He added that while Richardson had been at odds on a few issues, on others they have worked together.
“On stormwater issues, Fred helped lead the charge. There are some issues that are hot-button issues for him. But over time we’ll get through the differences,” the mayor said.
The reworking of this year’s budget should offer a good bit of insight into how the mayor/council relationship will develop. Given the need to trim as much as $13 million from the budget, Stimpson says he knows there will be opportunity for friction. But he also has vowed to make sure councilors have all the information they need to make informed decisions and votes.
“I’m sure there’ll be some things they will certainly question and we will present it to them probably before we’ve had time to fully bake it, so even though they need to approve it we’re going to be looking for opportunities there also. I expect some good feedback,” Stimpson said. “We will be certainly forthcoming with more information. The reason we will is because we have limited dollars to spend and we’re going to have to do some reallocation of it. There will be people who are either left out or offended, and to the degree the mayor and City Council can all be singing off the same sheet of music it’s just going to be more palatable to everybody that we’re heading in the right direction.”
Stimpson went on to say the public would also benefit from transparency in the budgeting process.
“Although it’s all been internal so far, as we go forward there will much more light shined on it than has ever been shined on it from the public’s viewpoint,” he said.
Stimpson’s mantra on the campaign trail was that he’d make Mobile the country’s most business- and family-friendly city in America, as well as the safest by 2020, and certainly no area of city government has gone through as many contortions since his inauguration as the police department. MPD was already racked with scandals involving is Police Explorers Program as well as issues of misreporting crimes before Stimpson took office. Since naming Jim Barber as chief, there have been a number of high-profile investigations that have kept MPD missteps in the news almost constantly. But Stimpson says he hasn’t grown weary of the bad press and feels it is just a sign the ship is being righted.
“I think people are very excited about Jim Barber and the reorganization of the police department. They’re starting to see discipline’s not going to be swept under the rug. Once you end up where the police are fulfilling their part of it, people are seeing that and they’re pleased,” he said. “Hopeful we get to the point we quit having these disciplinary hearings, but every time we have one it says the new chief is going to do things differently and the citizen is the beneficiary of that.”
The latest MPD internal investigation involves a Midtown man who claims he was handcuffed and thrown in the back of a cruiser Feb. 1 while out walking his dogs and picking trash out of the neighborhood gutters. His story took flight on social media and the mayor quickly asked Barber to look into it. Lagniappe ran a web story about the incident Sunday, Feb. 2 and has one in this issue.
While there has been no determination as to whether officers involved did or did not violate MPD policy, Stimpson’s quick involvement drew praise from some on social media, among those who feel MPD officers are often quick to get physical. But others denounced the mayor for jumping in to help out a guy he knew, doubtful that courtesy would be extended to others. While Stimpson didn’t speak specifically about the case as it hasn’t been fully investigated, he did say the department needs to make some changes in how it deals with average citizens.
“I believe their interfacing with the citizens needs to be a little gentler, a little more customer oriented. That’s with a broad brush. I don’t expect them to be nice to the bad guys. But we don’t need to create problems for ourselves by being curt. That’s a small switch. Just a matter of the leadership saying when we walk up to the driver’s window we’re going to be a little different,” he said.
The mayor says he believes the city will start to see improvements in statistics such as murder and other violent crimes, but only if officers are given the resources to do their jobs. Part of that includes equipment and vehicles. He says it will probably take three years to get the MPD fleet of cars up to snuff after years of neglect.
Litter and urban decay
Another subject upon which Stimpson stumped heavily was Mobile’s reputation as a city that wears its litter and urban blight with ease. Though the mayor’s office has made some symbolic efforts at cleaning up areas of town, nothing systemic has happened yet. But Stimpson says that’s about to change.
As his final executive staff take their places in his administration, Stimpson says they will begin to implement his vision, and cleaning up the city is near the top of the to-do list.
“Now that our executive director’s in place I hope within a month or six weeks we’ll have a real plan to roll out about that, about how we’re going to do things differently,” he said. “We’re going to enforce some ordinances already on the books, which may not be pleasant to a lot of people, but the city is disgustingly dirty with litter, old tires, blighted buildings not torn down and when you have that situation it feeds on itself, brings down the value of the neighborhood and brings more blight. So yes, that will be a big part of who we are.”
He also said the city needs to follow through in areas where it has made promises to improve the situation. Specifically he mentioned the placement of a litter trap that citizens with the Dog River Clearwater Revival group raised $75,000 to help buy, but that still is not in place.
“We talk about a public-private partnership and we talk about the skate park. We spend $500,000 on a skate park, of which there’s not a private part, but we’ve got citizens who have coughed up ($75,000) we’ve taken and we haven’t done what we said we were going to do. That’s where we need to improve our credibility,” he said.
Stimpson also said before long the city will have employees designated to help keep litter out of area waterways.
Despite Stimpson’s desire to make the area’s waterways cleaner and more usable, efforts to see a bayside park established on property owned by the University of South Alabama adjacent to the Brookley Aeroplex aren’t likely to get his support right now.
“That really rests with South Alabama. They’re the ones who have the property. For us to say the city has the money to give towards a bayfront park when we have as many calls on what limited funds we already have, it takes some really creative to figure out how to do that,” he said. He did say if the city does eventually receive a considerable windfall from the RESTORE Act, that could change things.
• The mayor says he knows making the city’s poorest neighborhoods feel included in his vision is a key to making it work, but he also acknowledges little has happened yet in that arena. Getting the budget on track will be important so there is money to make capital changes in those most blighted areas, he said.
• Modernizing the city’s IT structure is hugely important, he says, because it is the only way to move the city forward in a more efficient way.
• The recent recruitment of Rural Sourcing, Inc. — a software developer — that will bring 100 IT jobs downtown is exactly the type of business Mobile needs to progress, Stimpson says. Personally calling the CEO multiple times helped reverse a negative experience the business owner had previously and eventually got him here.
• Airbus’ financial impact on the city may not be as quick as some think, and the bigger goal is what it could be eventually. “It’s not going to jump out of the jack-in-the-box. It’s going to take time and people are going to have to make sure this is the right place. I think it is. I think that we really don’t know the potential that is there that will be created by Airbus. But I think that only really comes if Airbus is able to do more than what they’re saying they’re going to do. The real potential for Mobile comes from Airbus doing more than what they’re saying they’re going to do,” he said.
• On annexation: “What we’ve said is we want to grow the city within the city limits. But if there are neighborhoods that for some reason want to be annexed into the city, we’ll look at that, because that’s one way to grow revenue.”
• On pressure to facilitate change: “I do feel a real sense of obligation to the citizens. They are expecting things to be different, from every quarter of the city. I didn’t just get elected because of one district elected me. So it’s a sense of obligation that has a lot to do with it.”