The political tug-of-war between Mobile’s legislative and executive branches took another pull recently as Mayor Sandy Stimpson accused councilors of making inappropriate changes to a resolution he sponsored to hire additional city employees.
In a letter to Council Vice President Levon Manzie obtained by Lagniappe, Stimpson accused councilors of privately substituting a resolution authorizing $338,000 in funding to hire 10 new employees to work on the delivery of capital improvement projects.
“Apparently, without notice to me or the public, sometime between the 9 [a.m.] pre-council meeting and the 10:30 [a.m.] [c]ouncil meeting, the [r]esolution I sponsored was changed and a new version was substituted,” Stimpson wrote. “As she called out the agenda during the [c]ouncil meeting, the City Clerk [Lisa Lambert] read the title of Resolution 09-516 as ‘resolution appropriating additional funds for the purpose of funding additional positions needed to support capital improvement projects.’ The [c]ouncil by unanimous consent voted to take immediate action on Resolution 09-516, departing from its standard procedure of publishing a resolution at least one week prior to voting on it.”
Stimpson goes on to complain that despite raising questions about transparency, the resolution is “ineffective” and can’t be used.
“It fails to identify any increases in either revenue or expenditure line items,” Stimpson wrote. “It accomplishes nothing, leaving the city without the  capital delivery positions it needs.”
At issue is the addition of language in the council-approved resolution that prohibits any of the funds to go toward employees appointed by, or working at the “pleasure of” Stimpson. The council-approved version also does not include a department-by-department breakdown of where the funds will go.
The resolution in question was initially part of a larger $1.6 million budget amendment that would’ve also provided cost-of-living raises for all city employees. The council approved the raises, but added language to that budget amendment that prevented any employee appointed by Stimpson from receiving a pay hike. At the time, councilors argued the so-called non-merit employees were part of ongoing litigation between the sides, and council attorney Wanda Cochran had advised the group to not give raises to Stimpson appointees.
Because the budget amendment the council passed only mentioned raises and not the additional employees, Stimpson added a new resolution to the May 28 agenda.
Manzie defended the resolution’s passage in a phone interview with Lagniappe. The second-term councilor said there were errors in the original resolution that needed to be fixed.
“We wanted to make sure those who work can work free of political repercussions,” he said, referring to the council’s desire to ensure the positions are merit-based and that future employees are hired through the Mobile County Personnel Board. “Those need to be merit-system employees.”
During a pre-conference meeting on May 28, Councilwoman Bess Rich asked for, and was given, an assurance the future employees would be part of the merit system and not Stimpson appointees. She defended the council’s action in changing the resolution as a way to ensure that would be the case.
“The council has the authority to change legislative acts,” she said. “We had to rewrite it to ensure those were merit jobs.”
The council is in favor of hiring the new positions, Rich said, as the employees would work to implement projects paid for by the capital improvement plan (CIP) program, which is funded by a sales-tax increase split evenly among all seven council districts.
As for the CIP work itself, Manzie said Stimpson had vetoed the tax increase that brought the “popular” program into existence.
“These 10 employees will help implement our vision,” Manzie said.
In the letter, Stimpson said he plans to reintroduce the original resolution at the special-called city council meeting scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday, June 20. A pre-conference meeting will take place at 9 a.m. in the council conference room. Rich said she believes Cochran and deputy city attorney Flo Kessler have worked on a compromise that could be voted on soon.
This is part of larger communication issues that have arisen since Stimpson sued councilors in December over the re-hiring of a communications specialist he had previously fired for what councilors believe were political reasons. The two sides have been locked in mediation since then and seem far from a resolution of their differences. There have been few updates since talks began because players on both sides aren’t supposed to speak about it.
The relationship between the two sides has been strained since then, with councilors complaining of an unwillingness from Stimpson’s office to share information with them.
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