Less than a week after his failed attempt to appoint former Mayor Sam Jones to the board of directors at the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Service, City Councilman Fred Richardson said today he intends to leave the seat vacant. A day earlier, Richardson suggested he would nominate himself.
“It’s my right to appoint or not appoint and I have tried to appoint who I desired to,” he said. “I’m the only one in history to have an appointee voted down. I go back my statement — that I nominate Samuel L. Jones to be on the MAWSS board to represent my office and District 1 — if I nominated anybody else I would have reneged on that statement.”
MAWSS attorney Jackie McConaha said she was informed this morning of Richardson’s intentions and was reviewing its legal ramifications. But Richardson likened the perpetually vacant appointment to that of Randy Smith, who is currently serving on an interim basis as the city’s fire chief.
“The rule is it’s up to the council to the make the appointment. This is no different than not having a fire chief except on the MAWSS board, no lives are in danger,” Richardson said. “I put my person there and the council voted it down. (The mayor) put Randy Smith up [for appointment] but he took his (nomination) down. I didn’t take mine down. I’m not going to run, I’m not going to duck and I’m not going to hide.”
Responding to the possibility Richardson might nominate himself, City Council attorney Jim Rossler said it is perfectly legal, as long as Richardson doesn’t accept the $1,100 monthly salary paid to MAWSS board members.
“The Water & Sewer Board has seven members, all of whom are appointed by the City Council. Alabama Code section 11-50-342(d) says that ‘[a]ny officer of the city may be appointed to the board.’ Subsection (h) says that ‘no officer of the city serving as a member of the board shall receive any salary,’” Rossler wrote in an email that was accompanied by substantial case law. Rossler said he was also unaware of any restrictions on a seat remaining vacant.
In 2002, former City Councilman Thomas Sullivan appointed himself to the MAWSS board, saying he was reluctant to choose from a list of six qualified candidates. But as a stipulation of his appointment, the council denied him a paycheck. However, when Sullivan lost his reelection bid on the council to William Carroll in 2005, he petitioned MAWSS and was granted the salary.
While Richardson said he wouldn’t consider any other candidate besides Jones, another former public figure called Lagniappe expressing the hope she can change his mind.
“That would be a wonderful position for me,” said Doris Brown, an eccentric jack-of-all-trades who ran for mayor last year, but received less than one percent of the vote. “People ask me all the time what I’m going to do next and when I saw [the council] couldn’t agree I thought maybe they were looking to put a person on the board with more public service experience.”
Brown, a Michigan native, counts her time on that state’s Wages and Deviation Board as public service, but her current ambitions are far loftier than simply serving on the MAWSS board. Brown said she had invited all owners and coaches in the National Basketball Association to Mobile in June to attend a continuing education seminar on racial sensitivity. She also started riding a bike again and hopes to try out for the 2016 Olympics.
“I used to ride 40-50 miles a week,” Brown said. “I’ve got a few pounds to lose but I’m back on track.”
Brown, who turns 61 at the end of the month, said she was undeterred by her age.
“I’m a lot older but a lot of countries have sent their older racers,” she said.
The average age of female riders on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team was 31.
Meanwhile, Richardson’s appointment does not reappear on the council agenda for next week. However, he did pledge to block other council appointments and he’ll have the opportunity to do so twice May 13, as Councilman John Williams has nominated appointees to both the History Museum of Mobile Board and the Mobile Downtown Redevelopment Authority. Richardson can only block an appointee with the help of two other council members.
“I can put my nominee back on whenever I’m ready,” Richardson said.