Mayor Tony Kennon says a picture of him operating a Coastal Resources boat during Memorial Day festivities in Orange Beach is being taken out of context, and even though others were with him on the vessel, he claims he was only using the city’s property to do his job.
“I am the president and CEO of a $60 million-a-year company called the city of Orange Beach, and if anything goes wrong, the buck stops here,” Kennon told Lagniappe. “Just about every weekend of the year we have tens of thousands of people on our beaches and in the water, and that day in particular, we had at least 2,000 boats on the water that we could count.”
The day Kennon is referring was Memorial Day, May 27, which for a destination city like Orange Beach, is a major time for tourism. That same day, someone snapped a photograph of Kennon and some others standing around one of the city’s Coastal Resources boats.
Fast-forward to last week, and the photograph began circulating among members of a group opposed to plans to build a multimillion-dollar bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway. Since then, some have been asking whether Kennon was using a city boat for his personal enjoyment.
Kennon says no and that, despite having others who are unaffiliated with city aboard and around the boat, he was using the vessel that day to oversee how ordinances were being enforced and whether Orange Beach was living up to the “family-friendly” image it’s worked to cultivate.
“I always say, you don’t get what you expect, you get what you inspect,” Kennon said. “I don’t walk on water, so I have to get there by boat. I can commandeer a police boat, take two officers off duty to have them putt me around, or I can get a Coastal Resources boat sitting dormant and putt myself around out there. I generally do it multiple times a year during the summer.”
In the photograph, Kennon is seen wearing beach attire and is standing in or around the boat with his wife, another couple and a fifth person who can’t be fully seen. Shown the photo, Kennon said none of those people were with him and that he didn’t know them before that day.
“They all walked over to say hello and talk to me about the city,” he said via text message, adding that his family and daughter’s boyfriend were the only people traveling on the boat. “[Her boyfriend] was there to help me with the boat, as I had injured my knee a few days before.”
Asked about taking his family along, Kennon said his wife goes with him anywhere there’s “any type of drinking or partying environment or women in swimsuits” to avoid any kind of rumors or suggestions. He added that his children go with him “anywhere and anytime I can take them.”
According to Kennon, he has a personal boat he uses on his own time, but he wasn’t going to put it in the water and buy fuel for it to conduct city business. While the city reimburses employees for mileage accrued on personal vehicles, he said there’s no such provision for boats.
It’s unclear at this point who actually snapped the picture, but it was posted on Facebook last week by an ex-city employee who Kennon described as “disgruntled.” Other than a few comments online, the issue really hasn’t come up since the photo was taken in late May.
Speaking with Lagniappe this week, Kennon said he was happy to “clear the issue up” and downplayed any suggestion that using the boat personally benefited himself or his family.
According to him, using the boat isn’t a violation of Alabama ethics law, which states that “no public official or public employee” can use “equipment, facilities, time, materials, human labor or other public property” for their own private benefit because the trip was “pure city business.”
“It wasn’t like I was pulling the kids on the inner tube or anything like that. There weren’t any beach chairs in the boat or any drinks or food,” Kennon said. “I have use of every vehicle the city owns. If it’s for a city purpose, every piece of equipment is at my disposal.”
Wanda Cochran, an attorney for the city, declined to comment, saying she was unfamiliar with the situation. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office did not respond to requests for clarification on the state’s ethics law response before this publication’s deadline.
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