the mayor’s office has the legal authority to give raises to employees, as long as no new funding stream is needed. In this case, he said, the $1.3 million needed for the raises came from savings realized through the various city departments. Therefore, no Council action was legally necessary, he said.
Wesch said the mayor’s office has given three cost-of-living raises previously and none went to the Council for approval because they didn’t require an additional funding source.
“In each of those three cases, the raises were made out of savings,” Wesch said. “There was no need for additional funds.”
The only reason this most recent amendment went before the Council, Wesch said, was because the mayor’s office had asked for funds to hire new employees as well. The budget amendment was worth a total of $1.6 million, but a little more than $300,000 of that total was for more new employees to help with additional city projects.
“We did not have sufficient funds and so we asked for the amendment and the allocation,” he said.
The Council approved a separate $338,000 appropriation for the additional employees at its May 28 meeting.
This action appears to be yet another subplot in the ongoing power struggle between the executive and legislative branches of Mobile’s city government. The scrape has already resulted in a nearly six-month-long legal battle and mediation over which branch has the authority to hire, fire and contract with employees.
Cochran advised councilors against approving the raises for Section 40 employees because those employees’ salaries are in dispute, as part of the lawsuit. Cochran and some councilors believe Section 40 of the Zoghby Act — the law that set up the city’s current form of government — allows the mayor to only use $100,000 per year to pay appointed workers.
The section is interpreted differently by the mayor’s office and previous offices, as well. An attorney general’s opinion states that as long as the Council approves it, Section 40 employees can be paid above the threshold.
At least one councilor, who has routinely been on his colleagues’ side when it comes to the legal battle, feels Stimpson has the authority to give raises to employees when he wants. Councilman John Williams said the action is a function of the executive branch.
“I’m never against giving raises to anyone,” he said. “Until it’s proven that it’s illegal, how do you cut them out?”
Rich disagrees and is hoping Stimpson’s office can provide more details about the raises. In an email sent to Stimpson, Rich asked to confirm that, indeed, “all employees” would receive the raises and not just merit-based workers. She also asked for a complete list of non-merit employees and current salaries.
“Can you please provide where within the current fiscal-year budget those funds will come from if given to the non-merit employees?” Rich asked in the email to Stimpson. “Of course none of the information directly above would be needed if non-merit employees weren’t also given a raise.”
Council Vice President Levon Manzie did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
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