In a contentious special-called City Council meeting this afternoon, Fairhope Police Chief Joe Petties blamed Mayor Karin Wilson for forcing him into retirement, days after a receiving a performance evaluation in which he was accused of intimidating one employee and harassing two others.
Petties denied the accusations, and flanked by dozens of supporters in the audience and with the support of every member of the City Council, said he would reconsider if he no longer had to answer to the mayor.
The council unanimously rejected his resignation, with President Jack Burrell admittedly “grandstanding” when he asked the rest of the council to join him in tearing up Petties’ resignation letter.
“There are times when you don’t always see eye to eye with your supervisor, but the treatment I have been subjected to has grown to a point that it can no longer be ignored,” Petties said. “My work and my leadership and most importantly my integrity has come under attack by Mayor Wilson and it has intensified over the past few months. I feel that these attacks have all been a ploy for me to surrender my position as chief of police.”
Petties said there was “a page and a half” of false accusations levied by Wilson in the performance review, including his alleged failure to communicate with the mayor, failure to run background checks on contractors and failure to take ownership of the police department’s shortcomings, instead, “blaming the mayor and the council for everything.”
“Never in my 35-and-a-half years of employment with the city have I received a deplorable evaluation of this magnitude,” he said. “This evaluation was filled with negative statements and lies and I feel that it was a personal attack on me, my integrity and my character.”
Wilson said she could not comment on personnel matters, but was jeered by the audience after stating, “it’s unfortunate that this been turned into something about me, because this really was his decision.” Wilson used the opportunity to again voice her support of a city manager or a city administrator position added to the staff, offering, “the unfortunate thing with our form of government is our city employees have been the subject of political games since I’ve taken office. It’s unfair and it shouldn’t be this way.”
Councilman Kevin Boone noted six other department heads had retired during Wilson’s first year and half in office.
Petties said Wilson called one his lieutenants on May 28 and suggested the chief should retire, stating the police department “was like the Titanic, a sinking ship.” He also said the city published a press release about his retirement before he could even submit a letter of resignation.
Getting emotional, Petties asked his wife Rebecca to read the letter:
“My retirement should be a joyful one, when I am ready to leave and on my own terms. I would like to finish what I started. With that being said, I feel like I should be able to finish the rest of my term free from harassment and bullying. Unfortunately, unless my chain of command changes where I answer directly to the council instead of Mayor Wilson, things will not change for me. I am being set up for failure and in order to protect my reputation and my honor, the only option I have is to retire.”
Burrell noted that the mayor has authority over the police chief by state law, but in rejecting Petties’ retirement, said the council would explore legal options for taking responsibility for police department oversight. The issue would be revisited in a city council meeting within the next month, Burrell said.