In a special-called meeting this morning, the Fairhope City Council bypassed Mayor Karin Wilson to sign a contract with a new city attorney, while also passing an additional resolution allowing the council to exercise similar authority over the mayor whenever they feel she isn’t being cooperative.
According to Council President Jack Burrell, the meeting was called after Wilson indicated she would not sign a resolution passed by the Council Dec. 18 hiring Marcus McDowell for legal services. Longtime city attorney Marion “Tut” Wynne is retiring effective Dec. 31; McDowell is a collegue in the same law firm.
In November, Wilson made a pitch to hire a full-time, in-house attorney for the city, a move she claimed would save at least $83,000 per year.
But the council, noting Wilson’s calculations did not include the costs for hiring a paralegal, subscribing to legal libraries or purchasing malpractice insurance, said any perceived savings was nominal. Furthermore, in an interview this week, Council President Jack Burrell said retaining McDowell would also ensure a degree of “institutional knowledge” with the city’s legal issues.
He said the second resolution, aimed squarely at the mayor, was “kind of a catch-all” to ensure the council would have the final say over temporary measures including contracts, deeds and bonds the mayor refuses to sign within seven days of being approved by the city council.
After the meeting this morning, Wilson said the act further limits her role as mayor, as according to state law, she has 10 days to sign resolutions passed by the council. Burrell claimed the proposed resolution was approved by the Alabama League of Municipalities.
“This resolution does usurp the role of mayor and that’s routine for the city attorney and this council,” she told reporters. “[McDowell] works behind my back, so I’ve not ever worked with him.”
In the meantime, Wilson said she has relied on “attorney friends, citizens of Fairhope,” to provide legal advice, since the council also refused to consider hiring a separate attorney specifically for the mayor’s office earlier this year.
In a Facebook post about the situation, Burrell wrote, “It is not uncommon to have a Council President sign legal documents for a city, and becomes necessary when a Mayor refuses to perform their duty. Refusal of the Mayor to sign the contract, thus, not executing the Council’s resolve is not side-stepping the Mayor, but a complete refusal by the Mayor to perform her duties, which includes executing actions taken by the City Council. Let’s not let the Mayor once again play the victim.”
“The city attorney works for the mayor and the council,” he said this week. “She’s free to call him anytime.”
In her own Facebook post this afternoon, Wilson further explained her actions: “Before the special council meeting started, I advised Lisa Hanks, our City Clerk and Tut Wynn that the second resolution Marcus McDowell put together for the meeting is of a permanent nature and can be vetoed. I suggested it be fixed before the vote to save time but my suggestion was ignored.
“With regard to the first resolution amending the December 18 resolution appointing Marcus McDowell City Attorney, if the negotiation of the fee schedule been separated out from the actual appointment itself, I would have signed the portion for negotiating the contract as this is part of my role as mayor. However since the appointment, negotiation of the contract and signing of the engagement letter was in one resolution I refused to sign it as I do not believe he is a good choice
“While I don’t agree with the selection of Mr. McDowell I want to be clear that I did not have an issue on Dec 18th or now negotiating and executing the engagement letter. That is my role as Mayor, not Council’s. My issue was with the appointment, but I know there is nothing I can do about this and as mayor I do not even need to sign the resolution for the appointment.
“The second resolution is of a permanent nature and can be vetoed. I’m not sure why Mr. McDowell and Council President Burrell felt the need to add this and why 7 days? I have 10 days to sign or veto resolutions permanent in nature, therefore it has been typical that all paperwork is signed within 10 days from council meeting. It is an unnecessary resolution and I will veto it. Executing contracts, deeds or bonds sometimes takes longer than 7 days and I sign them when they’re ready.”