After being rejected twice, former Mayor Sam Jones was appointed to the board of commissioners of the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Service by the City Council June 3.
Two councilors, Joel Davis and Gina Gregory, reversed course after Mayor Sandy Stimpson intervened in the stalemate last week.
This time, District 6 representative Bess Rich was the lone “no” vote, maintaining that problems with Jones’ fiscal management and communication left him unqualified to administer the utility’s $334.4 million in assets and $91 million in annual operating revenues.
“MAWSS is like a mini-city,” Rich said. “MAWSS board members have much more fiscal and administrative responsibilities than council members. They manage budgets, marketing, lawsuits and create jobs. MAWSS board members discipline workers and we don’t. MAWSS board members evaluate and approve annual capital projects, well over $30 million a year.”
Rich said she was also concerned that Jones wanted MAWSS to takeover the city’s stormwater program. From 2009 through 2011, Jones’ administration was involved in a lawsuit against MAWSS for the replacement of damaged storm drains in and around MAWSS’ water and sewer projects.
“If the MAWSS board votes to takeover stormwater management, citizens should be prepared to pay very high water bills,” she said.
On his reversal, Daves cited a recent Wall Street Journal article that represented Mobile County as the 16th fastest-growing manufacturing center in the nation and said he was worried the appointment’s racial overtones could hurt job recruitment.
“Over the last couple of days it has become increasingly clear that this debate was spinning out of control and posed the possibility of damaging our prospects of attracting jobs to the city,” he said. “We must be a city that is prepared to recruit and accept those jobs. I was afraid that with the ongoing discussion we were having, that would impact our ability to attract jobs just as we are on the cusp of one of the greatest opportunities for job growth in the last 70 years.”
At the same time, Daves rebuked Councilman Fred Richardson’s argument that councilmembers have the “right” of confirmation of whomever they nominate to city boards, and that those nominees or appointees only represent the districts in which they live, rather than the city at large.
“While deference in the interest of comity is appropriate, in the end we must be free to do what we think is best for all the citizens of Mobile,” he said.
Gregory said the appointment was “not worth my digging in my heels and watching the community be torn apart.”
“While I have my own reservations, they just cannot override what is in the best interest of the city as a whole,” she said. “There will be larger issues than board appointments ahead that this council and the mayor will have to deal with. We have a budget coming up, we have healthcare concerns, stormwater issues and above-ground storage tanks and those are just a few. It’s time to put this behind us … it’s time for us all to get on board, let’s move forward, work together and restore harmony to our city.”
The appointment passed by a vote of 5-1. Councilman John Williams was absent, representing the city at a GoDaddy corporate function, according to Gregory. GoDaddy is the title sponsor of an annual college football bowl game that received $1.15 million from the city in 2014.
Meanwhile, Richardson wanted to clarify a statement he made a week earlier about appointing a “blind dog” to boards.
“I said that if the best a councilmember could find in their district to appoint on the board is a blind dog, and you have the courage to put that blind dog on the agenda, I’m voting for the dog,” he said. “Hopefully you can find somebody better than a dog, but if that’s all you can find, you can count on me to vote for him.”
Once again, Richardson and Councilman C.J. Small defended Jones’ tenure and financial performance, with Small calling attention to the economic environment at the time.
“Yes at the end of the fiscal year there were $4 million (deficit), but that’s sometimes why we move capital (funds) over to general funds,” Small said. “The Jones administration has served under the worst economic times of our history since 2008, so what do you expect?”
More than $250 million was transferred out of the city’s capital fund since 2004, according to a recent analysis by this newspaper, while just $72.7 million was spent on capital expenditures.
MAWSS’ next board meeting is June 16. Jones will join his former assistant Barbara Drummond on the board, which pays its commissioners $1,100 per month. Drummond, who was nominated by Small, was appointed in early February by a vote of 6-1, with Rich being the lone opponent.
In other business, the council approved a 90-day extension of time for the Planning Commission and City Council to consider recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee to amend zoning of above-ground petroleum storage tanks in certain flood-prone industrial areas.
The council also recommended the layover of an amendment the city’s litter ordinance in its entirety. The new ordinance will be discussed at a meeting of the Public Safety Committee next Tuesday.
Next week, the council is expected to:
• Approve at $189,000 contract with BPM Construction, Inc. to renovate the second floor of 200 Government Street, a building across the street from Government Plaza that houses the city’s court referral program. The renovations are expected to double the program’s space.
• Authorize a $23,947 contract with SimplexGrinnell, LP, for the replacement of fire alarms at Wright Armory.
• Authorize a $25,662 contract with Jefcoat Fence Co. for shade structures at Copeland-Cox Tennis Center.
• Authorize a $44,470 contract with Asphalt Services for drainage repairs on Driftwood Road.
• Authorize a $32,040 contract with Asphalt Services for drainage repairs on Village Green Road.
• Authorize a $15,000 contract with Thompson Engineering for a Qualified Credentialed Inspector (QCI) for storm water training.
Finally, a public hearing was also scheduled for June 17 for consideration of the revocation of the business license of D&D One Stop on Halls Mill Road, which was recently cited for selling synthetic marijuana. Police Chief James Barber said undercover officers made “multiple” purchases of spice at the business and the potential license revocation would represent a new tool for law enforcement.