Home / Mobile / Mobile City Council, in vote along racial lines, says ‘No’ to annexation – AL.com

Mobile City Council, in vote along racial lines, says ‘No’ to annexation – AL.com

A plan pitched by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson to annex approximately 13,000 people west of the city’s limits was defeated by the City Council Tuesday along racial lines.

Four council members favored the resolution, one short of the five needed. Three council members were opposed.

The resolution would have established a special election in December for residents of three specific areas to decide whether they wished to join the city.

Voting “Yes,” were the council’s four white members: Gina Gregory, Bess Rich, Joel Daves and John Williams. Voting “No” were the council’s three black members: council President Levon Manzie, Vice President C.J. Small and Fred Richardson.

“It’s a setback,” Stimpson said afterward. “Obviously, when you do what we’ve been trying to do and end up with a vote like this, it’s disappointing.”

The vote followed comments made to the council by a wide range of voices: from two former mayors to business-community representatives.

Headed in to the meeting, Manzie was considered the swing vote on the issue, having said in recent days that he hadn’t made up his mind.

Manzie, prior to the vote, said his constituents in District 2 – which takes in downtown and neighborhoods around Midtown – opposed the annexation. “I’m going to lean on the directives of those who sent me here to Government Plaza,” he said.

Manzie said his decision wasn’t based on changes that the annexation would bring to the city’s racial demographics. The annexation, if successful, would have altered the city’s racial balance from 50% black-45.4% white to 48.8% black-46.7% white. Overall, Mobile would’ve maintained its majority-minority population, a fact that annexation supporters had highlighted.

The largest area proposed for annexation was termed the “Schillinger Corridor,” consisting of about 11,000 residents west of Cody Road. This area is 69% white-22% black.

The rest of the plan included annexing properties at Airport Boulevard and Snow Road (706 residents) and the Kings Branch subdivision and surrounding areas near Semmes (580 residents).

Del Sawyer, who headed up a pro-annexation group within the Schillinger Corridor, said, in retrospect, that it was “wishful thinking” on his part that a special election would occur as soon a December.

“We’re not finished,” said Sawyer, explaining that his group will continue looking for ways in which the city will bring in unincorporated areas that are interested in annexation.

‘Second largest city’

Mobile annexations

The yellow shaded areas indicate three corridors in which the city of Mobile is looking to annex into the city limits. (map provided by the city of Mobile).

What is finished are hopes that an annexation would occur prior to the 2020 Census, boosting Mobile’s population past 200,000.

Stimpson had said that the addition of 13,000 residents would make Mobile the state’s second-largest city, topping Huntsville (197,318) and Montgomery (198,218) while trailing Birmingham (209,880).

Huntsville, however, is growing at a much faster clip than Mobile. According to Census estimates, Huntsville added more than 2,200 residents between 2017 and 2018. And it continues to annex properties, including a 120-acre tract earlier this year that is viewed as a key to revitalizing the city’s south end.

Huntsville’s growth, and Mobile’s long stagnation, were emphasized Tuesday by former Mobile Mayor Sam Jones, who spoke to the City Council in opposition to Stimpson’s plan. His comments came after former Mayor Mike Dow spoke out in support of annexation.

Jones said he was skeptical of the demographic data presented by Stimpson’s office about the annexation’s effects. He also expressed doubts that the annexation would push Mobile to become the second-largest city in Alabama.

In fact, he said, “Huntsville is going to be the largest city in Alabama,” with Birmingham sliding back to No 2. “The most we can hope to do is stay at No. 3.”

Jones, the city’s first black mayor, served from 2005-2013, being defeated by Stimpson in 2013 and again in 2017.

Dow, who who served from 1989-2005, said he felt Mobile risked becoming landlocked and unable to expand because of smaller cities incorporating around it.

“You won’t find people coming in to invest here if we get off track and lose our compass of what’s important,” said Dow. “What’s important is growing this city.”

Gregory echoed his concerns by saying that a city like Semmes could continue to be aggressive in annexing land. Semmes city officials have recently said they want to add more properties into their city limits, and are touting a fairly new full-time fire department that consists of three stations and a headquarters overseen by 25 employees.

“They make no bones on the fact that they are trying to grow and are taking in neighborhoods,” said Gregory. “We are going to be landlocked to the west if we don’t do something to grow our city.”

Also dead is an effort to push Mobile’s population above a point where the city would have been eligible for larger federal grants to pay for more police officers or more equipment.

The city, in recent weeks, attempted to make the argument that eclipsing a 200,000-resident threshold would have made Mobile more attractive for larger grants through the U.S. Department of Justice.

‘Elephant in the room’

Missing from much of the discussion Tuesday was the issue of racially polarized voting that persists in the South and elsewhere in the U.S. Some council members have denied that altering the city’s racial demographics mattered in their decision.

Richardson, in past weeks, said that he felt 2021 mayoral politics were a reason behind Stimpson’s annexation push. Richardson has said he plans to run for mayor next year; Stimpson remains uncommitted.

Still, race was described by some as the “elephant in the room” during the annexation talks.

On Tuesday, Jones said, “There is nothing wrong with discussing racial polarization in voting. It happens every day. That’s why we have districts. How do you think these folks got onto the City Council. In 1984, it wasn’t there.”

Jones was referring to changes wrought by the 1985 Zoghby Act, which set up the city’s present form of government.

Four decades ago, Wiley Bolden brought forward a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Mobile’s black voters that alleged discrimination in the city’s then-commissioner former of government. At that time, three commissioners guided city affairs and were elected by voters at-large.

The lawsuit, Mobile vs. Bolden, made its way to the U.S Supreme Court in 1980, and ultimately led to a government revolution in the city.

In 1985, under the Zoghby Act, Mobile created its existing council-mayor form of government, and black candidates have been elected to the council ever since.

Richardson and Small said the city needs to concentrate resources within areas where the largest concentration of minorities live and where infrastructure needs are large. They said that it makes no sense to grow the city when there’s already a backlog of infrastructure projects awaiting work.

“My vote is ‘No’ and it’s based on the fact that the money taken in won’t service us,” said Richardson, whose district is overwhelmingly black. The Stimpson administration estimated that the newly annexed areas would have provided a net revenue gain of about $2.2 million after the first five years.

Danny Patterson, who is black and is a homeowners association representative in the Schillingers Corridor, said that the area where he lives has become more “diverse” in his 32 years there. He said his neighborhood group, which represents the Smithfield subdivision, overwhelmingly supported annexation.

Manzie, the swing voter, said, “It’s not black, it’s not white, it’s not rich and it’s not poor. It’s a community-wide conversation that I think we all need to engage in and I’m willing to do my part.”

Timing and fliers

Annexation flyer

Flyers were circulated in neighborhoods around Mobile in recent days in an effort to push for support of annexation. (supplied image).

Stimpson said that his proposal was driven because people living west of the city limits approached him about it. He said that he supported annexation only if it started organically and from grassroots initiatives.

Stimpson recounted a 2014 comment he made to the local media in which he said he was “focused on growing the city from within the city limits,” but that if people wanted to be part of Mobile, “we’ll engage with them.”

Stimpson also took issue with allegations from annexation opponents that he was attempting to fast-track the issue. The proposal first became public in October, but the mayor said he had been discussing the annexation plan with individual council members earlier this summer.

The pro-annexation efforts by Sawyer and his group have been ongoing for over a year.

“I can tell you that if we rolled this out earlier, it would not have made any difference in my opinion,” Stimpson said. “It should not have come as a surprise or as some devious plan.”

Stimpson, meanwhile, declined to denounce campaign-style fliers that were distributed to households in Manzie’s and Small’s districts. The fliers were ridiculed in recent weeks by the two council members as having “backfired” on their intent, which was to encourage residents to push their council members to support annexation.

Stimpson has denied involvement. The fliers were mailed out by a group calling itself Mobile Policy Forum Inc., whose executive director is someone who worked on Stimpson’s re-election campaign two years ago.

One of the fliers showed a picture of a check for $27 million with the caption, “You’re paying someone else’s bill.” It suggested that residents west of Mobile’s city limits receive free city services “but don’t pay taxes like you do.”

Manzie said the flier “woke up a sleeping giant” which led to a host of phone calls and emails to his office asking about $27 million being spent outside the city limits. That, in turn, led to talk of reducing the size of the city’s police jurisdiction, which encompasses a well-populated area 3 miles west of the city’s limits.

Said Stimpson, “I heard the comments made. You take what you hear at face value. We know how they feel about it.”


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