Jones said the city is working with Airbus and Hoar Program Management now to help minorities get work. Stimpson said that should have been done on the front end and not after the fact. The topic of diversity is what led to the first of several heated responses from Jones.
Carter asked how to ensure fair and diverse hiring practices throughout the city and Stimpson led off the responses.
“I can tell you Scotch Gulf Lumber employees are the exact replica of the makeup of the city,” he said. “So the proof is in the pudding.”
Jones questioned the positions of the minorities hired.
“We all know it’s about the station they’re in. When I talk about diversity, I’m not talking about the laborers working in the mill,” he said. “We know there is not a genuine goal for diversity in the city.”
Stimpson argued once again the mayor has had plenty of time to work on that issue.
“The opportunity to work on this has been there for several years,” he said. “And Scotch Gulf Lumber doesn’t just hire minorities for laborers. Twenty percent of our management is minority. It’s a family-owned company so a lot of the upper management is family.”
The next diversity question was about what each candidate thought diversity means.
Jones said it means a genuine effort for everybody to get a chance to get a job. Stimpson said diversity is not just about race, but also about gender.
With many Baldwin County residents earning their paychecks in the city of Mobile, Jones and Stimpson were asked how they would try to lure them back to Mobile.
The mayor offered two reasons why people are moving, but didn’t say how he would keep them from moving.
“We know why they’re moving. They’re moving because other kind of people are moving near them. They’re moving because they think Baldwin County is a better place. We all know where they get their paychecks from … Mobile,” he said. “I think Mobile’s quality of life is better than (Baldwin County). You know, if we don’t build (the I-10) bridge, they can’t get home.”
Stimpson also said reasons why people are moving, but said what he would do to stop that.
“People are moving because they don’t feel safe,” he said. “Look at their parks and look at our parks. Look at their bike paths and look at our bike paths. Where are our bike paths? Look at their walking trails and look at our walking trails.
“The quality of life is a lot higher there and it has been. Airbus won’t solve the quality-of-life problem here.”
Stimpson said the city hasn’t spent any money on the parks in years except for the funds coming from Mobile County.
Jones then took a swipe at Stimpson.
“Maybe you’ve spent too much time on the hill and need to come down into the valley … because that is where the people are,” he said. “The city has spent money on parks. We just created two more in Mobile Terrace and Theodore. We’re also making improvements to Herndon and Seals.”
The parks in Mobile Terrace and Theodore were created because it was a condition of their annexation into the city in 2008 — nearly five years after the city promised them.
Also, Herndon, which is also known as Sage Park, and Seals parks are being improved by money allotted from the county, which is giving the city nearly $1 million for renovations.
The next heated remark from Jones came when the candidates were asked about education.
The mayor’s position does not have legal standing with the Mobile County Public School System, but Jones and Stimpson both felt the mayor should have a bigger presence.
Jones took it one step further telling Stimpson, “This is probably one of the few public schools you’ve ever been in.”
Transparency in government has been something people have been calling for throughout the nation, but when asked about openness in Mobile, the candidates had very different responses.
“If the city was transparent, then you wouldn’t have the (Citizens Budget and Finance Advisory Committee) begging for information,” Stimpson said.
Jones said he thinks the city is one of most transparent in the state.
“All of our financial documents are online. If they don’t have a computer, then they need to get one,” he said. “I think Mozle is one of the most transparent cities in Alabama.”
In fact, many city-generated records are not online and those wishing to see them must rely on city employees to supply them. City Council members have complained in stories done earlier this year by Lagniappe about an inability to get records from the city and Lagniappe is currently involved in a lawsuit with the Mobile Police Department concerning MPD’s refusal to release public records concerning trips taken by the Police Explorers group.
Stimpson, almost foreshadowing another question, asked the mayor about his relationship with the City Council.
“If the city is so transparent, then why is there so much trouble with the City Council and the mayor in getting information,” he asked.
Later, Carter asked how the candidates could have a harmonious relationship between the council and mayor.
This marked Stimpson’s harshest criticism of the night.
“The mayor and City Council have a problem because the council is not treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great for the mayor and council to be singing from the same sheet music with the same goal and same direction?
“With the City Council, I don’t know who threw the first rock whether it was the mayor or a councilor, but you have to ask yourself if the relationship has gone past being repairable. I think it has and it’s now time for a new mayor.”
Jones began by criticizing Stimpson’s lack of political experience, but quickly went after the City Council.
“You have a lot to learn about the political process,” he chided Stimpson. “The council thinks about their neighborhood but the mayor thinks about what is best for the city. The council has taken up to do whatever it takes to make the mayor look bad. The mayor has been dealing with conspiracies for a long time.”
Stimpson retorted by saying it is Jones’ attitude causing the problem.
“You don’t have to treat (the council) like you do,” he said. “It’s your demeanor, humility and how you treat people.”
The question of city employee raises also drew accusations from Jones.
Stimpson said he would try to get raises for employees, but he wouldn’t “use the police and fire departments as whipping posts to get a one-cent tax increase.”
Jones, who announced in the 2013 state of the city address he would push for raises, accused Stimpson of saying that wouldn’t be a responsible move.
“Aren’t you quoted in the Press-Register saying it would be irresponsible to give employees a raise,” he said.
In an April 4 Press-Register article in which Stimpson is asked about Jones’ decision to push for a raise, he said the following: “From my perspective, I think the mayor has to get a grip on the city’s finances before he starts making promises during an election year. I don’t know how the mayor plans to pay for it.”
He also said the city employees “do need a raise,” according to the article.
The question of experience had Jones’ claws out again.
Jones, who has been in public office for decades, said, “this is not just an experiment” for him.
Stimpson said, “Just because the mayor has been the mayor, it doesn’t mean he’s the most qualified.” The challenger referenced his degree in civil engineering, which would help with plans; his position as CFO, which would help understanding finances; and even his 15 years working on the factory floor at Scotch Gulf Lumber, which shows he’ll get out there and work.
Jones was not impressed, lashing out at Stimpson’s involvement in a family-owned business, his personal wealth and his work with the company.
“You said you worked for everything — you inherited everything you got! You are just over there playing when you are working,” he said. “There’s no escalator here … there’s a stairway.”
In the closing statements, each candidate reiterated their positions and Jones got in a few more jabs. Stimpson began saying he is the first mayoral candidate in many years who has announced a vision for the city.
“One of the reasons I decided to run for mayor is I’ve been to other cities and what they’ve done. It looks like they’re doing better. Our infrastructure and crime needs work,” he said. “I have a vision for Mobile. I want it to be the safest city in America. I want it to be the most business friendly and most family friendly city in America.”
Stimpson then told the audience about an incident that changed his view of public safety. His daughter was brutally beaten, but survived. He said a parent’s view and sense of importance of public safety changes when “it’s your daughter’s blood on the walls.”
Jones started where Stimpson ended.
“One thing you forgot to mention is your daughter was beaten in Birmingham … not Mobile,” he said. “It didn’t happen in Mobile.”
Stimpson did make this fact known during his Kick-Off Rally on Feb. 23.
Jones continued on in his remarks, but did say the attack on Stimpson’s daughter was “tragic anyway.”
“You haven’t had an issue with crime. There have been no calls made to police from your house,” Jones said to Stimpson. “I’m pretty comfortable where we are with crime. Are there issues we need to address? Yes.”
The incumbent concluded his remarks saying, “Mobile is a great city. I want to make it greater. We need to believe in our city.”
When Lagniappe asked Stimpson about Jones’ remarks during the debate, he once again refrained from being negative.
“I’m a little surprised by the tone of the debate,” he said. “However, (Jones’) comments made it much more certain that there is a difference between the way their campaign is going and ours is going another way. I won’t be doing any of that.”
Stimpson has pointed out the discord between the City Council and mayor for quite some time. He said Jones’ comment about the council’s alleged plot to make the mayor look bad shows the problem.
“I think that comment defines the difference between him and me. I’m not going to cast blame on people,” Stimpson said.
The next public debate in which both candidates have committed so far will take place Aug. 13. The League of Women Voters debate does not have a time or location as of press time.
Stimpson said he is looking forward to the next showdown between him and Jones.
“I’m looking forward to the next debate. Like all things people get better with practice,” he said. “I feel good with the (June 4) debate. I think the end result was people saw the difference between me and my opponent. I hope people read and see what happened and realize I’m the candidate working to complete a vision for Mobile.”
Jones did not respond to interview requests for his thoughts on the debate and his performance prior to press time.