A spokesman for the Prichard water board denied responsibility for a robocall that was sent to voters in Mobile County today, hours before a vote on a referendum to transfer the assets of Prichard Water Works & Sewer Board to the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Service.
The 30-second message, allegedly paid for by an organization called the “Citizens of Greater Mobile,” warns that a vote in favor of the referendum would ensure that Prichard would eventually be annexed into the city of Mobile.
Feeding off negative publicity surrounding the nomination of former Mayor Sam Jones to the MAWSS board, the message suggests Jones’ “end game” is to force the annexation so the demographics of Mobile would shift to point where he would be ensured a victory in the next mayoral election more than three years from now.
According to 2010 census data, more than 85 percent of Prichard’s 22,000 residents are black, compared to just over 50 percent of Mobile’s residents. Mayor Sandy Stimpson defeated the incumbent Jones by six percentage points in an election last August.
Kim Davis, a Montgomery-based consultant representing the Prichard water board, said the robocall “comes as a huge surprise.”
“Frankly we’re not behind it,” she said. “Prichard Water has run a very positive, factual campaign and we would not stoop that low.”
While both the Prichard water board and the robocall are encouraging a “no” vote on tomorrow’s referendum, the water board has warned that the transfer of assets would result in the financial destabilization of Prichard’s budget and eventual insolvency. Speaking with Lagniappe last month, both board Chairman Russell Heidelburg and Prichard Mayor Troy Ephraim said the disincorporation of Prichard would burden both Mobile and Mobile County with additional police and fire protection mandates, but they stopped short of suggesting Mobile would annex it’s northern neighbors.
The robocall took that message a step further, seizing on racial overtones lingering in the wake of Jones’ nomination.
“Hello, this a very important message for Mobile County voters. We are being bamboozled by Sam Jones and his political cronies.
“Sam Jones and his friends have been working hard to takeover the Prichard Water Works.
“Their end game? To force Prichard into annexing into Mobile city.
“If they are successful, the demographic change would ensure Sam Jones’ victory in the next mayoral election.
“So this Tuesday, vote no on giving Sam Jones and his cronies power over the Prichard Water System.
“Paid for by the Citizens of Greater Mobile.”
Just last Friday, after he announced his support of Jones and ended a stalemate in the City Council, Stimpson said he would also host a community forum on race relations, claiming that the “perception” of a racist-driven vote may have become the “reality.”
Supporters of the referendum claim it will provide greater efficiency and economic development to water and sewer customers in Prichard, while having no negative impact on existing MAWSS customers. Meanwhile the transfer of the assets, which are purported to be worth $50 million, provides no compensation to Prichard.
Earlier this year, Jones’ former communications director Barbara Drummond was placed on the MAWSS board.
The referendum will be voted on county-wide Tuesday and was sponsored by state Rep. Napoleon Bracy and state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, both of whom represent districts that include parts of Prichard.