Just when it seemed like things in Fairhope were starting to smooth out a bit, now people in the Single Tax Colony are dealing with stories about the city’s human resources director filing a civil complaint against the city and a police report against Mayor Karin Wilson.
Those days when golf carts and tree lights were the city’s headier debates seem like a million years ago.
Saying things have been tumultuous since Wilson took office last November would be an understatement. That’s not to say Wilson has been the cause of all the tumult, but city politics have at least become a more open blood sport since she’s been mayor.
Wilson was brought in to replace Mayor Tim Kant, who many felt was way too chummy with local power brokers and who had landed the city in some spectacular lawsuits centered around development. Karin won with a “drain the swamp” message reminiscent of the one that swept a certain orange-haired/skinned gentleman into the White House. And since then Trump and Wilson have run a pretty good race in terms of who can be involved in the most conflict.
Wilson’s style has been acerbic, which has no doubt made things tough. But she also has repeatedly stated that people voted her in to make changes and that’s what she is there to do regardless of her style.
Maybe it’s a case of trying to eat everything in one bite, but often the mayor seems to suffer from charging in without much forethought and without the realization that entrenched people are going to fight to stay entrenched. She and City Council President Jack Burrell almost immediately locked horns over subjects ranging from city utilities, the mayor’s salary, the airport authority and the budget.
So for months those two players struggled. Meetings were tense and there were open arguments. But then suddenly there seemed to be a thaw. Wilson and Burrell broke bread together and vowed a new level of decorum. It looked like things were finally settling down.
But late last week the news broke about HR Director Pandora Heathcoe’s claims against the city and a police report she filed alleging harassment/simple assault. The police have released very few details. All we KNOW from the report is some sort of incident is alleged to have taken place Dec. 29 of last year, which led Heathcoe to file an incident report almost a month later on Jan. 25 of this year. Since state law allows police to withhold the back page of police reports — the part containing the narrative of what actually happened — there’s really not much more the report tells us.
Wilson has said the city’s legal counsel will handle the matter and she’s confident whatever allegations are being made against her will be shown to be false. The city’s attorney quickly said he didn’t believe the “incident” represented a criminal matter. And the mayor took to the worldwide web to issue a Trumpian slam on her opponents.
“I’m surrounded by opportunists, people who believe I’m naive and those who try to demoralize me. But no one can or will take away the truth,” she wrote.
On Monday she added more, stating: “Many people are reaching out for additional information about a claim that was filed on Friday. I am confident that the facts will demonstrate that no assault occurred.”
Admittedly, this newspaper wasn’t first on this story, and a Gulf Coast Newspapers reporter has filed a story in which he claims to have seen the civil complaint, which includes some narrative of what Heathcoe claims occurred that day. At this time Lagniappe has not been able to independently verify any narrative information from the police report or the civil claim, so I won’t go into much detail about what GCN has reported.
However, I will say the story reports an allegation involving somewhat rough physical contact and lists an employee Wilson fired as an eyewitness.
At this point it’s pretty tough to know what to think. Certainly the mayor’s denial that she assaulted anyone should be taken at face value until someone is able to produce enough facts to show otherwise. The fact that the incident report wasn’t filed until almost a month after the assault allegedly occurred and that the eyewitness happens to be someone fired by Wilson should be taken into account, but so too should the fact that the employee was fired more than a month after Heathcoe’s police report was filed.
As I mentioned earlier, Wilson’s time in office has often seemed to bear an eerie resemblance to Trump’s stay in the White House. She faces harsh criticism for the way she handles things, but also has a strong, loyal base of supporters. Her dealings with the media are often hostile and suspicious, and she seems to prefer communicating with constituents through social media. And ancillary issues have come to dominate a good bit of what she does. The successes both of them have had are often overshadowed by friction with others.
While Trump deals with Comey, Karin must fight off assault accusations. If she renames a neighborhood Little Moscow I’m really going to get suspicious.
Whether any of this amounts to a hill of finely roasted coffee beans fit for serving in one of Fairhope’s trendiest coffee shops remains to be seen. Regardless, it seems like there’s enough of a pattern over the past six months to come to the conclusion the mayor may need to employ a little more finesse in working to achieve her goals.
I understand that to her supporters Wilson is storming the gates of Hell all by herself, but she frequently seems to hurt her own cause. Things such as complaining about her salary, delivering a severely delinquent budget and engaging in heated arguments during council meetings may all come from a place of reason, but they certainly make it look like the change agent needs a change.
For Fairhope’s sake let’s hope the olive branch Wilson extended to Burrell recently was the sign she’s recognized there are other ways to skin a cat or a goose pooping on the Fairhope beach. Trumped up or not, the assault accusation will probably dominate for a while. How Wilson handles it will be the bigger issue.