Councilman Fred Richardson defended himself against criticism for skipping a specially called Mobile City Council meeting on Thursday afternoon to discuss a new Carnival Cruise Lines contract and the 2020 fiscal year budget.
In a phone interview Friday morning, Richardson said he didn’t feel the meeting was legal because as of 10:35 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9 no supporting documentation, including a copy of the Carnival contract had been submitted.
“How in the world am I supposed to participate in something I have no information on,” he said. “We voted on the budget Tuesday. We voted to lay it over.”
The Carnival berthing addendum and budget documentation was added as part of an agenda made public the day of the meeting.
Underneath the surface, councilors and the mayor’s office have been working to settle the lawsuit filed by Stimpson against the body in December of last year over which branch of city government has the authority to contract with employees.
In a counterclaim to the original lawsuit, council attorneys have argued that Stimpson is abusing his authority to provide salaries for hand-picked cabinet members and other city employees.
Councilors have argued that the state law setting up the city’s current form of government only allows a mayor $100,000 per year for these salaries. Stimpson’s attorneys have argued that a state attorney general’s office has previously opined that any salary amount is fine if it’s approved by the council in that year’s budget.
If the mayor needs more than the $100,000 specified for those salaries in the Zoghby Act, Richardson said, he should ask the council for it specifically and tell the body what it is for.
The settlement, Richardson said, would allow the council to rehire its media specialist and give councilors control over the future of her employment. In her weekly newsletter, Councilwoman Bess Rich confirmed talk of the settlement and wrote that the settlement would result in back pay for the media specialist. Other aspects of the agreement are unclear at this time.
A settlement could make a hearing scheduled by Circuit Court Judge Michael Youngpeter for Friday, Oct. 18 moot. Richardson believes the mayor’s office is concerned over what a ruling in the hearing might mean.
“The mayor doesn’t want the judge to rule,” he said. “He has no respect for the law.”
The possible settlement has support among at least four councilors, Richardson wrote on Facebook Thursday and confirmed in an interview. Richardson said there is nothing in writing to confirm a settlement and he said he doesn’t trust Stimpson to follow through with the deal, even if councilors were to approve the 2020 budget before next Friday’s hearing.
“Everything the mayor said should be in a written agreement,” Richardson added.
In her email newsletter, Rich also seemed concerned about a lack of a written agreement, saying it “never materialized” and that the sides were “back to square one” on the lawsuit.
Richardson’s comments come a day after Councilman John Williams criticized the District 1 representative and Rich for skipping the meeting. In his comments, Williams said he was “disappointed and disgusted” with his colleagues’ “gamesmanship.”
The gamesmanship has added fuel to rumors that Richardson is considering a run for mayor in 2021. Several sources have told Lagniappe, Richardson is going to make a run for the city’s top office. Ask if the rumors were true, Richardson said he couldn’t confirm or deny them.
“I’m not running for council and running for mayor is an option,” he said.
The absence of Rich, Richardson and Councilman C.J. Small prevented the council from having a quorum of five members and the body was unable to vote on either the Carnival contract or the budget. Williams said he believes Small was sick and unable to attend the meeting.
Rich confirmed Thursday she missed the 4:30 p.m. meeting due to a gala event at the Connie Hudson Mobile Regional Senior Center. The meeting was originally scheduled for 2:30 p.m., but after the agenda was updated to include the budget adoption and the meeting time was pushed back, Rich she was unable to attend.
Photos leaked to Lagniappe show Richardson was at the event as well. Photos on Facebook also show Rich at the event alongside Parks and Recreation Director Shonda Smith. Smith was also present at the council meeting.
In response to Richardson’s comments about a proposed lawsuit settlement, city spokesman George Talbot released the following statement via email.
“The Administration has worked tirelessly to try and reach a settlement, both through mediation and directly with council members,” Talbot wrote. “Those conversations are ongoing and we appreciate the individual council members who have shown a willingness to work toward a solution. Out of respect for the Court, we will not comment on specific issues of the case which remains under litigation.”
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