Before she even takes office Nov. 7, Fairhope Mayor-elect Karin Wilson says the job should pay more money. Meanwhile, the incoming City Council must decide to how to fill the utilities superintendent job also vacated by outgoing Mayor Tim Kant and may choose to appoint a city administrator.
Kant has long served as both mayor and utilities superintendent, with his most recent combined salary at about $90,000 — $30,000 for the mayor’s position and about $60,000 for the superintendent’s job. But Wilson has promised to separate the two positions and says she does not believe they should be comingled. As a result, she would be left with the current mayor’s salary of $32,400, which the City Council set months before the election as required by state law.
That’s a salary Wilson, it appears, believes is too low.
“The council decided six months ago that the salary of the mayor will be $32,400. The state average for full-time mayors is $64,000 to $96,000 for like municipalities. In what I believe to be an effort to bridge the salary gap in Fairhope, the mayor’s and superintendent of utilities’ responsibilities combined such that the total salary paid to the previous mayor was $90,000-$100,000+,” Wilson wrote on her Facebook page Monday. “This total salary is in line with the compensation received by mayors in other municipalities throughout the state; however, the City Council neglected to provide for the mayor’s salary to return to its original level if the two positions were once again separated.”
What exact salary Wilson would propose for herself is unclear, as she would not consent to speak with Lagniappe about the matter unless interview questions were provided in advance and the paper would agree not to record her comments. Lagniappe declined to provide questions ahead of an interview and an additional request by a spokeswoman for Wilson to review the article before it appeared.
But Wilson’s Facebook post reflects her thoughts that the mayor’s salary will directly affect the qualifications and dedication of those who seek the office.
Karin Wilson’s Facebook post
“Allowing the mayor to hold two taxpayer-funded positions that control two separate checkbooks has proven to be a risk for our city in the past. Therefore, I believe the best course of action for the city of Fairhope is to have a full-time mayor who is compensated by a single, appropriate salary,” she wrote.
Kant’s departure as utilities superintendent along with the recent retirement of general superintendent James Gillespie leave some key management functions to be filled.
These needs may have opened the door for the city to approach its management in a different way. City Council President Jack Burrell, who says he expects to be re-elected as leader of the council next week, said a city administrator position may be created.
“What we’re talking about is putting the utilities director’s job together with a city administrator, for lack of a better term,” he said.
“The mayor is still the mayor. We’re not trying to trip up her power. It would be to complement her duties and assist her in her duties. It would not, by any means, take away from her authority.”
Fairhope’s utilities system is “about a $45 million enterprise” Burrell said. The council eliminated Gillespie’s general superintendent’s position when he announced he was retiring, so it’s possible that salary could be combined with the utilities salary into one job. Gillespie’s job included authority over the revenue department, city magistrates and whatever else the mayor assigned, Burrell said.
Burrell would like the position to be more defined and said the specifics and structure are under discussion. A utilities salary likely would need to be higher than $60,000, he said, and the council could require a professional engineer to fill the job.
If Wilson wanted to take on other duties besides the mayor’s, that also could be discussed, Burrell said, adding that utilities department heads will run the system until a permanent appointment is made. Someone might be appointed as acting superintendent if needed.
As part of her Facebook statement Monday, Wilson wrote in part, “It is important to me that Fairhope citizens know that I made the sacrifice to leave my business to serve as their mayor 24/7 regardless of my compensation.” Later in the day, she followed up with a lengthy post on her Facebook campaign page, “Karin for Fairhope,” criticizing the past practice of Mayor Kant holding both the elected and the utilities positions.
One other utilities note: Kant said Fairhope residents can expect to see some changes to the format of their utilities bills in the most recent billing cycle. A new computer system was just put into place and some new account numbers were required in addition to format changes. The changes, Kant said, “have nothing to do with who’s going to run the city and who’s not going to run the city.”