In what one administration official said could sap authority from Mayor Sandy Stimpson and future mayors, the rules committee of the Mobile City Council has directed city attorney Jim Rossler to craft an ordinance to require at least one councilor to co-sponsor an item before it can be added to a meeting agenda.
The committee, which includes Chairman John Williams, Councilman C.J. Small and Councilwoman Bess Rich, discussed the proposed ordinance with every other member of council present at a meeting preceding Tuesday’s regular meeting. The idea was originally discussed in June and has been informally followed on a trial basis, requires council sponsorship on every agenda item.
Historically, the mayor has been allowed to sponsor items on his own and get them on the agenda. In fact, city attorney Ricardo Woods said mayors have been allowed to place items on council agendas for the last 25 years.
Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper brought up concerns over the mayor’s ability to present a proposed budget to councilors under the rule change. Rossler said mayors have historically submitted budget packets to councilors by the Aug. 20 deadline without having it put on the agenda.
“Last year it magically appeared on the agenda,” he said.
Cooper said the proposed rule could limit Stimpson’s authority as the city’s at-large, elected official. He said anything added to the agenda by Stimpson could simply be voted down by the council.
“When you lose the ability to drive the agenda the people elected you to drive it’s a concern,” Cooper said.
Stimpson and the council have a good relationship, but Cooper envisions problems with the proposal if a future mayor and future council don’t get along.
Williams said the move is not meant to take anyone’s authority away because everything written in city code must adhere to state laws, or it’s “null and void.”
“If they have (authority) by state law they’ll still have it period,” Williams said.
Councilors also discussed allowing each district representative to sign off on district-specific items before they appear on the agenda. This could also apply to chairs of specific council committees on citywide items concerning certain committee-specific topics. There was some resistance to this move, with Williams saying “if it’s in my district I’m for it.”
“Something in your district may not have support,” council President Gina Gregory said. “We need to make sure there’s support before something goes on the agenda initially.”
Councilman Levon Manzie said he liked the system as it is now, with members of the administration seeking out sponsorships for items before the agenda is set.
The committee also disagreed on ways to speed up approval of district-specific capital improvement projects funded through the extension of a one-cent sales tax.
Williams said he would like to try to cut down on time in the front end by letting the council approve initial terms of contracts for the projects, while having the city’s legal department tie up loose ends. Currently it takes about 30 days for a contract to reach the agenda once bids for a project are opened, City Engineer Nick Amberger said.
Assistant City Attorney Flo Kessler said trying to cut into the time it takes to iron out a contract could present a problem.
“The city wouldn’t be well served with that process,” she said.
Other councilors, like Manzie, felt placing those special projects on the consent agenda instead of holding them over a week could speed up the process. Williams said not holding them over would limit public discussion on the items since the agenda for the weekly Tuesday meetings is not made public until Friday afternoon. Manzie disagreed.
“We’ve had robust public discussion on all items on the CIP list,” Manzie said. “The public knows the projects are coming down the pipeline and waiting a week slows down the process.”
Rich also said she didn’t like the idea of contracts being “half-baked” when presented to the council for a vote. She added that if one councilor has an issue with a consent agenda item that councilor to hold it up for any reason.
Members reached a consensus that CIP projects would be added under their own header on the agenda and could be voting on immediately, unless held up by a councilor. Williams said he planned to hold up for one week any contract worth $100,000 to allow the public to weigh in on it.
The story was updated to name Councilman C.J. Small as a member of the rules committee