With the looming deadline of a new redistricting plan, the promise of a fresh annexation debate and continuing questions about what to do with a number of city facilities, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson is looking at a busy 2022.
The deadline to present a redistricting plan to the Mobile City Council, based on the latest U.S. Census numbers, is Feb. 12. Stimpson and Chief of Staff James Barber are planning to consult as early as this week with attorney Jim Rossler, who was hired to help develop the plan. After the numbers have been verified, members of the administration will begin meeting with small groups of councilors.
Barber said the process will begin by rebalancing the population numbers in each district and then go from there.
“The first step would be to get the balancing of the population because we know there’s a population shift and so you have to balance all seven of your districts as close as possible so they have the same number of people in the district,” Barber said in a previous interview. “Then you’d look at whether we’ve had a negative impact on minority voting strength and things like that. So, if you look at it like we’re doing it, the first thing is balance by population and then look at negative impact, or retrogression.”
After that, Barber said, the administration will meet with councilors before officially turning it over to the body, which will have up to six months to tinker with it, similar to what they do with the budget, before voting to accept it.
There has been an east-to-west population shift from 2010 to 2020, so Barber expects the districts to look a bit different than they do now, but the administration will remain in compliance with the Voting Rights Act throughout the process, he said.
Following the redistricting plan, Stimpson wants to unveil a new annexation plan before the first 100 days of his third term ends in March.
Stimpson brought an annexation plan to council in 2019, but it did not get the five votes needed to pass. The vote was split along racial lines, with the four White councilors voting in favor and the three Black councilors voting against.
With four new councilors and efforts underway to strengthen the housing stock within the city with at least 1,000 affordable homes built by 2026, Stimpson is hopeful for a different outcome in 2022.
On the issue of affordable housing, Stimpson said the city is hoping to see new developments being built over the next two years.
“You’re going to see new complexes going up,” he said.
As for whether the addition of affordable housing will help grow the city in a meaningful way, Stimpson said it’s a “step in the right direction.”
“It’s a proof of concept that we can do it,” he said.
Also as part of his 100-day plan, Stimpson has promised to restart the discussion about the future of the Mobile Civic Center.
“We will reengage with the community to see what moving forward will look like,” he said. “When we started this process years ago, we wanted to get it right.”
In 2019, Stimpson was prepared to knock down the facility and replace it with an open-air concept built and managed by the Cordish Companies. Responding to negative feedback about the plan, Stimpson pivoted to a plan that would include an arena and a smaller area managed by Cordish. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Civic Center took on new life as a testing clinic — and later, a vaccine clinic. That change in usefulness “has to be part of the equation,” Stimpson said.
Stimpson also faces questions about crime prevention in the city in 2022. Mobile saw its highest homicide rate ever in 2021 and Stimpson has plans to curb gun violence as a response.
In the coming weeks, the council will take up agenda items related to shot detection technology, Barber said.
In addition, new Police Chief Paul Prine and his staff will bring a new focus on technology to the force. Both Mobile Fire-Rescue Chief Jeremy Lami and Prine are working on strategic plans that will set forth the city’s approach to public safety for the next five years, Barber said.
In addition, Stimpson is working on a statewide level to help ensure that jury trials can ramp back up to normal sooner rather than later. Stimpson shared a phone conference call recently with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker about the importance of getting trials back to normal.
Mobile currently has 130 people accused of murder on bail, Stimpson said, and has over 450 people accused of a Class A felony in jail during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We talked about courts across the state trying to catch up,” he said.
In 2022, Stimpson said he’s excited to make “significant progress” on three important projects started prior to the year. Those projects include the downtown airport terminal, the Brookley by the Bay park and the building of new affordable housing. Stimpson also pointed to improvements in the Parks and Recreation Department, including both facilities and programming.
Stimpson was also optimistic about the prospects of the proposed Unified Development Code (UDC), despite the council voting down the administration’s first attempt to pass it. In 2022, the UDC will go back before the Planning Commission and the City Council. Stimpson believes the proposed plan will pass both bodies with a few changes.
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