Mayoral challenger Sandy Stimpson’s campaign has called on Mayor Sam Jones to release a number of documents they say are being withheld from the public.
On Tuesday evening, Stimpson’s campaign spokesperson, Candace Cooksey, issued a statement calling on Jones to release records related to the altering of crime statistics by the Mobile Police Department, as well as documents pertaining to a number of trips taken by the Mobile Police Explorers over the past several years.
The challenge was a response to a response in a day of back and forth between the campaigns. Earlier Tuesday Stimpson announced he would forgo $200,000 of his mayoral salary over the next four years if elected in order to create an employee bonus pool for city workers who come up with cost-saving, waste-reducing ideas. Following that announcement the Jones camp called on Stimpson to release his tax returns, according to published reports in other media.
“(S)ince the mayor has taken a sudden interest in transparency, we would like for him to release the following:
The Internal Affairs report on the altering of crime statistics, which is sitting on his desk. The Deputy Chief’s report on the altering of crime statistics, which he has also received. The missing documents that the mayor has refused to release on the Mobile Police Explorers trips taken out of town,” Cooksey wrote in a press statement.
The first two documents refer to issues surrounding the possible changing of offense reports in order to downplay more serious crimes such as burglary and robbery. Chief Micheal Williams has publicly said the department is investigating whether such practices are widespread or the result of just one or two officers. Williams tasked the department’s Internal Affairs Division with looking into the matter.
However, many officers have told Lagniappe a report was prepared by one of the department’s deputy chiefs that indeed said the practice was widespread.
The mayor’s office has also battled this newspaper in court concerning the release of public records related to a number of ski trips and other junkets taken by the Police Explorers program since 2008. Lagniappe first requested records relating to the trips in November of last year, but Williams withheld them, despite their status as public records, prompting Lagniappe to address the matter in court. Lagniappe requested the records after several officers alleged the trips were routinely attended by police, city employees and their children who had no connection to the Explorers program.
MPD has released partial records for several of the trips, but now claims it has no more records pertaining to the trips, leaving Lagniappe with only partial lists of attendees on most trips and none on others. For example, MPD claims to have no record of anyone of 42 people flown to Denver in 2008. The tickets alone cost $17,000.
Attempts by Lagniappe to subpoena the travel records for that trip and others have been blocked by motions made by city attorneys, who have argued if the paper were allowed to subpoena to a travel agency and motel it would set a precedent whereby subpoenas could be used as “an investigative tool.” Circuit Court Judge Rick Stout has quashed Lagniappe’s subpoenas until at least Aug. 30, when the city is supposed to deliver all records it has related to the trips, including records already received by the paper.
When contacted to see if Jones intends to respond to Stimpson’s challenge to make those documents public, the mayor’s campaign manager Steve Raby said he had not seen the challenge and had no comment.
However, Sherry Lee with the mayor’s office sent a response from Jones on Aug. 15.
“I DO NOT have the final report on the discrepancies in the burglary investigation,” Jones said in the release. “I wholeheartedly supported the chief’s decision to launch an internal investigation into this matter, which he was transparent in announcing. I received a briefing mid-way through the investigation, only on the process the officers were using in the probe.
“All investigations are confidential until completed and are not given to the mayor’s office until then. This one is no different. Neither the final findings nor a briefing have been given to me. The investigation was launched by the Police Department under my administration, not by any outside influence or by my opponent’s campaign. The official business of the city will not/should not be mixed with political campaign tactics.”
Stimpson’s challenge for Jones to stop blocking release of those records came at the end of a rather testy two days between the campaigns. On Sunday fliers were placed inside the bulletin and on cars at the Big Zion AME Church that made several charges about Stimpson’s support of Republican causes and attempted to tie him to the atrocities of the Civil Rights movement by including a famous picture of police dogs attacking a black protester in Birmingham.
Jones’ campaign has denied responsibility for the fliers.
Cooksey said issues such as the fliers and Stimpson’s taxes shouldn’t be part of the race.
“As Sandy said yesterday, we aren’t going to allow personal attacks to distract us from talking about what will make Mobile stronger. We are focused on uniting Mobile and that is why we are going to win this election,” she said.
Updated at 3:55 p.m. Aug. 14 to reflect Candace Cooksey as the Stimpson campaign spokesperson, not Chad Tucker.
Updated at 11:55 a.m. Aug. 15 to add Mayor Sam Jones’ comments.