District 3 residents Bo and Sheena Williams said they only acknowledge Councilman Fred Richardson as the board’s president, while holding signs with their sons outside Mobile City Council chambers before Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Bo called it “disrespectful” to Richardson not to elect him to the position. Sheena said there were racial undertones to the decision.
“It’s blatant disrespect for the people,” she said. “We’re already on the lower end of the totem pole, even though we make up the majority of the population. I think it’s just a slap in the face.”
The Williamses were just two of the roughly 20 supporters who showed up to ask the council to break the two-months-long impasse and name the longest-serving councilor the body’s president.
Debate over a new council president began during the body’s organizational meeting in early November. At the public meeting, four members voted for Richardson and three sided with former President Gina Gregory.
The sides debated on the exact number of votes it should take to name a president, and some used an informal, private straw poll as proof that a simple majority would suffice. New council attorney Wanda Cochran advised the state law supporting the city’s current form of government requires a supermajority, or five votes, to elect a president. The council has yet to act on the issue.
Sheena Williams said it’s unfair to Richardson for the council to suddenly handle the vote in a different way just because he wanted to serve as president.
As the council president would serve out the remaining term of a mayor unable to serve if there is less than a year remaining in the term, she also speculated that current Mayor Sandy Stimpson might be preparing to seek higher office and that has raised concerns over who should get the council gavel.
Before Tuesday’s meeting Stimpson said he has no aspirations to attain higher office and has no plans to seek it out. In the event a mayor can’t fulfill a term with more than a year remaining, a special election will be held.
Kevin Ball, speaking on behalf of some of Richardson’s supporters, said, “He deserves an opportunity to serve as president. I’m asking that you reconsider the vote and how the situation was handled.”
David J. Smith, president of the Mobile County chapter of the NAACP, also hinted at the racial undertones in the stalemate. Further, he asked councilors to resolve the impasse and to elect Richardson president for the benefit of the community.
“We think this is the right thing to do,” he said. “This is very serious for the poor and black communities to have someone in power who fights for our causes.”
Richardson told his supporters not to get discouraged.
“Sometimes God will turn a dungeon of darkness into an oasis of light,” he said. “Don’t give up hope. Sometimes right will have to yield to might, but right will prevail.”
In other business, the council postponed for two weeks a vote on a $277,000 contract with Lose & Associates for a comprehensive plan on the city’s parks. The $277,000 contract includes $50,000 in grant funds.
Councilors seemed to be hung up on a timeline for the contractor. Executive Director of Parks and Recreation Matt Capps had said the city hoped to have a presentation from Lose within 10 months from the contract’s activation date, but added that a hard timeline wasn’t included in the version of the contract on which councilors were voting. During a pre-conference meeting Tuesday, Richardson asked Cochran to draft an amendment requiring Lose to provide deliverables by Dec. 31, 2018.
Rebecca Byrne, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of South Alabama, told councilors at the pre-conference meeting that the organization would be working with the Aspen Institute to help close opportunity gaps when it comes to access to sports in local parks. Byrne said their initiative would dovetail nicely with the parks survey the city wants to conduct.
Stimpson and councilors recognized a group of Purple Heart recipients at the meeting. Councilman John Williams, a United States Army veteran, read aloud a proclamation naming Mobile a “Purple Heart City.”