November 21, 2014
Mayor William S. Stimpson
The City of Mobile
205 Government Street
Mobile, AL 36602
Dear Mayor Stimpson:
I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.
– Johannes Kepler
(1571 – 1630)
A German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer.
October marked the end of your first year in office. Earlier this month, two local media outlets reviewed your job performance; one even sought input from citizens. Both gave you passing grades, an A- and a B-, respectively. I thought I would add my own two cents to the discussion. First, I must say that I’ve never felt more insulted or rejected in my dealings with a politician than with you, from our one meeting prior to your announcement as a candidate for mayor and now as mayor of Mobile. Anger and disappointment are just some of the feelings that have repeatedly come to the surface when I think about your mighty ambitions for this troubled town – picking up trash, replacing crumbling sidewalks and refreshing the city’s parks and ball fields with new sod. Really? Only in Mobile would that agenda be taken seriously.
Compared this to the investments made in Mobile by the Retirement Systems of Alabama’s CEO Dr. David G. Bronner who built two 18-hole championship golf courses (Magnolia Grove), the state’s tallest office building (the RSA Tower) while refurbishing and reopening The Battle House Hotel, The Grand Hotel (at Point Clear) and now the Van Antwerp Building. Your goals for your hometown and your administration sound like a bad joke. I hope this risky initiative of yours gets you inducted into the U.S. Mayor’s Hall of Fame, if such a thing even exists. In your first few weeks on the job you accused the previous administration (Sam Jones) of nearly bankrupting the city. Grade: “F”
On your watch, you let one of our few remaining publicly-traded companies, International Shipholding Corporation, with annual revenues of $310,000,000 (2013) and a $7 million administrative payroll (over 100 employees) move its headquarters back to Louisiana over a $750,000.00 penalty imposed on them by the state without even saying a peep, publicly. How much did we spend on recruiting and investing in the Airbus project? Your first pick, “your man” to be the city’s next fire chief never got his name put on the city council’s agenda for a vote because of poor strategy and out of fear – you chose to delay it. His nomination was already in trouble due to a reverse discrimination lawsuit that he filed and won four-years ago, which was now being held against him by, at least, one black city council member. It took a questionable car accident in his city vehicle and later a sex scandal involving fire fighters bringing their girlfriends back to the firehouse to send his nomination up in smoke! Grade: “F”
Like any good Republican who hates any and all taxes, you dangled the renewal of the one cent sales tax up for all to see and give a comment on. You already had it in the bag, but you played the “I hate taxes” card to show voters your disdain for this tax while giving yourself a potential problem. Your “aim” was to merely extend it for two more months to coincide with the end of the next fiscal year (2014-2015). In reality, the city needs that extra money for years to come to pay down a $280 million debt and to pay for your 844 red dot projects that total in the tens of millions of dollars, in new spending. This one-cent sales tax brings in an additional $31 million, annually, to the city. You repeatedly talk to the media as though the city could live without it. That’s simply not true; it’s wishful thinking. You should send the city council a thank you note this Christmas for doing what you wouldn’t do, which was to extend the tax for another three years and thus take the entire issue off the table. Poor leadership. Grade: “F”
Given your background working for 40 years at a family lumber business, raised in privilege, married into more privilege and living in one of Mobile’s affluent neighborhoods, one might expect you to be pretty immune to the opinions and criticisms of family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, complete strangers and from this writer. At 62, you should be pretty confident in your leadership style to act in a manner that’s goes above the fray and be able to make the hard choices, but to my very surprise that’s simply not the case. It looks like what others think has a profound affect on how you govern and move in public. Your handling of, both, Randy Smith’s nomination for fire chief and the one cent sales tax renewal showed a lot of dancing and sidestepping rather than plowing straight-forward, at the first opportunity, with confidence in your plan while having reality to your backside. If not addressed, this character flaw will remain a problem for you in the years to come and could become your undoing. Grade: “D”
After accusing former Mayor Sam Jones of some degree of corruption or recklessness, you supported his appointment to the Mobile Area Water & Sewer System board of directors only after a deeply divided city council along racial lines whose debate on the issue exploded at its prior meeting like a shell that was fired from the USS Alabama. The white majority blocked council member Fred Richardson’s nomination (Jones) solely because of your administration’s original allegations. Meaning you caused that city council fight and you became the conflict’s hero. Smooth move! Grade: “C”
Your proposed budget for fiscal year 2014-15 was set “in stone” and all set to be approved as chiseled, but something happened along the way to the city council meeting. You skipped it and they rewarded you in kind by altering it and passing something else, instead. From Washington, you sat helpless to their actions. You were in the nation’s capital seeking federal support for an $850 million bridge whose construction won’t be started anytime soon, which begs the question why leave Mobile on that particular day? Upon your return home, you immediately vetoed their veto-proof (5-2) vote only to have your effort overturned by the same city council, in a second vote. Of all the city council meetings held that one seems to be a pretty important one to make as mayor. In hindsight, couldn’t that meeting, with transportation officials, in D.C. wait until the following day, the next month… any other time? The city council made you look like the rookie mayor that you were. Poor strategy! Grade: “F”
In this same time period, I think I’ve had a much better year. I wrote to many in my audience, and surprisingly, I heard back from quite a few. In October, I received an email from President Barack Obama and The White House regarding my film on mental illness. Georgia’s legendary defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook, 85, who is thought to be the inspiration behind TV’s Matlock starring Andy Griffith, wrote to me about another matter. I was a guest on the Chuck Morse Radio Show, out of Boston, MA, to discuss mental illness and its stigma, this fall. Earlier in the year, I was invited to speak at FreedomFest, in Las Vegas, NV, last summer by its founder and producer Mark Skousen, PhD while RSA’s CEO Dr. David G. Bronner agreed to light up the RSA’s properties, in downtown Mobile, in Orange and Blue to celebrate Auburn playing Florida State in the National Championship Game (BCS), last January. It was pretty cool to see and it turned out better than Auburn’s 2nd half play.
I heard from Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) over the issue of moving the airport, exchanged emails with former Congressman Jo Bonner (R-AL). Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) (her fourth-time), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) responded to my various essays. I spoke by phone with former United States Comptroller General and head of the Government Accounting Office (1998-2008) Hon. David M. Walker about his failed run for Lt. Governor of Connecticut, this fall. He asked me to callback after the November elections. I got some positive feedback to my essays from a professor with the Harvard Medical School and an economics professor at Australian National University. The best part of all this name-dropping is that the substance of my writing provoked them to write back to me, not as a result of me cajoling them.
What’s missing is your name and members of the city council? Mobile has a bad reputation for not supporting its own talent. We seem to do a pretty good job of supporting our athletes, but not much else. That’s got to stop. Jimmy Buffett and Hank Aaron quickly come to mind and both can attest to it. We’ve paid a high price for the poor treatment to our own world-class citizens because they leave and they never come back. “Your man” (in Tuscaloosa) puts it this way…
Mediocre people don’t like high achievers, and high achievers don’t like mediocre people.
– Nick Saban
(1951 – )
Head Football Coach, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide
Well said. Under your leadership, this practice of promoting mediocrity in government and in society seems to be continuing. Your work habits at privately-owned Gulf Lumber Company are now your work habits as mayor of Mobile, for all to see. You certainly make a good show horse (photogenic), but the city also needs a real work horse. Someone who can make things happen – “a mover and shaker”. Are only the children from prominent families and your friends to be supported in Mobile while all others are ignored regardless of their success? I love seeing you and your wife posing with former Alabama players who could run a football into the end zone, but they probably failed to finish college and get their degree. It’s intellectual talent that launches new industries and companies, but this new power can also be a threat to the old guard. Either, you’re “your own man” or you see yourself as part of the old gentry that doesn’t want to see any real changes to our city. If voters really knew your deepest feelings about how you see yourself relative to the rest of us before they returned to the ballot box, they would be in shock. You’ve shown no interest in improving the city’s failing public schools after sitting on UMS-Wright’s board of directors for over 25 years. You’ve shown no interest in promoting home-grown companies and taking them to the next level, identifying the city’s next generation of leaders and bringing them together or making downtown and the city of Mobile really come alive.
In an attempt to reduce or eliminate the stigma of mental illness, I just produced a short film on famous people with mental illness and how the education system has long ignored the link of madness with achievement and discovery because it doesn’t fit with their storyline that they sell to kids and parents – hard work, get A’s and you’ll get to the top. The reviews for this 18-minute film have been enthusiastic. I’ve gotten a lot emails from friends all over the city. A mental health professional in Orlando, FL wrote to me saying that she showed it to 200 people, one Saturday night. It’s fun to see an idea materialize, get embraced by others and then begin to snowball. As a result, I’m inclined to submit my film to one of the top independent film festivals, next year.
Here’s one Mobilian tinkering in his “workshop” and he puts together this film with transformative (The state of being transformed.) qualities. That’s what geniuses do. Preachers spend their entire careers writing and delivering sermons every Sunday in an attempt to achieve this same goal with their congregations. Sadly most fail. What does the mayor have to say or the city council? Nothing! It cost nothing to give an “Ata boy!” and spur someone onward in their next endeavor. It really doesn’t. Mobilians from all walks of life need to hear an “Ata boy!”, know that we’re valued as citizens and neighbors and that our efforts are appreciated. Of course, Mobile has a real mental health problem and as city officials you should be the first to know it. Don’t believe me then go ask any ER physician or nurse, Mobile Police Chief James Barber, Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran or one of his wardens at the Metro Jail?
If you haven’t stopped your busy life and watched the film, I would encourage you to. However, you’re not alone in your resistance. I couldn’t get “my friend” who is the proprietor of The Crescent Theater, Max Morey, to take time out of his life to view it, to give support and encouragement to a new local filmmaker. It’s moments like that that you see how one-sided a friendship can be. No one, in this town, wants to work with one another, to encourage one another, to make Mobile a more livable city. We’re surrounded by water and yet the city’s well is indeed dry and you’re doing nothing to replenish it. You make it all about you, you’re very egocentric. You live in a state of unconsciousness, you’re unaware of your own problems and clueless to the city’s. You lead with your ego and I’m writing from my heart.
Two newly-elected officials, one a city council member and the other a county commissioner, both, insisted that I stop writing to them. With attitudes like yours and theirs, how can anyone bring their ideas to our public officials that might improve the quality of life for all? How can this community grow by solving its problems when y’all really don’t want to be bothered with fresh thinking? If y’all don’t want to be educated adults, why hold public office in the first place? Oh yea, the perks! The inability of the mayor or the city council to show support for others successes especially the next generation is further proof that we got problems. If we can’t show support for each other in this one life, what value is having a community?
From the Eastern Shore and with the internet, I can compete intellectually with those working at the highest levels of politics in Washington, in New York, across America and around the world. Writing to my global audience allows me to say what no one else is saying. It’s to say what I believe is the truth while keeping me from going completely mad. I write for my sanity’s sake. It’s to interject some reality in all the b.s. that’s being said by Baby-boomers, on TV and on the Internet. Mobile is an insane community, toxic to one’s spirit, to one’s life and your failure to recognize it drives me crazy.
Every time I walk down Dauphin Street, I see the same green bicycle leaning up against a sign post and it brings back memories of you riding it in circles, last spring, while smiling for the media’s cameras. I bet not a single visitor to Mobile has checked it out and ridden it down one of our backstreets. This initiative is proof of government solving problems that don’t exist. We continue to misunderstand tourism and how it works. Grade: “F”
Mobile suffers from infrastructure issues which affect the flow of the city. Our regional airport is one of them based on research that I’ve conducted. It shows MOB as being uncompetitive with two other nearby airports and being underutilized given the area’s population. Residents are choosing to drive to get cheaper airfare and fly out of one of the other two cities. If MOB were a for-profit business, it would be out of business! Moving the airport back to Brookley Aeroplex would be a good signature project for any mayor while being low risk. When you led that delegation of mayors and county officials to Washington to promote the construction of the I-10 Bridge over the Mobile River, I was told that originally everyone was scheduled to depart out of Pensacola International Airport, but you asked the group to rebook their tickets out of Mobile Regional Airport (MOB).
Doing things for appearance sake is an extremely poor reason to do anything and I believe that’s been Mobile’s problem for some time. It’s become America’s problem. You cost the taxpayers of these cities and counties additional money just so everyone could say they flew out of Mobile. How wonderful! Rather than admit that my argument for moving the airport back has some merit like lower airfares and more flights instead you wasted additional tax dollars to avoid facing this fact, altogether. You could have told those officials on that same trip that you needed a new airport, just as easily because it’s a real need. Had you done this, I wouldn’t have cared which airport you chose to fly out of or through to get to Washington! Grade: “F”
Repeatedly you spoke on the campaign trail and now while in office about your plan “to make Mobile the safest, the most business-friendly, family-friendly city in America by 2020”. In August, I sent your office a letter requesting a copy of that plan under Alabama Open Records law (see page 8). I got neither an acknowledgement of my letter nor the information that I requested. I guess your administration is choosing to be like the Obama Administration neither transparent nor law-abiding. You’re quickly catching on! Personally, I don’t think the plan even exists for the very fact that no one in your administration has the brainpower to put it together. The plan is just more political rhetoric – dishonest government at work – the voters keep falling for it with each newly-elected politician. As an old friend of mine would say, “It’s all smoke and mirrors.” The only way your 2020 plan can be achieved is by locking up a lot of black men. Watch out! Why should we, white people, care about that? Grade: “F”
For the second year in a row (2013, 2014), Mobile made the Gallup Organization’s list of ten most miserable cities in America. You might think a new mayor would want to get to the bottom of this matter because of all the bad press it could generate. It certainly sounds bad and when a journalist, Julie Zeveloff with Business Insider, wrote an unfavorable article about the port city using the research organization’s data alone her story went viral. With Gallup’s Chairman Jim Clifton already in my audience, I made arrangements to sit-in on a webinar with one of their technicians to learn how and why our city was scoring so poorly. I had the wherewithal to invite the mayor and all the city council members to join, but none of them accepted my offer. While the city’s physical and mental health issues may be real, I found the data that Gallup was pulling from to be quite old. If I were the mayor of Mobile, I would have written Mr. Clifton a letter demanding that he take the city off that list or face a lawsuit. The mayor didn’t because he didn’t know to. I made the investment in time and I learned something new, Sandy didn’t. That’s the difference between excellence and mediocrity. Grade: “F”
My old, but wise State Farm agent use to always say about giving speeches – there’s the one that you think you’re going to give, there’s the one that you gave and then there’s the one that you wished you had given, but didn’t. I think the same can be said of politicians, their time in office and their legacies. You’ve spent 20 years waiting for this moment to arrive, to be the mayor of Mobile, now you’re and look at how low you set the bar for yourself, for this city and the expectations of its residents. One day, it will all be over and you’ll be wishing that you had done it differently, that you tried harder, that you aimed higher, that you surrounded yourself with the city’s best talent even if they were your biggest critic. Is picking up trash, repairing sidewalks and laying new sod your best ideas as mayor and are these city’s greatest needs?
The tragedy of life is in what dies inside a man while he lives – the death of genuine feeling, the death of inspired response, the awareness that makes it possible to feel the pain or the glory of other men in yourself.
– Norman Cousins
(1915 – 1990)
An American political journalist, author, professor and world peace advocate.
Business Insider — The 10 most miserable cities in America, http://www.businessinsider.com/the-10-most-miserable-cities-in-america-2013-3
Cousins, Norman, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Cousins
Goodman, Katie, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katie_Goodman
Kepler, Johannes, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Kepler
Lagniappe – Mayor Stimpson – 1st year, http://www.pageturnpro.com/Lagniappe/61609-Lagniappe-112014/index.html#1
Retirement Systems of Alabama, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retirement_Systems_of_Alabama
Saban, Nick, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Saban
WKRG – Citizens, Stimpson agree on 1st year grade, http://www.wkrg.com/story/27377613/citizens-stimpson-agree-on-first-year-grade
Copyright © 2014. All Rights Reserved. “Dear Mayor Stimpson – Your 1st Year Performance Review” by Ted Burnett
My other essays and videos can be viewed at my website – http://www.tedburnett.com. I can be contacted via email at – email@example.com.
Mr. Ted Burnett
500 Lincoln Street, Suite B-105
Daphne, AL 36526
August 13, 2014
Mayor William S. Stimpson
The City of Mobile
205 Government Street
Mobile, AL 36602
Dear Mayor Stimpson:
Re: Seeking a copy of your plan to make the city of Mobile the safest…
Under the Alabama Open Records Law § 36-12-40 et seq., I am seeking a copy of your administrations’ plan to make the city of Mobile, Alabama “the safest, most business and family-friendly city in America, by 2020.”
As a journalist, I am requesting this information for news gathering purposes. This information is not being sought for commercial purpose.
Thank you, in advance, for considering and acting on my request in a timely manner.
Cc: Mobile City Council
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange
U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions
U.S. Senator Richard Shelby
Mr. Jo Bonner