City still moving toward West Mobile annexation

A call from a local pastor to make an annexation process more open revealed additional details about the city’s growth plan that have not yet been released.

Rev. Cleveland McFarland, a pastor at St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church, told Mobile City Council members at a regular meeting Tuesday that he was concerned about what he believed were secret meetings on the issue.

“There are backroom meetings on annexation that I think should be made public,” he said.

When asked by Council Vice President Gina Gregory to provide an update on the annexation process, the city’s chief of staff James Barber told the board that the administration was still gathering information on the matter. He added Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office has met twice with affected groups and councillors.

“A lot has changed,” Barber said of the plan. “At some point, all the information has to be made public. We will be asking for contributions from the public.”

Stimpson’s office has been somewhat secretive about future annexation plans. District 2 City Councilman William Carroll said plans call for the addition of 26,000 residents to the city limits. But recently a spokeswoman for the city of Lagniappe said that the number would no longer be set at 26,000 new residents.

When the plan is released to the public and formally placed on the council’s agenda, the elected body will decide whether or not to allow potential residents to vote on the annexation in a referendum.

A supermajority or five council votes are required to allow the referendum. The annexation vote itself will only need a supermajority of participating voters to pass.

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A 2019 annexation push was blocked from making it to the ballot box after just four council members voted to allow the referendum. Carroll asked Barber to add a group of local pastors, including McFarland, to the administration’s list of stakeholders for future meetings.

In addition to asking for more public information about the annexation plan, McFarland asked the councilors several related questions. For example, he asked if the council had considered what prompted residents to leave Mobile. District 1 Councilman Cory Penn attempted to answer that question.

“We already know why people are moving away from Mobile,” he said. “We don’t have an apartment”

In addition, Penn said crime and a lack of resources in his district are issues. Penn said there are no sidewalks in his Beau Terra neighborhood, and he complained that he had to take his daughter to a park to teach her to ride a bike.

Regarding “backroom meetings,” Penn said everything he asked for with the annexation was disclosed.

“There were no backroom talks for me,” he said. “Everything I asked was public.”

District 6 Councilman Scott Jones assured McFarland and others that the process would be transparent. He also reiterated that he is in favor of the annexation.

“I want the city to grow,” he says. “I want us to be okay.”