There’s just one thing about that memo Mayor Karin Wilson sent to all Fairhope employees Councilman Kevin Boone wants to make clear.
“I don’t work for the mayor,” Boone said. “I can talk to who I want to.”
Wilson issued a nearly 400-word memo to city workers on Feb. 2 in which she said a state law holds that “the mayor is the chief executive officer of the city with day-to-day authority to direct and supervise employees as well as appointed officers of the city.”
She claims councilmen, particularly Council President Jack Burrell, have been telling city employees how to do their jobs and obstructing them when they try to have items placed on the council agenda.
“What has been happening is that council, led by councilman Burrell, they’ve kind of set up this environment that if they don’t communicate with him or keep him up to date or don’t talk to him about agenda items before they get on the agenda, he might not even put it on the agenda,” Wilson said. “He has to be aware of these things or he’s going to turn it down.”
Burrell said he was expecting the mayor’s reaction to how he places or does not place items on the council agenda.
“She said she’d put something out if I refused to put something on the agenda,” he said. “She’s did that once before. There’s a lot of reasons I don’t put things on the agenda sometimes. We don’t have enough information or data. There’s a lot of reasons that I would or would not put things on there.”
Wilson’s memo says city employees must come to see her if any of the councilmen try talking to them about issues facing the city. Those who do not could face disciplinary action.
“To avoid impropriety and insubordination, if a councilman contacts you regarding city business, refer him to me or ask that he go through me first,” the memo reads. “Employees are to advise and report directly to their supervisor who will in turn communicate with me. Council has no authority to direct or manage day-to-day affairs of city business or its employees.
“Accordingly, members of the city council shall not direct or supervise city employees or appointed officials. Members of the council wishing to make suggestions or provide guidance involving day-to-day duties and responsibilities of employees should consult with the mayor. Members of the council shall not give orders to any subordinates of the mayor, either publicly or privately.”
Burrell said asking questions of city workers is vital to being informed members of the council and being able to set policy for the city.
“It’s just about control,” Burrell said. “I don’t know how she can reasonably expect us to make intelligent, unbiased decisions without hearing from employees. We have to ask lots and lots of questions. I don’t know of a single instance where me or a single member of the council has went out and told an employee what to do or how to do their job. We’re simply gathering information.”
Boone said he, too, was not aware of any instances where councilors were trying to direct or supervise city employees.
“It’s just another attempt by her not to let all these city employees talk to the council people,” Boone said.
The rules were reiterated, Wilson said, to protect employees.
“I am enforcing this policy because it’s confusing and uncomfortable when council consistently interferes with day-to-day business and directs city employees,” Wilson wrote in a social media post. “It is my intention to resolve this situation and to provide our employees with a comfortable work atmosphere.”
Boone said he reads it as just the opposite.
“It’s extremely threatening to the employees,” Boone said. “She put in there that it’s for a better work environment when it makes a god-awful work environment when they are subject to disciplinary action if they talk to us. How you can run a city and the city council has the purse strings and we can’t talk to city employees without the mayor sitting there or her people sitting there to find out what’s going on with the city?”
For instance, if there is a rezoning ordinance for a new development in the city and a councilman wants to talk with someone in the planning department to better understand the issue and decide how to vote, the employee or councilman would have to speak with the mayor first.
“I would prefer to know because they have created an environment that they’re working behind my back on issues that should include me,” Wilson said. “They are stepping over that line of inquiring and directing and interfering day to day.”
The mayor was asked to cite specific instances of items being left off the agenda or a particular case where Burrell felt he didn’t have enough information on a proposed item and didn’t include it.
“I don’t want to right now give a bunch of examples specifically and throw a bunch of council people under the bus, but I have examples,” she said. “There’s too many to list. It’s like where do you start? It happens weekly.”
On the one hand, Wilson says, she wants the council to communicate more with her but not expect her to keep them abreast of the city’s daily operations.
“The communication that is lacking is not lacking on my end,” she said. “I can’t keep council up to date on every single thing that’s happening in the city and I shouldn’t have to. Council should be communicating with me and unfortunately that just hasn’t happened since I’ve taken office. No one wants for us to communicate more and try to do things collaboratively than me.”
Boone says he’s not going to stop asking questions of city employees to stay informed on issues before the council.
“I’ll continue to talk to the employees and if they want to discuss it with the mayor then that’s up to them,” Boone said.