Mayor Sandy Stimpson is now challenging the legality of a new ordinance that allows the Mobile City Council greater control and gives them more information when it comes to contracts.
Stimpson has added information about the law, which councilors have dubbed a “transparency ordinance,” to an ongoing lawsuit over which branch of municipal government can unilaterally enter into contracts after the council voted unanimously to override his veto last Thursday.
In a statement released this afternoon, Stimpson again called the ordinance and the council’s attempt to rehire the communications coordinator he fired a “power grab.”
“These actions are being fashioned by the council as efforts to improve transparency, when the naked truth is that they are a power grab,” Stimpson said. “Taking control away from the administration and giving it to the council will not make government more effective, efficient or transparent. It will only cause it to be more confusing, more political and more frustrating for the people we are here to serve.”
Attorneys for Stimpson argue in the amended complaint that the Zoghby Act specifically gives the power to examine contracts and purchase orders to the city’s finance director through the mayor. State law, Stimpson’s attorneys argue, also gives him the authority to “see that all contracts with the town or city are faithfully kept or performed.”
As written, the ordinance prevents the mayor from exercising any contract “that has not first been approved by the City Council,” the only exceptions being deeds and bonds required in judicial proceedings.
The ordinance also requires the council to approve all bids, which is a departure from previous actions, city engineer Nick Amberger said during a press conference last week. He said the engineering department will now be forced to submit each bid tab — which helps it determine which bid is lowest, as well as other factors — to the council.
“It’s asking us to bring the bid tab forward, in addition to the contract,” Amberger explained. “Every contract will have at least two weeks added.”
City staff claim the ordinance will also negatively impact the city’s supplier diversity program, which is meant to provide disadvantaged business enterprises, or DBEs, access to city work. Chief Procurement Officer Don Rose said the city will not have adequate staffing to help some of the DBEs gain access to work as much as it used to.
Rose said the ordinance would also impact purchase orders used to buy gas for city tanks. Those purchase orders routinely go above the $7,500 some councilors have said is the threshold for their involvement, Rose said. Rose already sends the council weekly emails with information related to the purchase orders made that week.
The ordinance would also require the council to sign off on any legal settlement greater than $5,000. In particular, the council is trying to prevent Stimpson from entering into large settlements without their knowledge, citing a nearly $400,000 payment to Waste Management Stimpson’s office made to help settle a $6 million judgement against the city’s Solid Waste Authority. The council has not officially approved that payment.
“The mayor cut a check to Waste Management,” Richardson said at the council meeting. “How many other folks has he been sending a check to?”
As for the Waste Management settlement, city attorney Ricardo Woods told councilors at the meeting a failure to approve the settlement and its future payments has already resulted in three additional lawsuits.
The ordinance also forces Stimpson to execute budgeted performance contracts, which has been the subject of council ire recently. Stimpson’s office has not awarded most of the council-approved 2019 performance contract for Ladd-Peebles Stadium. A portion of that money will be spent on a fitness trail.
The ordinance would also require Stimpson to provide a list to council of his political appointees, or those employees hired outside the merit system.
During the first two years of his administration, Stimpson told reporters it would take four weeks from the time a bid was received to the time a contract was executed. Once council began the first-read delay, the timeline increased to five weeks. The delay expected from execution of this new ordinance could be seven weeks, Stimpson said.
Councilors assured those in attendance before voting to override the veto that if the ordinance slows down city work they would vote to amend it.
Council Vice President Levon Manzie did not return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon. In an email sent to Stimpson, Councilman John Williams questioned the mayor’s motives over going to press with the announcement of the amended complaint. Williams also questioned whether this would cause a “revocation” of what happened at a retreat between the two sides before Christmas.
City spokeswoman Laura Byrne said mediation between the two sides will continue as scheduled despite the amended complaint being filed.