If Mayor Karin Wilson has any questions about public safety in the city of Fairhope, she can simply make one phone call to her personal police officer.
“He will be answering to me,” Wilson said.
“He” is newly hired Fairhope Police Sgt. Tony Goubil (pictured above, along with Wilson), previously the Alabama Ethics Commission chief special agent. Wilson surprised Police Chief Joseph Petties and all five council members when she announced at a Feb. 26 council meeting she was hiring Goubil to oversee public safety for the city.
“What’s interesting about the whole thing is two weeks ago she lambasted the whole council for not communicating with her,” Councilman Kevin Boone said. “The very next council meeting she pulls this stunt and hasn’t talked to a soul.”
While council members are raising lots of questions in what is emerging as yet another firestorm of controversy in Wilson’s year-and-a-half tenure, the primary issue may be Goubil’s connection to the Ethics Commission.
“I’ve heard comments made this person was investigating the mayor,” Council President Jack Burrell said. “There’s the question — that if he was investigating her I thought there was a state law forbidding somebody from taking a job from someone you’ve investigated in the past couple of years. I don’t have direct knowledge that he was [investigating], although I’ve heard it from more than one very well-placed source that he was.”
According to a 2017 memo from Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Thomas Albritton, “Once you leave your public employer, for two years you may not go to work for a private business or an individual you audited or investigated while you were a public employee.”
Wilson contends that although an ethics complaint was filed against her it never made it to the level of an investigation because it never even reached the level of dismissal.
“You have to be investigated to be dismissed,” Wilson said. “Some of them don’t go further than being read. If you’re being investigated by [the Ethics Commission] you know that. You receive a formal letter, there’s a whole process. There are people in Fairhope who know that and have been through that process. I have not.”
Wilson made an ethics complaint herself last year against Burrell. She does admit Goubil had to be aware of the complaint against her and the investigation into the Burrell complaint, which was ultimately ruled baseless.
“He was involved in some of the complaints,” Wilson said. “Investigations and complaints are two totally different things. People file frivolous complaints all day long, I can assure you. I’m sure that by upsetting the apple cart there’s a lot of tit for tat and there’s a lot of complaints against me.”
Aside from the ethical questions, Burrell and Councilman Kevin Boone also questioned how the mayor went about hiring Goubil.
“If we’re not following proper procedures and the mayor’s going out and hiring people for jobs that don’t exist we’ll certainly call that into question at the appropriate time,” Burrell said. “According to the police themselves, the correct policy and procedure was not followed. That’s what they’ve told me.”
Wilson questioned the hiring procedures of the police department and said her method of hiring Goubil — as if he were a regular city employee rather than a sworn police officer — is an attempt to fix that system.
“If anything, I put in procedures that are more transparent and actually follow the guidelines of our personnel hiring than that was in place,” she said. “Because that actually has not been in place at the police department. I’ve actually took that and we’re making it like it’s all departments which means it goes out to everybody and everybody has an opportunity.”
Burrell said the hiring of police officers requires different procedures.
“The police that have talked to me have been very clear that they have very regimented hiring procedures and they follow them to a ‘T,’” he said.
Boone stated the mayor is basically adding a new position that had not been budgeted by the council and may already have someone in that role — Police Chief Petties. Petties said he’d rather not comment.
“She’s calling him the public safety director,” Boone said. “There is no public safety director in the city of Fairhope. If you want to have a public safety director, that’s the chief of police. We have one already.
“This stinks to high heaven, I can tell you that.”
Wilson said the hiring was legit and residents should be thankful for getting an experienced candidate such as Goubil to watch over Fairhope safety.
“There was nothing done inappropriately,” she said. “If anything, it’s the best hire we’ve made as far as doing proper procedures in that department than has been made. This is an all-encompassing person that’s going to really help plan for Fairhope’s future. Citizens should applaud.”