A constituent and friend of Mobile City Councilman Fred Richardson has filed a lawsuit in Mobile County Circuit Court seeking to force councilors into making a decision about who will be the board’s next president.
The lawsuit, filed by L.A. Body Art owner Chassity Ebbole, seeks help from the court in forcing the council to stick by historical precedence and make Richardson president because he received four votes to Councilwoman Gina Gregory’s three. In a phone interview, Ebbole said a simple majority of councilors prior to the body’s organizational meeting every four years was all that was previously needed to elect the president.
In November of last year, Richardson received support from Councilman C.J. Small, Councilman Levon Manzie, Councilwoman Bess Rich and himself, giving him a simple majority.
“For more than 30 years it worked,” Ebbole said. “The system was not broken. It’s a joke.”
In her complaint, Ebbole seeks an injunction to prevent the council from changing the way it has previously selected its president. Ebbole argues the council’s failure to pick a president has led to “chronic and significant problems for the effective governance of the City Council.”
“The clerk is heading up the meetings,” Ebbole said. “The clerk, are you kidding me?”
Ebbole is referring to a number of times CIty Clerk Lisa Lambert acted as chair of both the pre-conference meeting and regular council meeting when Vice President Levon Manzie was absent due to a knee injury. Failure to elect a president also prevents the board from having standing committees. Currently, Manzie appoints ad hoc committees to handle issues that require more study.
Despite the unofficial straw polls used by previous councils to elect new presidents behind closed doors, the Zoghby Act — the law establishing Mobile’s current form of government — states that a vote to elect a new president requires a supermajority vote of five members.
Ebbole called the supermajority rule an “old, dead law that had never been enforced.” In the suit she calls the council’s actions to suddenly refer to it to prevent Richardson from attaining the presidency “arbitrary and capricious.”
“It’s not an issue of whether you think Fred Richardson or not,” she said. “He got four votes and Gina Gregory got three. They need to concede and do the right thing and make him president.”
As a business owner, Ebbole said she wants a solution and hopes a day in court will provide one. Richardson said he hopes the suit will bring about a solution because currently there is no way to move forward.
“There is no path in the city of Mobile among the council to selecting a president,” he said. “We’ve been without a president since the election; if we had a path we’d have a president by now.”
Councilman John Williams, who was one of three councilors to vote against Richardson for president, said despite the suit he stands by his comments and vote during the organization meeting in November.
“The law is the law,” Williams said. “It’s not difficult. It’s very simple, it takes a super majority.”
Council attorney Wanda Cochran had no comment. Manzie also declined to comment on the suit.
As for their relationship, Ebbole said she and Richardson are both members of Stone Street Baptist Church. She said she has known the District 1 representative more than 20 years. She added that, despite rumors to the contrary, there has never been a romantic relationship between them.