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Lawsuit seeks to block Sept. 18 vote on city's westward annexation try

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
The city's proposal to annex four unincorporated areas just west of Mobile is a "sham" concocted for political reasons unrelated to any public good, according to a lawsuit filed in Mobile County Circuit Court today.

The suit, brought by three men who reside respectively in Areas A, B and C of the city's four-area annexation proposal, seeks to prevent the election, scheduled to go before voters on Tuesday, Sept. 18.

"The annexation lines were not drawn with the interest of 'public good' but, rather, strictly along economic and political lines and have no basis in the 'public good' but rather were drawn to avoid conflicts of interests of parties and representatives of parties and therefore, bear no rational basis to any legitimate 'public good,'" the suit states.

The Mobile City Council three weeks ago adopted resolutions calling for the elections as necessary for the "public good." 

The plaintiffs -- Jeffrey W. Harris, Furman Smith and Timothy L. Prine -- ask for a speedy hearing on their bid to block the election.

"Due to the impending vote, and the substantial public interest, and voting rights issues which are involved ..." the hearing on a request for a preliminary injunction against the election and a trial on the merits should be consolidated and expedited, according to the suit.

Named as defendants in the action are the city of Mobile and Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis.

Voters in areas designated A, B, C and D would separately determine whether to join the city.

The four areas generally exist within a corridor between Cody Road, the present city limits, and just west of Schillingers Road, which has boomed commercially in recent years, from Hitt Road on the south to Ziegler Blvd on the north.

There are a total of about 4,000 residents and almost 1,900 voters in the areas. Based on recent figures, the successful annexation of Area A would boost city sales tax revenues more than $10 million annually.

The lawsuit contends that Area A was intentionally configured to embrace the 'yes' votes in Mobile Terrace and the tax revenues along Schillingers Road.

Mobile Mayor Sam Jones has freely conceded that success was a leading consideration in crafting the annexation plan.

"While Alabama law may allow for such a practice when it is not done as a subterfuge, the practical and actual affect is that Areas B and C are potentially left as 'islands' of unincorporated areas, surrounded on all sides by the city of Mobile," the lawsuit notes.

The annexation was packaged to hold hostage Areas B and C, denying them any reasonable hope of self-directing their governmental choices and leaving them no choice except to "eventually acquiesce and ultimately annex" into the city of Mobile, the suit charges.

The city drew the lines after "pre-determining" a core of pro-annexation voters which is an abuse of its corporate power, the suit alleges.

"The 'opportunity to vote' granted to the citizens of Areas B and C is a 'sham' since the city of Mobile has reason to know that Areas B and C will most likely vote against annexation," the lawsuit reads.

The plaintiffs argue that the inclusion of Areas B and C is intended to "cloak" the election with a "robe of legitimacy."

Aware of the location of annexation opponents, the city gerrymandered the lines, leaving areas B and C as potential "islands," thereby depriving  electors of certain state and federal constitutional rights as well as creating "an almost certain outcome which serves only the city of Mobile's desires while disenfranchising the very electors, property owners and residents affected by the proposed annexation election," the lawsuit states.   

Areas B and C would likely be left as nothing more than disjointed and unconnected neighborhoods with no commercial tax base, a situation which would rob them of any prospect of self-determination through the creation of their own township or municipality, the suit reads.   

The lawsuit argues that the different boundary lines were drawn "arbitrarily, invalidly and unreasonably" excluding certain electors, including others, some on the same street in the same neighborhoods yet assigned to different areas.

"The line of annexation by encircling certain unincorporated areas would potentially place some neighbors on the one side of the street in the city of Mobile while their neighbors across the street would potentially remain in the unincorporated area of Mobile County," the lawsuit charges.

Mobile attorney Stephen E. Clements is representing the plaintiffs in the action.

The case has been assigned to Mobile County Circuit Judge Rick
Stout.
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