Fairhope’s Oct. 2 referendum to possibly change the city’s form of government has been delayed.
In a release from Baldwin County Probate Judge Tim Russell, the election will be moved to Nov. 6, the general election day for Alabama.
“This order is issued in accordance with the opinion of the Honorable Robert Wilters, Baldwin County District Attorney, and with consultation of the Office of the Secretary of State of Alabama,” Russell wrote.
District Attorney Bob Wilters said the decision was based on Alabama Code 11-43(a)-3, which sets out how elections like this one are supposed to be called for and set.
“The mayor or other chief executive officer of such municipality shall immediately upon receipt of such certificate from the judge of probate, by proclamation, submit the question of the adoption of the council-manager form of government for such municipality under this article, at a special election to be held at a time specified in such proclamation, not less than 40 days nor more than 90 days after the receipt of said certificate from said judge of probate, unless a general election is to be held within 120 days after receipt of such certificate in which event the special election herein provided for may be held at the same time as such general election,” the code states.
Wilters said based on consultation with David Whetstone, the attorney for the Baldwin County Probate Office, and in consultation with the Alabama Secretary of State’s elections office, that the city was late in filing the proclamation for the election which then mandated the probate office set the election for the general election date.
“The problem was that it was filed late,” Wilters said. “It had to be done within 10 days of receiving the notice of certification with the probate judge and it was done within 15 to 20 days. When that happened, it took the jurisdiction of setting the election date away from the city and put it back into the hands of the probate judge, which is mandated to put it on the general election date if there is a general election within a 120-day period. Nov. 6 was 117 days from the date of the judge’s certification of the petition.”
Wilters said the change in date would in no way cancel the vote.
“It’s not stopping the vote,” Wilters said. “The vote is going to take place on the general election date, Nov. 6, which is going to give more people an opportunity to vote. General election turnouts are generally greater, especially if you have contested races like we do this year. It’s now going to be set where you’ll have more people out voting so you’ll have a better representation of the people. It may not seem like it to some, but I think it’s a win for the city and the citizens of Fairhope.”
Fairhope Council President Jack Burrell said he felt the delay would ultimately help Fairhope residents be able to gain clarity before they voted on the issue.
“It’s unfortunate that it has to be delayed, but I feel it is in the best interest of the citizens of Fairhope because people can go to the poll informed of exactly what a change would entail,” Burrell said. “It will allow for more public debate, and give us time to bring clarity to the law. People will be able to know what they’re getting when they vote yes or no.”
On her official Facebook page, Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson said the following:
“Your special election for the Council-Manager form of government scheduled on 10/2 will now bey delayed until the general election on 11/6,” Wilson wrote. “This is a decision which be announced directly from the Judge of Probate’s office and I will share more details when these become available. Rest assured, I will make certain municipal voters are well-informed and that this change will not disenfranchise citizens on your referendum to vote on a new form of government.”
This is a breaking story and will be updated with further information as it becomes available.