The Fairhope City Council voted unanimously Monday to override Mayor Karin Wilson’s veto of a two-week old ordinance to ban sleeping outdoors or in cars, discounting Wilson’s concerns it could be inhumane toward the city’s small homeless population.
Although Wilson signed the ordinance into law Aug. 13, she admitted she was distracted by other official duties and personal issues while it was being written, and her veto was a response to citizen concerns that arose after the ordinance was adopted.
“It’s important for me to admit I may have made a hasty decision when signing it the next day, and I should have taken more time during the process,” she explained Monday.
But Wilson said he grew increasingly concerned the ordinance could be used to arrest people who may not have the resources to make bond or defend themselves, while it also does nothing to offer social services to those who may be in need. Further, she said could be “constitutionally structured” in a way that would protect it from legal challenges.
“I just think that for Fairhope, we can do things differently,” she said. “We’re a caring town and we want to help.”
Wilson wrote a letter to City Clerk Lisa Hanks Aug. 20 notifying the council of the veto and saying she intended to discuss it with Police Chief Stephanie Hollinghead. Reportedly, Hollinghead and Wilson met Friday.
On Monday, Wilson said Hollinghead “handled everything right” and while the chief “has been extremely proactive and has addressed so many concerns” since her appointment last year, the potential arrest of homeless people was Wilson’s main concern.
“I feel like that’s extreme,” she said. “There could be protocols that happen, part of a first offense.”
Fairhope resident Jim Peck said he was worried if the police department is charged with enforcing it throughout its entire jurisdiction — as far as Fish River, State Route 104 and south of Barnhill — “it’s going to [be a] burden … that whole blanket area is just too much.”
With minimal discussion, the Council voted to override the veto, pledging they entrust the police department to enforce the ordinance fairly while noting they will amend it if necessary.
Councilman Jay Robinson said the ordinance was not written to “target” anyone, “but in reality, we’re following what other municipalities have already done. I understand the mayor’s position on it and based on what she said I think her concerns are reasonable … but when it comes to the safety of the community I do trust the police department both on their recommendation and ability to enforce this.”
Robinson acknowledged there has been some “general confusion” about how the ordinance will be applied and enforced but “changes can always be made and if we decide if this ordinance as written needs work or is unfair in any way, I’ll be the first to raise it in a meeting and get it repealed or modified in a way that better serves our community.”
In other council business, an ordinance to increase the salaries of the mayor and council was held over two weeks. It proposes raising the mayor’s salary from $32,400 to $85,000 and council salaries from $9,600 to $12,000. The council president, who is currently compensated $10,800 annually, would be raised to $13,200.
The proposed ordinance does not repeal a 2012 measure that allowed former Mayor Tim Kant to earn an additional $60,000 as utilities superintendent. When she took office in late 2016, Wilson opted out from that role, choosing to hire a licensed engineer instead. The role of mayor in Fairhope is responsible for a combined $60 million municipal and utilities budget and also manages the city’s 400 employees. If approved, the increases would not take effect until inaugurations in 2020.
Also heldover was an ordinance to repeal and replace requirements and fees to connect to the city’s water and sanitary sewer system. Long suggested as an impending move by Operations Director Richard Peterson, the increased fees are structured to provide more revenue for anticipated utilities growth and maintenance. It will also establish a special bank account which will be used “for replacements and improvements” of the sewer system. The proposed changes will not affect existing users, but will apply to new applications if approved.
In other sewer news, the council awarded a $2.1 million contract to Boan Contracting Co. for the replacement of a transmission line along Fairhope Avenue, Fairway Boulevard and Bayou Drive. The project is one of two planned to increase transmission capacity within the system. The second, along Church Street downtown, is expected to cost twice as much and prohibit vehicular and pedestrian traffic downtown when it breaks ground next year.
The Council also voted to extend a moratorium on multiple occupancy projects through Oct. 1, to allow more time for public input on the proposed Greeno Road Corridor Overlay District. The amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance would prohibit certain types of development along a nearly 7-mile stretch of the city’s most heavily trafficked corridor, 400 feet on either side of Greeno Road’s centerline. A final public hearing on the overlay district is scheduled Sept. 10.
Finally, the city awarded a $778,686 Restore Act project to Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, to provide professional engineering services for a “working waterfront and greenspace project.” Funded completely with proceeds from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement, an accompanying grant proposal suggests the project “will include, but not be limited to: new construction, improvements, upgrades and remodeling of the of the Fairhope Municipal Pier, Pier Landing and South Beach Park.” Among the priorities of the project are repairs to the bulkhead, stabilization of the bluff and updating the pier and pier landing.
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