The Feb. 26 Mobile City Council meeting concluded without raising the mayor positionâ€™s salary to $200,000, but the council did approve $175,000 cost for renovating a building at Brookley Aeroplex for Airbus.
During the pre-council meeting, Councilman John Williams withdrew the ordinance he sponsored that would increase the mayorâ€™s salary to $200,000 from $89,000 following the Aug. 27 election.
"(The ordinance) was grossly misunderstood,â€ť he said. "I wanted to add this to have a discussion as opposed to let this ride. I wanted to talk about it â€¦ thatâ€™s all.â€ť
Williams spoke to Lagniappe about placing the item on the agenda and said he never thought the salary would be $200,000. He also said the ordinance was placed on the agenda because it was the last time a discussion about raising the mayorâ€™s salary could be done.
The council received an e-mail the previous week from the cityâ€™s administration stating the law called for action or inaction for compensation of councilors and the mayor, Williams said.
He then asked City Council attorney Jim Rossler about sponsoring an ordinance and was informed that the item would have to be on the Feb. 26 agenda.
Law stipulates talk regarding compensation of elected officials must take place at least six months before the election cycle. The municipal elections are Aug. 27 and therefore only six months away.
Williams wanted there to be a discussion about the salary, the role of the mayor and whether or not Mobile would benefit from a council-city manager form of government.
In the council-manager form of government, the council would still perform its duties as it does now, which are to set legislation such as ordinances and resolutions. The city manager would act as a CEO in that he or she would make major decisions and represent the people. However, a manager is not elected, but appointed by the elected council. The role of mayor is more of a figurehead in this form of government.
Williams said in the Feb. 26 council meeting that people passed judgment on him before they understood his reasoning.
"I think it is right to talk about this and not just let it go. Iâ€™m glad I did this even though Iâ€™ve caught a lot of flack from both sides of the discussion,â€ť he said. "The position of mayor is not just a figurehead or just a person who is someone who argues with the City Council. He drives economic development, heâ€™s a recruiter of industry and a CEO of one of the largest cities on the Gulf Coast, which I think is the most significant one.
"At least many Mobilians thought about (the mayorâ€™s salary) in the last few days. Itâ€™s alright to talk about it. Thatâ€™s being transparent. It isnâ€™t alright to talk about people and make judgments. Iâ€™ve learned something about politics in Mobile.â€ť
City Council President Reggie Copeland thanked Williams saying he did a good job explaining his position.
Even though Williamsâ€™ ordinance garnered the most coverage, Councilor Fred Richardson was set with his own pay increase ordinance.
Richardson proposed the mayor and city council to have their pay raises tied in with the city employees. That would mean whenever the employees received a raise, then the council and mayor would also receive a pay raise.
"Iâ€™ve been on the City Council for more than 16 years and the council has not received one raise. If Iâ€™m elected again, thatâ€™s 20 years without a raise,â€ť he said. "I don't know anyone on any job who has not received a raise in 20 years. I think it's time to put a mechanism in place where all city council (members), the mayor and employees get a raise at the same time.â€ť
However, the legislation to approve this had to be done Feb. 26. Councilwoman Bess Rich held the item over for a week, which in effect killed the chance for councilors and/or the mayor to receive a raise for four years.
Another item that originally caught the councilors off guard was a request for $175,000 to pay for renovations for offices at Brookley Aeroplex. The offices would be used by Airbus during the companyâ€™s 40-month construction.
City attorney Larry Wettermark explained why the item was only brought before the council Feb. 22 and clarified it was not a new incentive for Airbus.
The Mobile Airport Authority was set to lease two construction trailers and "move the conference room aroundâ€ť to serve as the space for Airbus during the construction period, Wettermark said.
However, the discussion turned to completely renovating a building that will house Labinal, which is a part of SAFRAN Engineering Services and the first official Airbus supplier. The office for Labinal is set to be completed by the end of April.
The renovation for Labinal was for only half of the building at Brookley Aeroplex. With a contractor on site, Wettermark said the opportunity to renovate the building so quickly would not present itself again.
"The contractor told us that he could do it, but he needed to know Tuesday, which is today,â€ť Wettermark said. "I know this is last minute, but I just found out the middle of last week.â€ť
The incentive of renovating the entire building is that it can be used as an aerospace incubator or as an asset for future suppliers who can be on site with Airbus and in the same building as Labinal, Wettermark said.
"The benefits to renovating the entire building are first, there is an asset at the end,â€ť he said. "After the construction period for Airbus, then that office could be used as an aerospace incubator, which would allow start-ups a place where they wouldnâ€™t have to staff it.
"It could also be used as space for other suppliers to rent at full market value.â€ť
The councilors didnâ€™t question the idea behind it, but some asked why the city would pay for the $175,000 when it was the MAA responsibility.
Wettermark explained the quick turnaround cost of just a month would not be possible for MAA. He said the city would be paid back in economic development.
When the issue came to a vote, all but one councilor voted for the item. Councilwoman Bess Rich abstained from casting a vote, but said she wanted a more concrete payback method from MAA.
Wettermark said the $175,000 would come from revenue from the sales tax increase. One-fourth of the money raised from the tax was earmarked for the capital fund, which would provide funding for the Airbus improvements.