City of Fairhope denies record release to Courier

Courier sought documents, communications involved in performance review of former Police Chief Petties


After an almost three month delay, the City of Fairhope has responded to a records request made by The Courier seeking the performance review given to former Fairhope Police Chief Joseph Petties by Mayor Karin Wilson earlier this year - and denied the release of any documents or communications at this time.

Petties cited the performance review as one of the reasons he had sought to retire in June.

“There are times when you don’t always see eye to eye with your supervisor, but the treatment has grown to a point where it can no longer be ignored,” Petties said at a June 4 special called Fairhope City Council meeting. “My work and leadership, and most important my integrity, has come under attack by Mayor Wilson. I feel these attacks have been a ploy for me to surrender my position as chief.”

Petties said the performance evaluation was entirely filled with negative comments, the worst he said he had ever been given while with the city.

“I feel it was a personal attack on me,” Petties said. “There wasn’t one positive thing on this list - not one.”

Petties added that Wilson told him he was accused of intimidating one city employee and harassing two others and was told he was not allowed to interact with said employees and to have his lieutenants handle issues with them.

“If you have got to go somewhere and you have to take someone with you, things are serious,” Petties said.

Petties added he had been accused by Wilson of not assisting with background checks for workers on the city’s water tower repainting and failing to take ownership of departmental issues and that he had blamed the council and mayor of any issues.

In her comments at the June 4 meeting, Wilson said she was not prepared to speak at the meeting but felt she needed to.

“I think this is unfortunate this has turned into something about me,” Wilson said..

Wilson said it was communicated to her early in her administration that Petties had intended to retire, and said she supported whatever decision he wanted to make and that she didn’t ask him to retire.

“Whatever happens in the city right now, it is unfortunate that I’m always the scapegoat,” Wilson said. “It’s no different than me being a mother - everything is always my fault.”

With regards to the personnel evaluation of Petties, Wilson said it wasn’t for her to release.

“The evaluation is confidential,” Wilson said. “If he wants to share it, he can. This is no different than anyone else that has an evaluation … It’s not my right to speak on behalf of that and it could open the city up to liability.”

Wilson said city employees have been used for political purposes during the last few years.

“Our city employees have been the subject of political gain since I’ve taken office, and that’s unfair,” Wilson said. “It shouldn’t be this way.”

Petties eventually retired from his position on Aug. 10.

On June 12, The Courier submitted a record request for “any and all communications and documents related to the performance review alluded to by Chief Petties at the June 4 council meeting.”

The Courier did not receive a reply from the city on the matter, so on Sept. 6, The Courier sent an email formally requesting the production of the requested communications and documents again, as well as a response from the City as to why there had been an almost three month delay on complying with the request.

On Sept. 10, the city responded with the following statement:

“The City's response was delayed waiting on an opinion from the City's attorneys for the requested documents. The ‘Memo’ in question was not attached to or part of the evaluation; and the actual evaluation was never completed, which includes the Chief signing and noting his disagreement. The completed final evaluation would then be part of the personnel file and any other documents in the file on job performance, except any on proposed discipline that is not final.”

The Courier will continue to pursue the release of the documents and communications involved in this matter.