After supporting other candidates for mayor over the years, Page & Palette owner Karin Wilson decided the time was right to challenge incumbent Tim Kant herself in the city’s mayoral election Aug. 23.
A graduate of Fairhope High School and Auburn University, Wilson spent seven years working in the financial sector before returning home to purchase Page & Palette bookstore from her grandmother, Betty Joe Wolff, in 1997. She said her experience in finance, as well as operating an independent bookstore in an era of large corporate stores and online sales, will benefit her in managing the city’s $60 million annual budget.
“I understand what makes Fairhope special,” Wilson said. “I want people to remember why they chose to live in Fairhope. I want them to remember why they moved here or stayed here. We need someone in leadership who understands what makes this a special place. That’s me.
“People who know me know that my heart is in the right place,” Wilson continued. “I’m looking forward to going out and showing others what Fairhope means to me.”
Wilson said the city needs fresh leadership, citing as examples the City Council’s recent approval of a “luxury apartment development” planned to be located near Fly Creek behind the Publix supermarket shopping center on Greeno Road. Despite an outcry from a vocal group of residents, as well as environmental concerns about the health of Fly Creek, the development was approved in April.
After two highly contentious planning commission meetings and a city council public hearing, the council voted 3-2 to change approximately 39 acres in the so-called Fly Creek Planned Unit Development to allow the apartments instead of the townhomes and condominiums approved in 2006.
Wilson also cited recent lawsuits the city has faced as impediments to it’s ability to spend money on things she says matter.
Currently, the city faces a civil complaint filed Feb. 12 by a pair of Sandy Ford Road residents over stormwater management problems they say are damaging their property. The city is also embroiled in a lawsuit filed by Friends of Fly Creek LLC to stop the impending construction of The Retreat at Fairhope Village apartment development behind Publix.
“We have a beautiful city with beautiful flowers, but I don’t want that to distract people from what is going on here,” Wilson said. “We’ve spent too much on legal fees over the years and lost the opportunity to spend those funds on a performing arts center, something I’ve always supported. We could be using that money to finish the soccer complex, which we are now trying to scramble to find money to finish.”
Kant began raising campaign funds in October 2015 and has amassed a campaign fund balance of more than $40,000 according to his July Fair Campaign Practices report. Wilson hosted her first official campaign event on July 22. Kant said his campaign heard two weeks ago that Wilson planned to run.
“Any time you have an opponent you have to take it seriously,” Kant said. “I’ve always had an opponent and I think people in Fairhope like to have debates and talk about the issues.”
Kant was first elected mayor in 2000 after spending the previous 18 years as the city’s first horticulturist. Kant said the city is experiencing rapid growth much like the rest of the Eastern Shore and his experience managing that growth since 2000 should ease the concerns of voters.
“I think there are a lot of people who are worried about the city’s growth, with so many new people wanting to move here,” Kant said. “Growth is good because it means Fairhope is a desirable place to live. But people are concerned with how we manage that growth.”
Kant, who is also paid as the city’s utilities supervisor, is a member of the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority Board and South Alabama Regional Planning Commission and chairman of the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization. He is also a voting member of the Fairhope Planning Commission.
“Most people are happy with what we’ve done the last four years, I think,” Kant said. “They like the idea that people in the city have been able to work together to accomplish a lot this last four years.”
Meanwhile, all five Fairhope City Council seats will be contested this year. Longtime Place 4 incumbent Mike Ford decided not to seek reelection. Robert Brown and James Phil Nix Jr. will face each other for Ford’s seat.
Nix is the son of former Fairhope mayor James P. Nix. He served as Baldwin County tax collector and revenue commissioner for 24 years and has been an administrator at St. Lawrence Catholic Parish since 2009.
Brown served active duty in the U.S. Army from 1990 until 1993, which included a combat deployment with the 1st Armored Division in the Persian Gulf War. He is a partner in Pitman Brown Building Co.
In District 1, Meredith Smith is challenging incumbent Jack Burrell while in Place 2, Jay Robinson is challenging incumbent Rich Mueller. Place 3 incumbent Diana Brewer received two challengers in James “Jimmy” Reid Conyers Jr. and Murray Lawrence. Place 5 incumbent Kevin Boone received a challenge from Gary Gover.