For several years Mobile’s Capital Improvement Plan has been the tide that has lifted all political boats. On Tuesday, Mayor Sandy Stimpson opened a discussion on making major changes to it.
Top administration officials and the seven members of the Mobile City Council gathered for a presentation from John Guilfoyle, who has worked on the execution of the plan for four years. Guilfoyle formerly worked directly for Stantec, the company that serves as project manager for the CIP and now works for a Stantec sub-consulting firm.
His core message was that the CIP is to some extent a victim of its own success. Now in its fourth year, it steers $21 million a year to capital needs, spread evenly across the seven council districts. It has allowed council members show constituents that a fair share of city money is going to improve streets, sidewalks, parks and drainage in their districts.
But the sheer volume of work has been such that every year the city staff slips a little further behind on executing contracts and delivering the results. Those “delivery challenges” don’t meant projects that have been approved and funded won’t get done, but it means the waits will get longer and longer.
Guilfoyle said he and the administration were proposing ways “to do things a little differently” and were hoping council members would buy in to the concept. Initial reaction was mixed, with council members professing they were open to speeding up the process but clearly worried about losing the ability to be responsive to constituent concerns.
Stimpson and Guilfoyle said that adding new personnel to the city planning staff likely would be a possibility, and so would increased use of outside contract management firms. But they said a big part also would be combining smaller projects into larger contracts, to reduce the overall number of contracts.
Guilfoyle and others said that core principles — such as even spending from district to district, and council members have a big say in setting priorities — would remain. But they also said there would have to be “a balance” between fine-grained control and economies of scale.
“Everyone in this room, the mayor included, may have to be a little less hands-on,” said Guilfoyle.
Councilman John Williams said the administration’s proposed timetable, which suggests the council consider and adopt the idea in fairly short order, may be a big ask.
“You’ve got a long way to go,” said Williams, expressing that the council would need more time to fully understand the proposal and come to a consensus. “Optimistic would be an understatement.”
Council Vice President Levon Manzie likewise expressed some concerns while saying he would keep an open mind. “These are good issues to have,” he said.
Tuesday’s presentation wasn’t part of an official council meeting and the proposal presented was not intended for a direct vote. Instead Stimpson and Guilfoyle offered a roadmap that calls for a couple of rounds of discussion with council members, who will then consider approval of the 2020 CIP plan in May.