Over the past few months, Fairhope City Council meetings have gradually grown more contentious as relations between council members and Mayor Karin Wilson deteriorated. On Monday, the fireworks went off.
“If y’all are going to micromanage every decision that I make, when we meet twice a month, we’re never going to go anywhere,” Wilson told the council during its work session. “This is ridiculous.”
Here’s another sample of dialogue from a 16-minute argument over a contract for a utilities study:
Wilson to Councilman Kevin Boone: “Basically, what you’re saying, to everybody, is that you don’t trust my opinion.”
Boone: “Pretty much.”
Wilson: “So you don’t trust the people that voted me in.”
Boone: “No, I don’t trust your opinion.”
Tempers flared again during the regular meeting over Wilson’s hiring of a part-time administrative assistant, an unbudgeted, new position.
“You can’t hire someone for a job that doesn’t exist,” Council President Jack Burrell said.
Wilson said council members question agenda items only “if I put it on there.”
The bickering and personal criticism between Wilson and council members, particularly Boone and Burrell, have escalated since Wilson took office in November after defeating longtime Mayor Tim Kant. Those two are the only holdovers from the previous council.
Wilson maintains that Fairhope citizens voted for change and she is delivering it. Council members have questioned her closely on creating new positions and on some contracts, although they have not consistently turned down everything she proposed.
On Monday, the council overrode Wilson’s recommendation of the Cassady Co. of Northport (near Tuscaloosa) to conduct a study of Fairhope’s sewer, water and gas systems for a fee to be negotiated. Boone insisted the city should use any one of six locally based consultants rather than go out of town, while Wilson repeatedly said the Cassady firm is local because the owner lives in Fairhope.
The council previously refused to consider another consultant whom council members said did not have experience with sewer systems. The study of utilities capacity is considered vital to dealing with city growth issues.
Wilson has also repeatedly said she wants “fresh eyes” on city business after years of the Kant administration.
As a compromise, Burrell proposed HMR, a local engineering firm that has worked for the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Service but not for Fairhope Utilities. HMR has utility experience and is local, but would also offer a fresh view, Burrell said.
Wilson continued to argue, saying council members were obstructing her and delaying the study by complaining about her recommendations for contracts. At one point Burrell accused her of accepting a recommendation from Dean Mosher, a Fairhope artist and historian. Eventually, the council voted to substitute HMR for the Cassady Co.
Council members also voted 3-1 against creating the part-time administrative assistant position, which had already been filled by Lynn Maser. Maser has been an active opponent of the Fly Creek apartment project that is now tied up in court through a challenge by local residents. Councilman Jimmy Conner voted for creating the position; Robert Brown was absent.
Council members said they had no problem with Maser’s qualifications, but argued the position should have been authorized and budgeted before being filled. According to the agenda packet released to the news media, the salary range is $38,270 to $61,232.
The council still has not passed a budget for the fiscal year that began Nov. 1, honoring Wilson’s request to review the budget left by the Kant administration and make adjustments. Wilson Monday described the budget she inherited as “a mess,” and said she needed a larger staff.
She said her own full-time administrative assistant and the part-time assistant together make about what Kant’s former full-time assistant was making.