Mobile City Council Vice President Levon Manzie has called for a special meeting at 3 p.m. tomorrow to discuss the fiscal year 2020 budget, the election of officers and the hiring of new representation in the lawsuit with Mayor Sandy Stimpson.
A supermajority of five councilors are prepared to settle with Stimpson in the lawsuit over which branch of municipal government has the authority to contract with employees, among other legal issues. Those councilors are set to appoint Jim Atchison as the attorney to finalize the settlement, which would see the body’s media specialist Marion Steinfels rehired and given back pay a year after she was fired by Stimpson, in a move many councilors felt was politically motivated. Their previous attempts to rehire her was the impetus for the lawsuit, which has been unresolved since December 2018.
The settlement would also require Stimpson to provide councilors with copies of appointment letters Stimpson sent to the city employees working at his pleasure.
Councilwoman Bess Rich and Councilman Fred Richardson have expressed an eagerness to continue fighting the suit and a counterclaim the council filed against Stimpson. Rich and Richardson have asked councilors to give them permission to hire an attorney at the city’s expense to continue the fight. It would take four councilors to approve it.
If councilors do not approve the item, Rich and Richardson would have to pay an attorney privately to represent them; however, the duo could use discretionary funds if five councilors approve it as a municipal need.
The council also appears ready to take up the issue of who will lead it for the last half of the four-year term. The special meeting agenda calls for the election of council officers. In a discussion at a pre-conference meeting Tuesday, Councilman Joel Daves nominated Manzie for president and Councilman C.J. Small for vice president.
The council has gone without a president for the first two years of this term because of a disagreement over who should serve. At a 2017 organizational meeting, councilors were split over the nomination of Richardson, who received four votes, and Councilwoman Gina Gregory, who received three votes. Manzie was unanimously selected as vice president and has been serving as a de facto president ever since. Two legal opinions determined that the Zoghby Act requires five votes to elect leadership.
Richardson has argued the council previously used a threshold of four votes to elect a president and only changed the threshold when he was selected. While previous councils used a straw poll in an illegal closed-door meeting to elect a president and that threshold was a simple majority of four of seven votes, previous councils also voted in the winner of the straw poll unanimously in public, which means no council presidents have been elected with only four votes.
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