Citizen reaction was again the main focal point of a Fairhope City Council meeting held June 11, as supporters of Mayor Karin Wilson packed council chambers to share their views on a meeting held the week before regarding the fate of Fairhope Police Chief Joe Petties’ potential retirement.
Several Wilson supporters claimed the June 4 meeting, at which Petties’ claimed he was seeking retirement due to “bullying” from the mayor, was staged to make Wilson look bad.
At the June 4 meeting, Petties rescinded his retirement to allow the council to look into taking over operations and oversight of the police department from the mayor.
Former Prichard mayor and current Fairhope resident A.J. Cooper said the previous week’s meeting was not something you want people to associate with a city.
“All of you love this city, I am certain,” Cooper said. “We want businesses to come here. We want to be proud of this city. Last week was not the impression we would ever want to leave.”
Cooper questioned whether Petties was the right person to manage the city’s police department.
“Some of you are business people, some of you are lawyers who represent business people - how many of you all would have left Chief Petties run your business?” Cooper questioned. “He’s a nice man, he’s worked here for a long time, but that doesn’t make him qualified to run a business with 30 employees and a million dollar budget.”
Cooper called on the mayor and the council to put the city’s best interests at heart.
“In the mean time, we have one mayor and we have one city council,” Cooper said. “In order for us to move forward, all of you all need to take a deep breath and say what is best for our city. What is going on now simply is not the best. You have to let the mayor be the executive of the city. You need to set policies and then see the policies get implemented.”
Local business owner Jay Harlan accused the council of staging the June 4 meeting.
“It was staged,” Harlan said. “You packed the audience. You planned the whole thing. It was rehearsed.”
Harlan also took Fairhope Council President Jack Burrell to task in that his alleged actions in arranging the June 4 meeting.
“It was a fiasco and it was orchestrated,” Harlan said. “You changed the agenda so you could attack the mayor, for no other reason. I find it unmanly and a sissy thing to do.”
Burrell said Harlan’s claims were unfounded.
“What you’re saying is absolutely preposterous,” Burrell said. “It’s simply not true. It was not orchestrated for me to do anything politically. This is just more character assassination, it’s a constant character assassination.”
Local artist and Wilson advisor Dean Mosher called on Burrell to resign as council president.
“You’ve been council president for six years,” Mosher said to Burrell. “In almost every municipality I’ve ever known, it’s a year, maybe two … That’s way too much as council president.”
Wilson’s husband Keifer also put the council on notice for what he felt was continued attacks against his wife.
“What you guys put on last week, I’ve been told not to watch, and I haven’t watched it,” Keifer said. “What you guys displayed was horrible from what I’ve heard. I think it was all orchestrated, and I think you all knew about it.”
Wilson’s husband called the previous meeting a sideshow.
“It was a sideshow to make her look bad,” Keifer said. “She’s not going to quit, she’s not going to resign - she’s your mayor.”
Keifer added that “When you question my wife’s character, you question me” and he guaranteed the council members that “none of you are going to get re-elected.”
“We don’t want your kind running our city anymore,” Keifer said. “We don’t want the character you have displayed and continue to display.”
Local blogger Paul Ripp, who recently sued Burrell over being denied access to speak during a city council meeting, also questioned the optics of the June 4 meeting.
“If you think that meeting last week wasn’t completely set up, then you’re dreaming,” Ripp said to the council. “You’ve been harassing the mayor from the first meeting … This has been going on for 18 months and has hurt this city immensely.”
Ripp also called for Burrell to step down as city council president.
Sonia Bennett, a local resident who volunteers at Wilson’s bookstore Page and Palette, said she had asked Petties to sit down for a meeting with Wilson and urged the council and mayor to try to get along.
“All I want is to see all of us come together, that we’re a unified city,” Bennett said.
Local businessman Bobby Green added another call for Burrell’s resignation.
“Jack, maybe you could step aside as council president,” Green said. “That scene last week was almost a mob. That was disgraceful.”
While the majority of speakers at the June 11 meeting were in support of Wilson, not all were.
Jessie Patterson, local business owner and former director of the Marietta Johnson Organic School, presented Wilson with a petition with several hundred signatures asking her to resign her office.
“That’s a resounding no,” Wilson said, about resigning her office.
Retired city employee Melanie Beiser said Wilson’s actions in office have had her concerned.
“I’ve never seen such a blatant misuse of power as I’ve seen with this current mayor,” Beiser said. “Over 25 employees have left since this mayor was elected, and that is over 400 years of experience that the city has lost.”
Beijer asked Wilson again to resign and urged the council to continue their efforts.
“None of y’all should step down,” Beiser said to the council. “I would vote for you again.”
Council, mayoral comments
Councilman Jay Robinson had little to say following Beiser’s comments.
“The better part of my brain is telling me to be quiet, so I’ll just listen to that better part,” Robinson said.
Councilman Kevin Boone said he liked having Burrell as council president and said he did not want him to resign.
Councilman Robert Brown said he and other council members have become accustomed to criticism during the last 18 months in office.
“We sit up here, and we can handle the criticisms, the public comments and BS put out there by certain individuals questioning our integrity,” Brown said.
Brown said the council’s relationship with Wilson was “at Ground Zero” due to a lack of trust Brown said stemmed from Wilson’s alleged misuse of funds allocated for a separate IT department for the police department that she used to have Elias Technologies investigate former city employees Sherry Sullivan and Jennifer Fidler.
Wilson rebutted Brown’s comments.
“Don’t talk about things you don’t understand, Robert, because that is an absolute lie,” Wilson said.
Wilson said she has tried to do everything the police department had ever asked of her and accused all of the council members of refusing to meet with her.
“I am the only one who reaches out to the council constantly,” Wilson said. “Every meeting we’ve ever had is because I have reached out.”
Wilson said the communications between her and the council have been decidedly one-sided.
“This is beyond politics,” Wilson said. “I do care for this city, and I wake up every day and come to work and I do what I think is best for this city. I am the only one that communicates - it’s one-sided. It’s never made me give up. I still try my hardest to make this relationship work, and all I ever get is finger pointing. If we were all truly wanting to do our jobs as elected officials, you would stand up and work together.”
Robinson quickly replied he has never rejected a meeting with Wilson and took umbrage with her statement.
“When we sit in here and say everybody is guilty of it, you make generalized statements directed at everyone that are only meant for one or two people,” Robinson said. “That is not being transparent when we are communicating to the people. To sit up here and say ‘The council refuses to meet with me’ is just not true.”
Brown said he felt the trust between mayor and council has to be rebuilt before meaningful action can be taken.
“The trust has got to be rebuilt,” Brown said, referencing a memo Wilson sent out several months ago instructing city employees not to speak with council members without her office’s permission and knowledge. “The reason that memo was sent out to city employees was about Jack (Burrell) and myself directing city employees about what to do. I really wish you could give me an example of how I’ve directed employees.”
Boone said he would not reach out to Wilson.
“I’m not going to reach out to you,” Boone said. “I don’t trust you … Mayor, you have misled me so many times. We can’t trust you. The last time I met with you, you asked me to leave. Why would I want to reach out to you when all you’re going to do is ask me to leave the office and yell?”
“I am the only one reaching out,” Wilson replied. “The council and mayor are supposed to work together.”
“Unfortunately, we can not trust you,” Boone said back. “The point of it is, we can’t do it. I’m sorry you don’t like it, but we can’t trust her.”
Burrell reiterated that the June 4 meeting was not staged or orchestrated.
“I didn’t ask one person to show up,” Burrell said.
Burrell said he is constantly accused of false conspiracies regarding city issues.
“Anytime something happens in this city, it’s me,” Burrell said. “I wish I had that much power, but I don’t. There’s no conspiracy. I’m a full-time engineer and I don’t have dreams of being the mayor right now … There’s no conspiracy. I’m on the citizens of Fairhope’s team.”
Chief Petties’ reaction
Petties sat down for a radio interview with WABF’s Lori DuBose on Wednesday, June 13 and answered several questions about the recent goings-on.
When asked about the potential release of the overly negative performance review Wilson gave him, Petties said it would not be released at this time.
“I think that what the mayor said was that she couldn’t release it for privacy issues,” Petties said. “It’s not my desire to release it at this time. My desire is for the city to work together.”
Petties said he was touched by the outpouring of love and support from the community asking him to stay in his position.
“The citizens have asked me to stay - there have been so many people reaching out,” Petties said. “It’s just been overwhelming to me and my family that the citizens truly love the city and truly love me.”
When asked if the June 4 meeting had been somehow staged, Petties denied those allegations.
“A lot of things were said that weren’t true about that,” Petties said. “I don’t feel I have to defend myself with that. It wasn’t staged.”
Petties said he asked the former employees in attendance to stand with him as he made his remarks to the council to “show the love of the people I’ve worked with.”