Azaleas. Mardi Gras. Oak trees. Leprechauns in Crichton. These things are all #somobile.
But the latest news in the ongoing Mobile City Council president saga may be the most Mobile thing to happen since we started counting down the New Year by watching a giant electronic MoonPie slide down the side of one of our downtown buildings. Coincidence? Maybe not. Since the man behind both the MoonPie and the latest lunacy from sweet lunacy’s county seat is the same person, Councilman Fred Richardson.
What is this new craziness, you ask?
Well, apparently Mobile’s most infamous tattoo artist and longtime Richardson pal, Chassity Ebbole, has filed suit against the City Council because her buddy did not get elected president of the council.
The suit filed in Mobile Circuit Court on April 3 by the former “Tattoo Chat” host says the council failed “to follow its historical voting procedure for the election of a council president. Specifically, the council has historically elected a council president by a simple majority vote. The City Council is now seeking to arbitrarily and capriciously deviate from the past custom and practice of election procedures used to elect past council presidents.”
Ebbole, the plaintiff, has brought this case as a “concerned citizen.” The heavily inked citizen gained local fame on her cable access show, as well as being a fixture on local billboards around the area for many years. She was also involved in a rather high-profile lawsuit with another tattoo shop downtown years ago, where all kinds of wild accusations were made between the two parties.
The council president drama has been going on since just after the election last November, when none of the councilors was able to obtain the five “supermajority” votes to become council president in their open meeting, which District Four Councilman John “Mr. Rules” Williams pointed out.
Richardson contended though, that in previous election years the council held a “straw vote” to elect their president behind closed doors. They would then all vote unanimously for the person who won the straw vote. Councilwoman Gina Gregory won 4-3 behind closed doors last term, Richardson said, but they voted to elect her president 7-0 in the open meeting. He felt the same courtesy should be extended to him. I would have to say it’s hard to argue against that, EXCEPT the way they had been conducting this “straw poll” in the past was totally unethical, if not illegal.
When this first came up after the election, Williams asked then-City Council Attorney Jim Rossler for his opinion on the matter. Rossler said under the Zoghby Act he thought it did take five votes to be elected council president. Mary Zoghby who co-wrote the act, also concurred. But this did not matter to the councilors, who quickly axed Rossler (ironically with a simple majority vote) for issuing this opinion. They then voted in Wanda Cochran as their new council attorney, who about a month later issued the same legal opinion as Rossler. Her head has remained off of the chopping block somehow.
In the meantime, Levon Manzie who was elected as vice president, has served as acting president. And Fred has been sulking. I mean, you can get why he is upset. Folks get upset when the rules change, even if the rules you were operating under were totally wrong and go against one of the pillars of our democracy — an open, transparent government. Those secret “straw polls” they were ALL participating in for God knows how many years behind closed doors should make our collective skin as American citizens and Mobile taxpayers crawl.
They claim they were able to do this legally because their terms ended at midnight the night before they were officially sworn into their next/first terms, giving them a few hours where they could meet behind closed doors as people who weren’t technically council people yet. Yeah, OK. So you are allowed to violate open meetings requirements on a technicality? What a load of crap!
It is no surprise this has ended up in court. The council is at an impasse on this, and this is the only play Richardson has left, and he just can’t let his dream of holding that gavel go.
The only thing remotely surprising in this whole situation is that Fred recruited, or at the very least, let Ms. Ebbole do this for him. Their “friendship” has always been a hot topic. There is even a Facebook page where people posted photos of the two out and about together. When he traveled to Farnborough, England, for an airshow on behalf of the city, she happened to be in England at the same time, sparking rumors she had accompanied him. Lagniappe examined all of Richardson’s travel expenses and only his were paid for by the city. Multiple sources confirmed off the record, though, she was seen with him during the show.
There is nothing wrong with this. Neither is married and our leaders can take spouses, kids or friends with them as long as they travel on their own dime.
But it generated a lot of interest because, let’s just say, they are a rather odd pair — friends or whatever their relationship is. Richardson had to know it would generate the same kind of interest if she were the “concerned citizen” who filed this suit.
It would be like Kim Kardashian filing a suit on behalf of Mike Pence. Maybe he wanted the extra attention and there is a method to his madness. Or maybe it’s just their collective, um, madness. Either way, it will be an even bigger spectacle now than it already is, which is #somobile.
It is disgraceful the ENTIRE council operated in such a shady way, making these backroom “presidential” deals for all those years. Now, guess who is going to have to foot the bill to clean up their mess? Yup, that would be all of us. Which, sadly, is also #somobile.