Editorial: Fairhope’s opaque definition of transparency?


Transparency: it’s something you hear politicians talk about, but it’s a goal some of them don’t live up to these days.

Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson has made transparency and its pursuit a watchword for her administration, promising the public they will have more information than ever before on city matters, be it items before the city council or various city boards like the Fairhope Airport Authority.

“The level of transparency you have come to expect from this office will continue, in an effort to keep you engaged with matters that affect your pocketbook and quality of life,” Wilson wrote on her official Facebook page back in February.

Yes, transparency is all well and good, until it involves alleged wrongdoing by the mayor.

In a claim filed May 19 with the city of Fairhope, Fairhope Human Resources Director Pandora Heathcoe alleged Wilson committed an assault on her and has asked the city for $100,000 in damages.

From the page of the claim Gulf Coast Media was able to see, the alleged assault happened December of last year in front of a witness, former Public Works Director Jennifer Fidler, and reportedly involved the mayor physically grabbing and cursing at Heathcoe.

Unfortunately, we are not able to report on the full claim because the city of Fairhope is now saying the claim is not a public record.

The mayor, who prides herself on being a champion of transparency, will not release the document due to a legal opinions cited to keep the claim private, perhaps because it directly involved possible wrongdoing on her part.

Gulf Coast Media reached out to attorneys with the Alabama Press Association, who agreed with us that the full claim should be made public.

“Given there is no pending criminal investigation ongoing it is a public record that should be disclosed upon request,” attorney Jessica Trotman said. “This is nothing more than a notice of claim that has to be filed with the city within six months of an incident.”

The people of Fairhope, the voters and taxpayers, deserve to know what is going on in their city and what the city could be liable for if the allegations hold true.

And Heathcoe’s claim is not the only one that has been filed. Former Director of Community Affairs Sherry Sullivan filed another claim last week, alleging wrongful termination, retaliatory discharge, defamation of character, slander; libel and breach of contract.

It is widely believed Fidler, who again was a witness of the alleged assault, will likely be filing a similar claim soon as well.

People deserve to know what their governments and elected officials are up to, good or bad.

Officials should not be allowed to cherrypick what information they deem is or is not suitable to be released to the media and the public at large. We should see it all.

It is only when everyone has the full amount of information available that informed decisions and opinions are able to be formed, and Gulf Coast Media will always stand on the side of making sure you, the public, receive all the information to which you are entitled.

We urge you to contact Fairhope city leaders and request they release the information made in Heathcoe’s claim and any subsequent claims made so that we can all know what is truly going on.

In the name of transparency, it is something that must be done immediately and completely.

The people deserve the whole truth, and we hope the city of Fairhope will voluntarily comply with the request.