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 go and halting wedding reservations at the Nix Center.
“This is a ridiculous situation. But unfortunately, it’s just come to the point now where even when the hiring freeze is lifted, we are so understaffed,” Wilson said.
The process of advertising positions, reviewing applications, interviewing and hiring can’t all take place overnight, Wilson said. Overtime spending to maintain current service levels can’t continue.
For example, the manager of the Nix Center is leaving city government Friday, Wilson said. “If we weren’t under a hiring freeze, it would have been posted long before now.”
The council instituted a 60-day hiring freeze Feb. 27, the Monday after Wilson fired two longtime city employees from high-ranking positions. Since then, only a few exceptions have been made to the freeze, which is scheduled to stay in place for another week.
Possible cutbacks were listed in a news release and posted on the Facebook page, “Mayor Karin Wilson of Fairhope, Alabama.”
— Decreased recycling to preserve regular garbage pickup.
— Flower services reductions to reassign landscaping workers.
— Reduction in hours and tournaments at tennis courts.
— Soccer field maintenance.
— Closure of the Recreation Center on Sundays and two hours earlier (at 6 p.m.) weekdays.
— Daily closures of the water department for lunch, and a shift to a four-day work week.
— Ending multiple events at the Nix Center and halting all reservations for weddings.
In addition, the moratorium on new single-family subdivision lots and multiple-occupancy plans may have to be extended because the Planning Department remains short-staffed, Wilson said.
“Dragging their feet, which is what they’ve been doing, council, will have long-term effects on the city,” she said. “And this is what it looks like, when you try to, I guess, what I’d call a power grab. Unfortunately, this affects the citizens. It’s not about me. It’s about the citizens and the services they demand.”
Wilson said the cuts she listed had been recommended by department heads and assistants. She also invited citizens to learn more by watching the live stream of what she called “a special meeting” with key employees at the Fairhope Museum Friday at 1 p.m. The live stream will run on the city’s Facebook page, “City of Fairhope,” and a video will be posted later on the city’s website.
However, Burrell claims the council is not at fault, saying, “If [Wilson] chooses to cut off city services, it’s all on her.”
“I’m highly disappointed in the [Facebook] post. I’m highly disappointed in the mayor doing this to use the city services for a political tool,” he said. “There are only five or six positions that are currently unfilled, none of which would affect the Nix Center, none of which would affect city services at all.”
Those positions are a fire inspector, police dispatcher, two police officers, a park maintenance worker and one person in the revenue department, though Burrell said some 30 other new positions were requested by Wilson in the new budget.
Earlier this week, the council was prepared to hold a special meeting at the mayor’s request to vote on the budget and on lifting the freeze. Burrell said the budget would not have passed at the time but is now ready to go, adding that he and Councilman Robert Brown have been putting it together.
According to Burrell, Wilson knew the freeze was near its end and the budget near passage before making her Facebook post about cutbacks.
“It’s unfortunate for the city of Fairhope that she tends to engage in such childish and unprofessional behavior,” he added.
Wilson, on the other hand, said she and her staff owed citizens an explanation for why cuts were necessary after receiving a growing number of complaints about city services.
Yet Burrell claims the council wouldn’t have a way to get that information because since Wilson has ordered city supervisors not to speak to council members without her permission. As she has before, Wilson denied that, saying she only asked supervisors to inform her when contacted by a City Council member.
Monday’s regular meeting again looks to be contentious. As of Thursday, votes on the budget and the hiring freeze were on the agenda along with the mayor’s veto of an extension of time to get under way on the Fly Creek apartment complex.
You can read the council’s full response to Wilson’s Facebook post below.