So far it’s been quite a year for presidential scandal, and not just here in the States.
South Africa’s Jacob Zuma resigned a few months ago because of a corruption scandal. In April, South Korea’s former president, Park Geun-hye, was sentenced to 24 years in prison for bribery and corruption. That same month, Brazil’s ex-president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, began serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption. Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski also resigned in March because of a corruption scandal.
And that’s not to mention the daily soap opera playing in D.C. right now.
But there’s a presidential scandal closer to home that’s been heating up again — the ongoing saga of the missing Mobile City Council president.
It’s nearing a year since a new Mobile City Council was inaugurated and immediately fractured over who would be elected council president. Instead of resolving over the ensuing months, the issue has become a bigger morass, and further morassiness looms because the council’s longest-serving member refuses to accept that he’s not going to be council president.
To briefly recap, on that inauguration day, councilors Fred Richardson, Bess Rich, Levon Manzie and C.J. Small banded together to oust Gina Gregory from her spot as council president, choosing Richardson in a 4-3 vote. Richardson had served for years as the council vice president and naturally felt he deserved to fondle the gavel.
Not so fast, Freddie D! It turns out the council vote wasn’t binding because the law requires a supermajority for the selection of council officers and four votes isn’t a big enough slice of the MoonPie. In the past the council had always conducted a legally dubious backroom vote for president, then after inauguration staged a unanimous vote for the person who got the most votes behind the scenes. But the councilors supporting Gregory dipped out on the secret vote, leaving the 4-3 vote on the official record, which left Richardson one vote shy of becoming president.
Richardson took the news in typical fashion, which means he’s fought it ever since and complained bitterly he is being ripped off, despite legal assurances five votes are required.
With the presidency at a stalemate, Manzie was elected vice president and has led the council since last November. At one point there were enough votes to make Levon president, but the two factions then fought over who would be veep — kind of like arguing over who gets to be runner-up in a beauty pageant — and the deal fell apart.
Certainly Manzie has done a fine job of handing the council president’s duties and one would think that eventually, for the good of the city and just to move things on, seven reasonably intelligent people could put an end to this silliness. But it seems more likely Mobile will be litter-free before the City Council completes the simple task of selecting a leader.
Things took a turn for the bizarre recently when Richardson’s good friend, tattoo artist Chassity Ebbole, filed suit on his behalf, hoping to have the courts force Councilman MoonPie into the president’s spot. The suit was tossed because Ebbole was ruled not to have “standing” to file the case. In other words, she wasn’t really involved.
But it would be foolish to think Richardson will ever let this go. Now he’s threatening to file suit against the council and a “class action” involving people who think they’re getting shafted because they don’t have Fred running the show.
“The lawsuit will be based upon the fact that the whole city is losing,” he said. “I’m looking at a suit that says the city has been damaged. The city is not whole.”
So the city has already wasted money doing whatever preparation was necessary for Ebbole’s suit and now will spend even more to fight a guy who can’t convince enough of his colleagues to vote for him as president.
It’s time for all of this to end. Small or Rich (or both) need to do the right thing and cast their votes for Manzie and stop Don Quixote Richardson from wasting time and money with this nonsensical lawsuit.
Richardson once again is proving exactly why he shouldn’t lead the council. He has little self-control when it comes to the things he wants or thinks he’s owed. He’s rarely restrained himself from taking a taxpayer-funded trip, except when he was running for re-election and thought it might look bad. He complains about open ditches in his district but obviously thinks paying for his trips is more important.
The fight to be council president is just more travel — an ego trip. That he would waste more of that ditch-covering money trying to force his way into the president’s seat shows a level of petulance generally reserved for Trump’s Twitter feed.
In the wake of last week’s defeat of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s efforts to help the University of South Alabama fund a new football stadium, there were a few councilors who expressed bitterness about the process and complained the mayor had tried to circumvent their authority from the beginning. Not to say going around the council is a pathway to success, but the president issue has fractured this group for almost a year and the temptation not to deal with the various coalitions is understandable.
Even as he threatens another lawsuit, Richardson is also providing yet another example of why he’s the wrong guy for the job. He’s now floating plans for the city to borrow $105 million to be paid with five years’ worth of Capital Improvement Program (CIP) money, so each councilor could spend $15 million at once instead of the program in his or her district. Even if the city were equipped to handle seven additional $15 million projects at once, Richardson’s plan would still leave the councilors no CIP money for the next four years.
One of the reasons he’s pushing this plan is because he says it will save money on materials as inflation causes prices to go up. Unfortunately he seems to have forgotten the fat wad of interest payments involved in taking out such a loan.
That’s the kind of visionary leadership President Fred would bring. The lawsuit should be a slam-dunk for him.
Speaking about the vacant president’s position, Richardson had this third-person take to offer: “It’s a citywide issue that ought to be resolved. It’s bigger than Fred Richardson. It’s bigger than me.”
If only he really believed that.