Author: Jane Nicholes

Peace breaks out at Fairhope council meeting

Mayor Karin Wilson and the Fairhope City Council on Monday night proved they can play nicely together. After months of increasingly contentious and divisive interaction that had citizens demanding the council and mayor figure out how to get along and work together, at least some of them agreed to try. On Saturday, Wilson invited City Council President Jack Burrell to lunch. Later, she had dinner with Councilman Jimmy Conyers and their respective spouses. While Conyers said they talked of everything but politics over dinner, Burrell said he and Wilson talked politics among a number of other subjects. Both councilmen thanked Wilson for the invitation. “We’ve got better things to do than have a lot of arguments,” Burrell said. A photo taken of the pair that appeared on Wilson’s Facebook page was not staged but simply taken by someone sitting near their table, he said. But while the change in tone made for a smoother, faster meeting Monday, it was not without controversy. The council approved $32,510.97 in payments to Walcott, Adams, Verneuille Architects for exterior repairs and maintenance on the Fairhope Public Library, although no paperwork could be found showing the work had been authorized. The work took place during the administration former of Mayor Tim Kant. The city received bills for the work, but current city staffers could not find evidence of a contract or any other form...

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Alabama may be 200, but Old Mobile has another 115 years on it

As the state of Alabama kicks off its bicentennial celebration, up the road and back in the woods archaeology work quietly continues into a much older piece of Deep South history — the original site of Mobile. Students at the University of South Alabama and volunteers work in a clearing on squared-off dirt slab that was once a house. A larger one-time house site is nearby, covered in heavy black plastic to keep it clear and protected from weather. Anyone idealizing archaeology as a glamorous undertaking has watched too many Indiana Jones movies. The people working on the house are literally scraping away the hard-packed dirt with handheld tools, hoping to find scraps of whatever the earliest settlers brought with them from France in 1702 and left behind in 1711, when they headed downriver to a place that didn’t flood so easily. Once known as La Mobile and nominally protected by Fort Louis de La Louisiane, today the site on the western bank of the Mobile River is known as the Old Mobile historic site. It sits on property that also is home to a DuPont agricultural chemical plant. Regular access is restricted to Gregory Waselkov and his crew; Waselkov is director of the Center for Archaeological Studies. But occasionally a busload of visitors is allowed onto the property to tour the site. A recent tour group was arranged...

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Baldwin County Sewer Service serves growth markets

Until they stink, overflow or back up, sewers are easy to ignore. Let someone see it or smell it, though, and everyone wants their sewers fixed yesterday. In a fast-growing place like Baldwin County, money, politics and the environment can also influence public interest in sewer service. It may not be the first thing a future homeowner thinks about when looking at a house or talking to a builder, but the price of a tap fee or the pros and cons of sewers versus septic tanks is probably going to come up sooner or later. When a city runs...

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Baldwin County curbside recycling studied, discarded

Baldwin County Commissioners decided not to move forward with curbside recycling Thursday because they weren’t sure it could pay for itself and they weren’t willing to subsidize it. Adding the service to regular garbage pickup could be done for $10 more per month if 2,400 customers signed up, said Terri Graham, the county’s solid waste director. It’s possible the service could break even, she said, but that would depend on how many people enrolled. The estimates hinge on the county having one recycling truck operating four days a week on a different pickup route each day. “Our charge is to collect garbage in Baldwin County,” said Commission Chairman Chris Elliott during a work session in Fairhope. The Legislature requires a recycling component to garbage service, and there are drop-off sites throughout the county. Commissioner Frank Burt asked if curbside recycling would have to be offered to all county customers. One group of customers in one part of the county might be large enough to pay for themselves, but a second, smaller group on the opposite side the county might cost money to serve, he said. “I just don’t see how it could work. I really don’t,” he said. Elliott agreed. “We will never make money if we’re running from Little River to Ono Island and everywhere in between.” Baldwin County Attorney David Conner said it was likely that all...

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Fairhope Council calls for unity, doesn’t get it

After many weeks of rhetoric and number crunching, here’s where things stand in Fairhope. The 2016-2017 budget is passed, about six months after it should have gone into effect. The hiring freeze put in place by the City Council is lifted. Mayor Karin Wilson says she’ll “likely” have to cut city services because the council’s hiring freeze left her short-staffed. Councilman Jay Anderson talked to the League of Municipalities and was told Wilson can’t do that without council approval. The new job created for Sherry-Lea Bloodworth Botop, Wilson’s most high-profile hire since taking office, has been eliminated. So has her department of community and economic development. Employees who have been with the city a year or more will receive 2 percent raises. That’s another defeat for Wilson, who wanted to give no raises this year while she implements a merit pay system. “I received a hard copy of council’s changes to my proposed budget on Thursday,” Wilson said. She provided copies at Monday’s council meeting and asked how council members could have done so much work in detail without consulting her. As for the elimination of Botop’s position, she said, “It’s not council’s role to determine the positions needed to run a city.” Botop herself was reported to be out of town at the time on city business. Council members said they all had experience in preparing budgets for...

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Wilson vetoes Fly Creek extension, council overrides

Despite a last-minute curveball thrown by Mayor Karin Wilson, the Fairhope City Council voted Monday to override her veto of an extension of time given to the property owner and developer of the Fly Creek apartment project. No one changed positions on the extension. Council members Jay Anderson, Jack Burrell, Robert Brown and Kevin Boone voted to override the mayor’s veto, while Jimmy Conyers voted against the override. Councilors did not seem affected by a presentation Wilson made before the vote in which she suggested something was amiss with the donation last fall of a piece of future apartment land to the city. The land was approximately four acres, of which about just over two were wetlands. The previous City Council accepted the land, but Wilson said the land was recorded as a gift to the city three days before the council’s vote. Meanwhile, she also said she could not find a copy of an attachment which may have been discussed that night. Wilson said the move would put the city at risk of liability for flooding in the area. But City Attorney Marion “Tut” Wynne said he didn’t think it affected the agreement between the city and developers to proceed with required items before construction could begin. Wilson said she would have the matter investigated and Burrell agreed it should be. On the Oct. 24, 2016, agenda there...

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Even flowers may suffer from Fairhope hiring freeze

Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson on Thursday said the City Council’s hiring freeze will “likely” force cutbacks in services, while Council President Jack Burrell called Wilson “childish and unprofessional.” Despite public pleas from citizens in recent weeks to work together and be civil, the divide between mayor and council seems to be widening. Wilson accused council members of dragging their feet on the hiring freeze and the still-unapproved budget. Burrell shot back accusing Wilson of playing politics with city services. Some of the potential effects of reducing city services include closing the Recreation Center on Sundays, letting the city’s flowers...

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Standing room only at Byrne’s Daphne town hall

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne got an earful about health insurance Wednesday during a town hall meeting at Daphne City Hall. Byrne (R-Fairhope) is holding 11 town hall meetings in six counties in his district in four days this week. Whether some the standing-room-only turnout of 175 were part of a political party or other organized interest group or not, many people had written out their detailed health insurance questions and horror stories in advance. As Republicans seek to dismantle Obamacare and come up with something else, for this group paying for health care was by far their top issue....

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Opposition to Battles Wharf development remains strong

Longstanding litigation between developer Charles “Buddy” Breland and the city of Fairhope over a tract of land in Battles Wharf is again generating controversy as neighbors and environmental groups renew the fight over whether wetlands there should be filled in. In a normal executive session to discuss pending litigation, a city council is not obliged to name the case or cases that might be discussed. The logic is such sessions are closed to the public under same rules that apply to attorney-client privilege. But as the April 10 Fairhope City Council meeting carried on, it became clear most of the spectators knew well which case was up for a legal discussion that night, and a lot of them wanted to say their piece before officials and lawyers went behind closed doors. They wanted the council to know they’re still opposed to the idea of filling in about 10.5 acres of wetlands, regardless of who approved it 10 years ago or how much money it might cost the city to keep the litigation going. Breland, a well-known local developer, bought 65 acres just south of Nelson Road in 1999 for a little over $500,000. Some suggest the tract is more like a swamp acting as a valuable stormwater retention pond. Neighbors worry about regular stormwater flooding in the area. But Breland received appropriate permits to fill in the 10.5 acres...

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Daphne forming education advisory committee

As public education becomes a greater source of concern along the rapidly developing Eastern Shore, Daphne is forming an education advisory committee to work with its own local schools. Daphne also wants to do a feasibility study for an entirely separate school system, but that has nothing to do with the advisory committee, said Councilwoman Tommie Conaway. Rather, the advisory committee would work with individual school administrators to improve academic performance. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the feasibility study,” Conaway said. “It’s just something we need to do, and we should have done it before now. How can we help to improve education in schools?” Conaway was the first principal at Daphne Elementary East, which opened in 2004 and is now so crowded that a major addition is underway. She said she has thought for some time the city should be be more involved with the local schools. At one time, she said, Daphne had a similar type of education advisory committee but it faded away. Councilman Pat Rudicell is also working to form the new committee. “We’re just getting organized. We’re working on a draft ordinance. That should be out very soon. Once we’ve done that, then we’re going to accept resumes,” she said. In recent weeks public talk about a separate system and the possibility of a large-scale residential development being constructed southeast of town...

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