It’s a crowded field in the campaign for Fairhope mayor, but it’s a one-man race. John Manelos faces three women on the ballot Tuesday: incumbent Karin Wilson, former Community Affairs Director Sherry Sullivan and retired scientist and educator Dr. Annette Sanders. Three City Council seats are also up for grabs.
Fairhope and a number of other Baldwin County cities will hold municipal elections Aug. 25. More detailed coverage of campaigns and candidates is available on lagniappemobile.com.
In Fairhope, Wilson is asking voters to “join the wave” of accomplishments she claims from her first term, which include balancing the city’s budget, eliminating debt, approving sewer repairs and infrastructure upgrades and funding a comprehensive plan.
“We’ve invested $14 million on utility upgrades this term, all without borrowing any money,” she said. “It’s a complex fix, but a plan is in place and it’s funded, plus we have professionals now in the utilities department.”
Wilson forfeited a salary as utilities supervisor so those funds could be used to hire an operations director, and the utilities department has since hired three engineers.
“It will never be complete because there is always maintenance and planning, but most of the critical fixes will be completed by 2022 and it is a direct result of my administration. Once utilities upgrades are completed, the city will have upwards of $6 million per year to spend on capital projects. Now we can move on to all the other issues we have,” she said.
Wilson also cites personnel changes and study into employee benefits and salaries among her accomplishments.
“We’ve prevented the K-1 center from going into the hands of a third party; we prevented a subdivision from being built on our most sensitive watershed, Tatumville; and we prevented giving away the rights to over 100 acres of [Dyas Triangle] property and taking that asset out of the hands of our citizens. As the mayor or as a citizen I’m always going to get involved in what I believe is right,” she added.
Sherry Sullivan is a Fairhope native and was employed by the city in various capacities for 16 years until Wilson’s administration, when she was terminated as community affairs director.
“When I went into work for the city I was able to learn about communications, events, disasters — I got to interact with every department and get that experience, plus I was able to see the things that needed improvement,” Sullivan said.
Since 2017, she has worked for an internet company, Foley Main Street and most recently, Riviera Utilities.
“I really enjoy being part of a larger organization and being part of a larger team and serving the community and some people may be wired differently, but I just love the government,” she said.
She’s witnessed the significant population growth of the county in recent years, but is wary of stringent regulations prohibiting it. But she is in favor of a comprehensive plan.
“I’m not sure there’s a great solution to slowing growth because growth is inevitable,” she said. “But I do think being able to communicate respectfully to people and being able to bring all the players to the table to have reasonable conversations … You can at least help guide that growth in the way that you can measure.”
Sullivan acknowledged some positive progress made over the past four years, but believes her experience in and knowledge of the city can accomplish more.
“I just don’t feel like we can have four more years of learning on the job,” she said. “There’s been so much infighting in Fairhope when we need to build relationships and do what needs to be done with staffing. I can come in and hit the ground running from day one.”
Sanders retired from a career in chemistry and education and moved to Fairhope five years ago, and noticed an immediate need for responsible development. A former president of Keep Mobile Beautiful, some of her professional accomplishments as the owner of an environmental consulting firm were studying and implementing air pollution controls along the Alabama State Docks, and the effects of gas production on marine life in Mobile Bay.
“I bought a place on the bay where I walk 72 steps down and 500 feet out to the water,” she said. “Ideally my grandkids can cast nets and get in the water like we did when we were young, but now I won’t let them get in the water because of the high bacteria counts and the stench of sewage. If I’m elected I will be getting together with all elected officials on the Eastern Shore and the first thing I will address is sewage treatment.”
Sanders said she can be blunt but uncontroversial, and expects a “competent, responsive” government in City Hall.
“The city is expanding ridiculously fast, but the infrastructure is not keeping up — that has to change,” she said. “Locally, governments have been ignoring businesses and many of them have to be rebooted after COVID. They need our help and I will work to give them opportunities. I can work with the devil himself, but you’ve got to work within the law and if the law doesn’t work, you have to change it.”
Manelos has been previously profiled in this paper and is interested in using his education in conflict management and 28-year career in law enforcement and corporate security to resolve discord and mistrust.
Among his priorities are improving infrastructure and creating an environmental programs manager position similar to the city of Daphne, institution a “robust performance management system” for employees and “preserving culture and community” by managing growth.
Three incumbent city councilmen also face challengers next week. Jack Burrell, Robert Brown and Kevin Boone will face Deb Hokpkins, Howell Gibbens and Joshua Gammon on the ballot, respectively.
In 2016, around 6,600 voters cast ballots in Fairhope, with Wilson winning the mayor’s race by 3 percentage points. If a runoff is necessary, it is scheduled Tuesday, Oct. 6.
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