Indigestion is common this time of year. Whether it’s Aunt Bertha’s overcooked bird or the self-serving and hypocritical reasoning opponents used to kill an annexation vote that would have been a win for the city of Mobile, some things are hard to swallow right now. But I’ve had some time to digest and pop some Pepcid and wade through the news coverage and social media minefields, and here are some reasonably warm leftover takes on annexation.
- Former Mayor Sam Jones was the political leader of the band to stop annexation, and in doing so he argued it was a move that would cost the city too much money. He also threw cold water on Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s revenue projections for the proposed annexation areas without offering any evidence they were wrong. But in 2007, Jones was singing from an entirely different page.
I looked up coverage of his 2007 annexations, and back then Sam was not nearly as worried about such things. In fact, complaints from the areas being considered for annexation were that Jones had “cherry picked” businesses and was looking for a financial windfall. Jones actually countered that the city would have to build a public safety “super station” on Airport Boulevard near the airport, at a cost of $5 million, and estimated $15 million in initial outlay in the new areas with $7 million in recurring annual costs.
“Where’s the city’s big windfall?” he shrugged. Now, even with a $2.2 million projected annual increase in tax revenue AFTER new expenditures, Jones says this annexation proposal is too big a fiscal risk. Budgeting never was Jones’ strong point, but even he has to realize how ridiculous he sounds.
- Jones ran on annexation. Here’s what he said about annexation in his first sit-down with Lagniappe in 2007: “It is a very high priority of ours, and something I think is essential to the overall growth and development of the city of Mobile.”
Last week, in an opinion piece for al.com, he wrote: “There are just too many unanswered questions, not enough hard information and still much work to be done in our current city to move forward with this proposal right now.”
Sounds like Jones’ bar for supporting annexation has gotten much higher since he left Government Plaza.
- The “elephant in the room” is bigger than you might think. Mobile is in the rather unusual position of being able to reverse decades of population loss through annexation, but this proposal was only the tip of the iceberg. Stimpson’s office attempted to have the proposed annexation do as little as possible to change the city’s current racial makeup in hopes of winning the votes of at least one or two of the black councilmen who voted against it. But everyone seems to agree there are likely far more than 13,000 people interested in joining Mobile.
The “police jurisdiction” (PJ), the area outside city limits currently patrolled by Mobile Police Department, covers roughly 70,000 people. During this process, other groups voiced disappointment they weren’t part of the plan to join the city, which means there could be even larger numbers of people who would vote to join Mobile if given the chance. That could indeed change the city’s demographics far more than this original proposal.
Attitudes about being part of Mobile have changed considerably over the past decade, and it’s fascinating to think perhaps tens of thousands of people would like to be part of the city now.
If the interest is strong, the City Council will be facing this issue again sooner rather than later, and possibly with even bigger numbers. Personally, I think the city should consider taking in as many people living inside the PJ as makes fiscal sense, and ethnicity shouldn’t play any roll in determining who comes in. Nothing in the Zoghby Act says it is the job of City Council to ensure Mobile remains any particular percentage white, black or other.
- In 2015 when the City Council was debating adopting the current Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that gives each councilor $3 million a year to spend on his or her district’s capital needs, Councilman Joel Daves rather presciently predicted the Balkanization of the city districts as a result. This annexation vote is proof this has come to pass.
All three councilmen who voted against annexation complained about conditions in their districts being worse than in other districts and offered that as reason for voting against the measure as a whole. But Councilman C.J. Small was even more blunt about it, saying despite not thinking annexation is good for the city, he would still vote for the referendums if the city would just write a $20 million check for him to spend on projects in District 3.
More and more it seems like we have seven fiefdoms rather than one city.
- Two things that hurt annexation efforts were the speed with which it took place and the mailing of fliers urging citizens to pressure targeted councilors to vote “yes.”
Critics of the process have a valid point in saying it moved too fast. There wasn’t enough time to shoot down disingenuous arguments or to even provide clarity to people truly trying to make an informed decision. The movement should have started earlier.
When I first read the fliers, I thought alleging that the people in the PJ were getting a free ride of sorts wasn’t a smart way to invite them to join the city. Manzie, Small and Richardson also made tremendous hay of the mailers, expressing anger over them. Jones claimed hundreds of thousands was spent on them by “shadowy” groups. The fliers also led to a conflation of money being spent in the PJ with the costs of annexation, and in general just created confusion and anger.
Next go-round, the city needs to move more methodically and the mail-out people should find better things to do with their money.
- Those who voted against annexation did so under the guise of being financially sound, but they now advocate raiding the city’s “rainy day fund” for pet projects. They also voted NOT to halve the PJ’s size three years ago, but now claim the city spends too much money there. News articles from 2016 show those expenses were discussed openly in council meetings, so they knew the costs when they killed that measure.
Not to put too fine a point on the fiscal hypocrisy, but Richardson in particular routinely howls about his district not getting enough money, but wastes thousands of discretionary dollars every year he’s not running for office jetting all over the world.
It’s just so hard to believe their vote on this came from some new interest in fiscal conservatism.
- Opponents of annexation have held up Huntsville as the city that should be our model for growth. Annexation is part of Huntsville’s growth plan.
- I still haven’t heard an annexation opponent name a city ringed by bedroom municipalities that doesn’t end up being financially strangled by that arrangement. I’m waiting.
- If the PJ and its 70,000 inhabitants incorporated, it would be the second-biggest city in the county. If there’s enough money there to start a new city, wouldn’t there also be enough to join Mobile?
- Expect annexation to be one of the major planks of Sandy Simpson’s re-election platform.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
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