About 20 residents attended the Mobile City Council meeting Feb. 18 to show support for Alex Ikefuna, the city’s director of community development and planning. In what Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper called “a personnel conversation that has been exposed publicly,” the supporters pleaded with the mayor to retain Ikefuna on staff, after it became apparent that Stimpson had advertised his position to seek other potential candidates.
Omar Smith urged Stimpson to reconsider the move, suggesting Africatown and other impoverished areas of the city would lose an experienced advocate.
“If it had not been for Alex and (former assistant to Mayor Sam Jones) Donna Mitchell, I don’t know where we would be or could be,” Smith said, speaking about proposed plans to revitalize Africatown. “I’m asking you to re-evaluate what you are doing and call them back to work. I think it is incumbent on (you) to have the conviction and power to keep the people that did a wonderful job. Without them we don’t know where to go.”
Stimpson said little except that he appreciated the comments and concerns of those in the community. Subsequent remarks of support for Ikefuna from City Councilmen Fred Richardson, CJ Small and Levon Manzie prompted Stimpson’s attorney Ricardo Woods to school them on a provision of the Zoghby Act which states “neither the council nor any of its members shall direct or request the appointment of any person to, or his removal from office, or in any manner take part in the appointment or removal of officers and employees in the administrative service to the city.”
Manzie and Richardson retorted, calling upon City Council attorney Jim Rossler to confirm that they were not in violation of the Zoghby Act, since their comments were based on their constituents’ concerns, rather than their official capacities as elected officials.
“I totally understand the difference in our roles,” Manzie said. “I am simply making a request based on my personal knowledge of [Ikefuna’s] value to the organization based on communication from the citizens of District 2.”
Ikefuna’s position is not merit-based and pays $95,000 per year from federal funds. He administers the federally-funded Community Block Development Grants Program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
During individual announcements at the end of the meeting, Councilman John Williams also voiced support for Ikefuna.
“I have also found that Alex has done a tremendous job in restoring respect for the CDBG program and I hope I am able to work with him in the future,” he said.
In other business, the city council approved a $1.5 million contract with Gulf Equipment Corporation for improvements to Baker Street related to the Airbus project, and a $576,475 contract with Hosea O. Weaver & Sons, Inc. for resurfacing of about two miles of streets downtown. City Engineer Nick Amberger said the streets targeted include State Street, St. Anthony Street, St. Louis Street, Dearborn Street and Washington Street.
In the same area, the Council authorized the mayor to conduct a $10,000 feasibility study to include “Automobile Alley” in the National Register of Historic Places.
Deveraux Bemis of the Historic Development Commission said that allocation, plus a $5,000 update to the organization’s website, would allow the commission to apply for more grant money.
“You never know until you conduct a survey whether you have the inventory for a historic district but we think we do,” Bemis said of Automobile Alley, which includes the vacant Buick Building on St. Louis Street.
Finance Director Paul Wesch reported that he was prepared to provide a timeline for the updated budget to the city council as early as Thursday. He also provided a first quarter financial statement showing “divine intervention” on the revenue side, where despite January’s cold whether, the city collected $3 million more in sales and use tax than was expected for the four months beginning in October. It represents a 7.3 percent increase over budget, Wesch said.
The week before, the council heard an appeal from Jerrlyn London, who owns a vacant lot in the vicinity of Ladd Stadium where for generations, her family has sold overflow parking spaces to attendees of the Senior Bowl and more recently, the GoDaddy Bowl and University of South Alabama games.
During the Senior Bowl this year, she was approached by two employees from the revenue department and a Mobile Police officer, who told her she needed a business license to collect money for parking.
“They came out of nowhere and said if I didn’t pay $138 I would be given a ticket,” she said. “So I counted out the money and they gave me a receipt that said ‘Senior Bowl only.’”
London said she can fit approximately 30 cars on the property and any revenue she collects is used to cut the grass from March through November. While her appeal was to ask the council for an annual permit, City Attorney Ricardo Woods said he would work to refund her costs completely and forgive fines issued to five other property owners this year.
Woods said the enforcement this year was based on another resident’s complaint, emphasizing it was not an order of the administration. Still, Stimpson said he would take “full responsibility” for the episode and encouraged the City Council to amend ordinances on event-based business licenses to exclude any requirements for property owners around the stadium.