Race takes center state in heated Mobile City Council annexation debate

Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 6:41 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Long-simmering tensions over Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s push to expand the city limits boiled over Tuesday, with two black city councilmen citing race as a leading factor.

In the past, council members have avoided emphasizing concerns over demographics when it comes to annexation. But Councilmen William Carroll and Cory Penn explicitly mentioned the city’s white-black population breakdown.

“In the black community, the elephant in the room is that it’s a fear of dilution,” said Carroll, who represents District 2. “It’s the fear of the small majority that the black community holds in the voting population of 3 percent will dilute.”

Added Penn, who represents District 1: “You cannot deny that certain communities look different than other communities. You can’t deny that.”

Mobile only recently narrowly became a majority-black city. That was a major issue in the complicated and sometime-contentious process of redrawing the council district boundaries after the 2020 census.

“You cannot deny that when I enter a room, there’s not a lot of black people in that room when we talk about major decisions in the city of Mobile,” Penn said.

Stimpson has made halting the city’s declining population a top priority dating back to before his 2021 re-election campaign. The council shot down a previous proposal in 2019. The mayor has indicated he plans to try again, with an even bigger annexation attempt. But he has yet to present a formal proposal and continues to face skepticism among the black council members.

Carroll and Penn, along with Council President C.J. Small, have expressed concern that annexing areas west of the city would divert resources away from their districts east of Interstate 65. Small said his constituents in District 3 often ask about insufficient city services.

“They believe that the city has not really invested back into their neighborhoods, or invested in their neighborhoods between infrastructure and even picking up trash,” he said.

Small said those are questions the administration needs to answer.

“Until those questions are painted, and until all the concerns are addressed (on behalf of) the people that people that put me here in this seat, I’m not moving,” he said.

Complaints that the older neighborhoods in the city’s majority-black areas get slighted in city spending brought a forceful response from Councilmen Scott Jones and Joel Daves. They said the city’s projections show the new areas would bring in millions of dollars more than it would cost to provide services to them.

“It’s all about the money. It’s all about the money,” said Daves, who represents District 5.

Jones, who represents District 6, said before the end of the third quarter, the city had spent $109 million on capital projects in Carroll’s district, versus $13 million in his.

“I am sick and tired of hearing how much money goes into west Mobile and west Mobile is taken care of, where this area is not,” he said. “The facts are not there to support that.”

The city’s population has fallen below 185,000. Boosting that above 200,000 is key to eligibility for certain grants based on population, the Stimpson administration has argued. Jones said he supports that and added that there is only one way to do it.

“If you shut off west Mobile to growth, you will kill this city,” he said.

James Barber, the mayor’s chief of staff, told FOX10 News that the city always considers demographics when it comes to annexation.

“But I think a lot of them are gonna have to answer their questions as far as wheat they believe is wrong with the map or any of the plans as far as race,” he said.

David Richey, who lives outside the city limits, told council members that he would like the opportunity to vote to join Mobile. Richey, who is black, said he believes opposition by some to annexation is misguided.

“It seems to be based on the supposition that blacks only vote for blacks, and whites only vote for whites,” he said.

Beverly Cooper, co-founder of Stand Up Mobile, addressed the council to criticize a lack of transparency in the process. She said it is obvious by the comments of council members that they have discussed the issue with the mayor.

“We believe these conversations should be held in public,” she said.

Added Cooper: “Please show us the plan and engage the community in the discussion. We just might surprise you.”

Candace Cooksey, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the administration has been working on a proposal with the city’s legal and revenue departments, and is still determining which neighborhoods outside the city might like to come in.

“The face of the matter is, it’s just not ready. … There will be plenty of public conversation and opportunity for that,” she said.


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