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The Political Round-Up

City workers see red over proposed pay cut 

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
City firefighters, police officers and other city employees are expected to descend on City Hall tomorrow when city officials meet for the first time since a proposal to cut workers' pay.

A City Council meeting is set for 10:30 a.m., following the council's standard pre-meeting conference at 9 a.m. The council's finance committee will meet at 2 p.m. 

Citing lagging tax revenues, Mobile Mayor Sam Jones recently said employee pay may be slashed by five to 15 percent across the board to keep the FY 2009-2010 budget in balance.

Amid skepticism and criticism last summer, Jones offered a rosy scenario budget that included a projection of nearly $21 million in attrition as city personnel retired or quit to pursue more lucrative employment despite the country's crippling recession. The previous fiscal year's attrition figure had been just under $12.6 million. Coincidentally, the difference is almost exactly the $8.4 million that city budget officers now project as the city's shortfall in annual revenues.

Other issues may boost the total negative adjustment to $14.4 million, according to city officials. 

City Councilwoman Connie Hudson was chief among the doubters who suggested that keeping up with Jones' FY 2009-10 proposed budget required Baryshnikov-like leaps of faith. In hopes of avoiding layoffs or pay cuts last fall, Jones bet on a second quarter economic recovery in Mobile where operational funding derives largely from volatile sales tax revenues.  

During last summer's budget process, Jones' chief of staff Al Stokes and CIty Councilman Fred Richardson cited the mayor's 20-year mastery of governmental budgets, with all three maintaining that should the nay-sayers be proven right, the Jones administration would adjust expenditures as necessary.

The unpopular pay cuts, which Jones advanced as preferable to layoffs, apparently will require action by the City Council, according to Hudson.

The relevant legalese, according to the council's attorney, charges the mayor with revising the appropriations to forestall a deficit, "provided, however, that there shall be no reduction in salaries except by order of the council, or as authorized by law."

"The mayor said back in September whatever adjustments needed to be made to avoid a deficit he was prepared to make those and, I guess, he'll get that opportunity, unfortunately," Hudson said. "Unfortunately, for our city and for our city employees, particularly devastating in the public safety area. I only wish the council had been apprised sooner. We never got a complete picture of the city's financial condition until last week."

According to Hudson, the city's executive leadership provided the council pieces to the puzzle but never enough to form a recognizable picture.

"We're just finding out the scope of this situation in the last week," she said. "Had I known the severity of this financial crisis we're in, certainly every expenditure on the agenda would've been questioned and I can't say that everything we agreed to support would've been supported under these circumstances. It was never represented to us that we were in an absolute crisis but that is what we are in."

As an elected representative with a responsibility to the public, Hudson suggested it was doubly frustrating to recognize and fear an unwise path, only to be blind-folded and led down it.

"We knew (generally) that sales and use taxes were lagging, like with the county, but we never knew how it all came into play," she said. "We can only operate on the information given us by the administration."

Hudson said she can only hope the city's financial condition is not even worse.

"I have no idea; I'm just fearful, period," she said. "To say I'm confident (that the city has the situation in hand) would be carrying it too far. Right now there are a lot of factors that could effect the overall projections that we've been given. There's always a chance it could be even worse. And here we are, half way through the fiscal year and trying to deal with it."     
 
Elsewhere ...

The Mobile Count Democratic Party and the Mobile Area Democratic Association raised about $4,000 during a fund raiser at Cafe 615 last week. Several candidates for office spoke, including Prichard City Council president and House District 98 contender Napoleon Bracy who was plain-spoken in his negative assessment of incumbent HD 98 state Rep. James Gordon. Michel Nicrosi spoke in behalf her bid for the Attorney General's office. Ron Sparks pitched himself for the party's gubernatorial nomination. Interim party chairman Reggie Copeland said the event was just the first in a series of similar gatherings intended to boost Democratic prospects through this election cycle.

The Mobile City Council District 7 Community meeting is set for Thursday, April 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Mobile Museum of Art, according to Councilwoman Gina Gregory. New Police Chief Michael Williams is the guest speaker. All state legislators who represent the district have also been invited to speak.

The Mobile Police Department recently withdrew from the FBI's Violent Crimes Task Force. An FBI spokesman confirmed the report, adding that he expected MPD to rejoin the cooperative law enforcement initiative before too long. Mobile Police Chief Michael T. Williams did not return a call seeking an explanation for the move.

Congressional candidate Peter Gounares traveled to Birmingham Monday to hand deliver qualifying papers and fee for entry in the June 1 Republican primary.  According to Gounares, a grand opening of his campaign headquarters tentatively is set for Wednesday, April 7. The headquarters will be located in 2032 Plaza, 2032 Airport Blvd. Suite B in Mobile. Gounares is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner for the GOP nomination.

A fundraising reception for Democratic candidate for Attorney General Michel Nicrosi is set for Thursday, April 8 from 5-7 p.m. at Gallery 54, 54 Upham Street in midtown Mobile. For more information visit her website.

The airwaves are starting to heat up with political commercials as primary elections loom just two months away. GOP gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne launched a new ad aimed at highlighting his record as a fiscal conservative and reformer of the two-year junior college system in Alabama.
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