Lagniappe | Fairhope Police Chief Joseph Petties

Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson “withdrew” former Ethics Commission agent Tony Goubil from the position of police sergeant and possibly the position of public safety director last Thursday, 15 days after she announced his hiring outside of normal personnel procedures.

Goubil’s hiring had drawn blanket criticism from the Fairhope City Council and police department, with Chief Joseph Petties warning “the city would be torn in two.”

Details including Goubil’s title, job description and pay were still unclear when Wilson announced she would withdraw his name during a City Council meeting March 15, offering that she would reconsider the position when “a new organizational chart could be developed and approved.”

After the meeting, Wilson said subsequent conversations with Petties and councilmembers led her to backpedal.

“I think the overall consensus is we want to work together and move forward and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” she said.

Wilson said she was interested in restoring the position of city administrator to the organizational chart, one eliminated by the City Council in 2012 when it had a much cozier relationship with then Mayor Tim Kant.

“My take on all of this is I absolutely want to be reciprocal in conversations and leading up to this point it hasn’t been … I’m always open to making it that way again,” said Wilson, who is about 18 months into her first four-year term. “To me, personnel should not be open for political talk, and I do think a city administrator would be good and fill that hole because a lot of the conflict has been over city employees.”

The Goubil hiring was the latest point of contention between the council and Wilson, who calls herself a “reform mayor” and has taken the reins on key personnel decisions, demoting or dismissing several department heads much to the chagrin of the council, and in some cases opening the city to litigation.

City Councilman Jay Robinson also addressed the issue during the meeting last week, saying tensions were cooled after he and Councilman Jimmy Conyers discussed the hiring at length with Wilson.

“I think it’s fair to say that everybody sitting up here thinks that public safety is a concern and something we should be thinking about,” he said. “But I also think it’s appropriate that we stay or pause any new public safety positions until a time that the mayor and the council have had the opportunity to collaborate on what everyone’s primary priorities and concerns are. But most importantly, I think it’s imperative we discuss those concerns with our chief of police to find out what his needs are for his department and make sure we are giving him all the resources he needs to do his job to the best of his ability. … I think the way we are handling this right now is the best way to move forward.”

Conyers agreed, suggesting both the meeting with Wilson as well as a subsequent trip to Washington, D.C., last week to discuss infrastructure projects were productive. But Councilman Robert Brown wasn’t quite ready to let the controversy die, as he used his time during announcements to ask Wilson who she consulted with over Goubil’s hiring.
Wilson responded that she consulted with both her personal attorney and the city’s personnel attorney. Goubil could not be reached for comment.

As for Petties, he said he had received calls from colleagues statewide who were astounded by the hire, but he declined to go on the record until he could meet with Wilson sometime this week. In his regular interview on WABF 1480 last week, he commented, “I’ve been with the police department for 27 years and I’ve never known anyone to come in except at entry level.”