Fairhope mayor issues memo to city employees regarding communications with council members

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Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson sent a memo to Fairhope’s city employees instructing them that they were not allowed to be directed by the Fairhope City Council members and that contact with a council member should be reported to her or departmental supervisors.

In a memo dated Feb. 2 The Courier obtained Feb. 6, Wilson told all city employees the following:

“Section 11-43-80 and 81 of the Alabama Code 1975 establish that the Mayor is the chief executive officer of the City with day-to-day authority to direct and supervise employees as well as appointed officers of the city.

“Accordingly, members of the city council shall not direct or supervise city employees or appointed officials. Members of the council wishing to make suggestions or provide guidance involving day-to-day duties and responsibilities of employees should consult with the mayor. Members of the council shall not give orders to any subordinates of the mayor, either publicly or privately.

“Personnel Manual” ‘The following may result in disciplinary action, including immediate dismissal - Insubordination, including failure to follow supervisor’s instructions, or any verbal abuse of a supervisor, including profanity, name-calling or ridicule directed at the supervisor.’

“No City Employee should consult on any City business without involving a Director who will include me on all communication. Directors include Richard Peterson, Richard Johnson, Wayne Dyess, Tom Kuhl, Sherry-Lea Bloodworth, Jill Cabiness, Lisa Hanks, Mike Hinson and Chief Joe Petties.

“To avoid impropriety and insubordination, if a councilman contacts you regarding City business, refer him to me or ask that he go through me first. Employees are to advise and report directly to their supervisor who will in turn communicate with me. Council has no authority to direct or manage day-to-day affairs of city business or its employees. Decisions of the Council must be discussed in an advertised, open meeting and decisions must be made by council only when there is a quorum.

“All agenda items need to go through me from now on. You will Cc Lynn Maser and she will make sure all are given to Lisa. If Council President does not include the agenda item, it will be included on a list of agenda items requested but not included for transparency.

“Do not contact council on city business unless it is approved by me. This includes forthcoming agenda items. These things must be discussed in an open meeting.

“The purpose for implementing this procedure is to protect employees from any potential misunderstanding of who needs what information to complete an assignment, forwarding out-of-date information inadvertently, misinterpreting the request, or unwittingly giving information not germane to the task at hand.

“Where the budget is concerned, this procedure must be in full force. We spend an inordinate amount of time putting together a viable budget to meet the needs of each department and the City. Council holds the purse strings and as such feels it is their fiduciary responsibility to scrutinize every line item. Unfortunately, they do so without benefit of full understanding of all the moving parts and pieces and how they inter-relate. We have no secrets with our budget. We do not try to hide things within it. But we develop it to reflect our needs now and into the future, and those needs must be acknowledged and council amendments to the budget must be discussed in an open meeting.

“We will continue to work together as a team to provide for our city’s needs and most importantly we must keep everyone in the communication loop so we all play from the same page.”

The Courier contacted Wilson and all of the members of the Fairhope City Council with questions about the memo the morning of Feb. 7.

On her official Facebook page later that afternoon, Wilson posted a copy of the memo and said the following:

“Several media outlets have reached out to me to discuss the following memo I put out to our City employees,” Wilson said. “I am enforcing this policy because it’s confusing and uncomfortable when Council consistently interferes with day-to-day business and directs City employees. It is my intention to resolve this situation and to provide our employees with a comfortable work atmosphere.”

Council comments

Councilman Kevin Boone said he was not aware of the memo prior to being contacted by The Courier and said he was not aware of any situations where he or other council members had attempted to direct city staff.

“This is another attempt by our paranoid mayor to address problems that don’t exist,” Boone said. “If anything, this policy creates more problems than it solves and certainly doesn’t help with the issues between the mayor and the council.”

Council President Jack Burrell said he became aware of the memo sometime after its release.

"I have never directed employees other than assisting the City Clerk with what is to be on the agenda, which is the duty of the Council President," Burrell wrote in a statement. "I often have discussions with employees while seeking information I need to make informed decisions. I also receive numerous phone calls and emails from employees whenever they seek information from the council. As a city council member, we are involved in literally thousands of topics that touch every aspect of this city, and you have to ask questions to be informed."

Burrell gave a brief statement on his feelings about the memo.

"I have many thoughts about this memo, but, for now, will keep them to myself," Burrell wrote.

Councilman Jimmy Conyers said Wilson’s memo was surprising and he questioned some of the contents within it.

“Limiting Council’s communication with employees is not in the best interest of the citizens of Fairhope,” Conyers said in a statement to The Courier.

Conyers added:

“I concur with the Mayor in her assertion that she functions as the CEO of the City, overseeing employees as well as the day to day operations. I also feel that as Council members, we serve as the Board of Directors for the City.

“Both employees and department heads should feel they have unfettered access and an open line of communication with the Council. It may not have been Mayor Wilson’s intent, but the memo insinuates that employees should not communicate with Council and that doing so could be considered insubordination, potentially subjecting violators to disciplinary action, including immediate dismissal.

“To suggest that Council cannot communicate with employees without the Mayor’s approval or a department head’s involvement lacks transparency as it may prohibit employees from speaking freely if they are not in agreement with the Mayor or their department head on a particular issue.”

The Courier will update this story with further comments from Wilson and the members of the Fairhope City Council as they become available.