The city of Fairhope has historically provided an in-kind donation to the annual Senior Bowl, but the recent approval of a $35,000 gift to the game was not without controversy. As City Council President Jack Burrell said, the expenditure was not appropriate while the city is funding other community requests at a much lower rate.
The $35,000 gift was part of the city’s 2016 budget approved earlier this month. The city routinely sets aside what it calls “Community Development Funds” from utilities revenue, which are supposed to be used for the betterment of the city.
For example, the City Council also approved $5,000 for Care House Inc. to provide education and support for children who are victims of sexual abuse, $5,000 for the Baldwin County Trailblazers to support “Smart Walks” for students in the city’s schools, $10,000 for Ecumenical Ministries and $2,000 for the Lighthouse, a family violence prevention organization in Baldwin County.
Burrell — a Senior Bowl Committee member and the son of a former Senior Bowl MVP — said the vote was difficult for him because of his support for the game, but the requested amount was too much. Burrell was the lone “no” vote on the council. He said the city already provides the facility, city staff, police protection and field maintenance for the game’s one practice at the municipal stadium each year.
“I do think this money could be put to better use elsewhere,” he said. “I feel like the amount should have been reduced.”
While Councilwoman Diana Brewer also felt the amount was too high, she ultimately voted in favor of it.
“I do think the game brings a spotlight to the city and is a worthwhile investment,” she said. “The Senior Bowl has kind of struggled in the past and I think there have been other cities with deeper pockets that have tried to get the game. This is more of everyone pitching in to keep something that is good for the whole area.”
Because of the funds’ designation for “community development,” Burrell said they are supposed to be used for a nonprofit expenditure to benefit the community.
Senior Bowl President Angus Cooper approached the City Council to request the funds at a work session just before the budget was approved. Reportedly, Cooper said players, scouts and coaches often don’t like coming to practices in Fairhope because of its distance from other game-related activities and events in Mobile. He told the council the donation would help keep the practices in Fairhope.
“We’ll give you the same commitment you will give us,” Cooper said in a video from the meeting posted on The Fairhope Times’ website. “We are trying to give you the opportunity to continue having practice over here.”
Cooper is also a political supporter of Mayor Tim Kant, hosting an election campaign event at his home before the budget passed, which the mayor acknowledged following the Oct. 12 council meeting. According to Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) filings for September, the mayor raised more than $41,000 in his campaign’s first month. He is currently uncontested in the election scheduled for 2016. The haul included a $2,000 contribution from Cooper as well as a $250 contribution from Angus Cooper III.
Other notable donations listed on Kant’s FCPA filing include $2,000 from Michael and Martha Boone, $1,000 from Joel Bullard, $1,000 from Scott and Sadie Cooper, $1,000 from Taylor and Trey Strunk, $2,500 from DVA Holding Co. PAC, $1,000 from Clifton Inge, $1,000 from Carolyn and James Griggs, $1,001 from Anil Vira, $2,500 from D. and J. Cooper, $1,000 from Gary and Judy Wolfe, $2,000 from Kenny McLean, $2,000 from Glen Evans, $1,000 from West PAC, $1,000 from Haymes Snedeker and $1,000 from John T. Crowder.
On Sept. 15, Kant received a pair of in-kind food donations of $4,055 from Cooper/T. Smith Corporation and $510 from George Roberds.
Cooper, the chairman and CEO of Cooper/T. Smith Corporation, is also a board member at GulfQuest, Brewer’s current employer.
Cooper’s request also came after the Community Development Funds traditional deadline of July, before the yearly budget is produced by the mayor. But Burrell said the timing wasn’t an issue.
“Certainly, they did bring it to us after the deadline,” Burrell said. “But mainly, I wish the request was more in line with some of the other donations we made. I support the Senior Bowl 100 percent, but I have to be a good steward of our taxpayers’ money, and I didn’t think this was a good use of that money.”
Asked if he believed the request was a threat made by the Senior Bowl to secure a donation it had not received before, Burrell said he didn’t see it that way.
“I think they need the money, and they need the money more than they want to say publicly,” Burrell said.
The 4-1 vote doesn’t put the city on the hook for another $35,000 donation next year. While it is a larger donation than some Community Development Funds, it is not significantly more than was allocated to other agencies.
The City Council also approved $10,000 for the annual Fairhope Film Festival, $55,000 to help operate and manage the Fairhope-Point Clear Rotary Youth Club facility on Young Street, $20,000 to the Downtown Fairhope Business Association, $20,000 for the Eastern Shore Art Center and $10,000 for the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance.
Additional Community Development Funds were approved for the Thomas Hospital Foundation, which the city gave the second of five annual $50,000 donations to assist in the construction of the hospital’s new birthing center and a third annual $35,000 gift to the Fairhope High School Pirate Booster Club for the construction of a multi-purpose facility for athletics.
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