Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson is asking a Mobile County Circuit judge to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the Mobile City Council from rehiring its spokeswoman, and has also officially filed a legal suit aimed at having the courts clarify the hiring powers of the two branches of city government.
Council spokeswoman Marion Steinfels was terminated by Stimpson in October, shortly after councilors passed an amended fiscal year 2019 budget. Councilors believe the firing was politically motivated retribution for changes to his budget, but the mayor’s office refused to comment on why Steinfels was fired, citing personnel issues.
After ignoring written objections from Stimpson, councilors voted last month to enter into a contract with Steinfels, and yesterday it was reported that Council Vice President Levon Manzie signed the contract.
In court documents obtained by Lagniappe Thursday afternoon, city attorney Ricardo Woods argued the council’s hiring of contractors, like Steinfels, and other employees is in violation of the Zoghby Act, which is the state statute upon which the city’s current form of government is founded.
“A temporary restraining order is appropriate to prohibit and restrain defendants from … acts beyond their authority,” the motion reads. “Plaintiff requests an immediate hearing on this motion for temporary restraining order.”
If granted, Woods is asking that the TRO prevent the council from “unilaterally hiring, or attempting to hire, employees and independent contractors in the name of the city of Mobile.”
In a separate filing, Stimpson is asking the court to rule that the council cannot unilaterally hire an employee and that the contract between Steinfels and the council is “null and void.”
The suit also asks that the council be permanently prevented from attempting to hire employees unilaterally. Simply put, councilors do not have the authority to enter into contracts or hire employees without the consent of the mayor, Stimpson said in an interview about the actions.
“This will answer the question of who has the authority to enter into contracts,” Stimpson said. “We believe what they are trying to do is an illegal spending of taxpayer dollars. There’s no ambiguity in the law. This is about the separation of powers and the Zoghby Act, in our opinion, is very clear about the separation of powers.”
As for the council’s right to hire a city clerk and attorney, Stimpson said those powers are specifically listed in the Zoghby Act; as well as other council powers.
“We don’t dispute the council’s right to legislate,” Stimpson said. “We think this is an overreach.”
Stimpson added that the issue has been interfering with running the city because both sides have been preoccupied with the question.
Besides the legal issues, allowing the council to hire its own contractors could lead to duplication and the spending of unnecessary resources, Stimpson said. Allowing this would open the gates for more, he said.
“Every councilors wants a contract with someone to do something,” Stimpson said. “We don’t have the capacity to manage something like that.”
In a statement, council Vice President Levon Manzie questioned using taxpayer money to settle the dispute over a spokeswoman.
“I’m surprised the administration has chosen to spend taxpayer dollars to prevent us from simply having the additional support and capacity of one individual,” he wrote. “The City Council is clearly within its rights. While I never thought this would actually go this far, I’m hopeful the council will prevail.”
Stimpson also argued that he is fighting to help preserve the power of the mayor’s office in order to be a “good steward” of the office.
Stimpson said he hopes the restraining order will be granted immediately, but said in regard to the suit that time is less of a factor than getting it right and permanently settling the issue.