Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced last week that Public Works Executive Director Bill Harkins was stepping down to pursue a career within the Catholic Church.

Former mayoral candidate John Peavy will move from the engineering department to take over as interim director of public works until a permanent replacement can be named, city spokeswoman Laura Byrne said. Peavy will be in contention for the permanent job, she said.

The move comes as department employees have alleged harassment and demanded raises at recent City Council meetings. Despite the outcry from some employees, Byrne said Harkins has planned to study canon law and teach theology at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in midtown for several months. She called the timing a “coincidence.”

A source from McGill confirmed the hiring of Harkins, who is a deacon at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, has been planned for some time.

As for the claims of harassment from department employees and claims that supervisors were put in a room they called “the box,” Byrne said that’s a reference to mandatory manual training employees disagreed with.

As for the raises, Byrne said the city compares pay for city employees with peer cities in Alabama. In the past, she said, Mobile has been near or above average when it comes to  public works.

Before joining Stimpson’s team, Peavy served as the president of the Peavy Construction Co., which specializes in highways, small bridges and other infrastructure projects. Prior to taking ownership of the company, he was the operations officer at Spring Hill College and worked for the city of Mobile as the grant-in-aid coordinator.

Peavy is a graduate of Mobile’s Davidson High School and holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Alabama.

“I am thrilled to be asked by Mayor Stimpson to lead the fine men and women of the public works department of the city of Mobile,” Peavy said in a statement. “Assuming the position my father once held is extremely gratifying. I look forward to the challenge associated with this position and serving the citizens of the city.”

Once a replacement is selected the Mobile City Council will have a vote to confirm the candidate recommended by Stimpson. As interim director, Peavy does not need to be confirmed, Byrne said.

In its meeting Tuesday, the council approved funding for a new basketball court at Figures Park. The $243,700 contract was awarded to Aiker Construction. The council also denied the vacation of an unopened right-of-way at Wimbledon Drive at Byrnes Boulevard.