Tense exchanges and questions about executive sessions were factors in last week’s Fairhope Airport Authority meeting, when accusations and explanations went back and forth between Airport …
Tense exchanges and questions about executive sessions were factors in last week’s Fairhope Airport Authority meeting, when accusations and explanations went back and forth between Airport Authority Chair Joe McEnerney and Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson on numerous matters of discussion.
Bond attorney withdraws
In one item, the Airport Authority was forced to pick a new bond attorney after its current firm, Birmingham based Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, withdrew from being the authority’s firm citing unrest in Fairhope’s city government.
“(The attorney) called and said he didn’t want to do any business with us,” McEnerney said. “He said there were too many moving parts with the city of Fairhope … too many things pulling against the bond issue closing in a timely manner.”
McEnerney said the authority’s former firm had recommended two candidates to replace it, but he said one major issue was still outlying.
“One of the big issues we had was that we don’t have the full support of the city of Fairhope to do this refinancing,” McEnerney said. “Both said they felt they were comfortable trying to do that without the mayor’s support.”
McEnerney suggested the authority go with independent Birmingham attorney Thomas Longino, adding his firm was specifically recommended by the previous attorney and his fee structure was $12,000 less than what the authority would have paid for its previous firm.
The Airport Authority Board approved the hiring of Longino unanimously.
Ethics attorney retained
The board also voted unanimously to retain Montgomery ethics attorney Dennis Bailey as counsel to represent the authority on an ethics matter.
“This is to head off an ethics complaint going to the state ethics commission and the attorney general,” McEnerney said.
The complaint in question was filed by local resident Paul Ripp and involves the awarding of a hangar bid to sitting Airport Authority secretary/treasurer Ray Hix.
Fairhope Council President Jack Burrell, who serves as council liaison on the Airport Authority, said it was unfortunate the authority was being forced to make the hire.
“There’s no way around it at this time,” McEnerney said.
McEnerney then moved on to the proposals that would allow the authority to refinance its debt.
Debt refinancing delays
Via phone, Board Member Vince Boothe said he was inclined to have the authority pick a bank that day because of the costs already assumed by the authority by delaying.
“I believe we’ve lost, because of the request of the mayor to postpone this, around $160,000 since then,” Boothe said. “If we miss the next deadline, I think we’ll lose five basis points more and that will be another $60,00 we’re paying in interest. I can’t make a motion because I’m not there today, but we’ve got to make a motion to pick a time that we’re going to put these bids to rest with the new bond attorney so we can do what the city council directed us to do.”
Wilson said she was not to blame for the refinancing delay and said she had met with McEnerney just the other day to try to find ways to work together for a solution.
“You stated you wanted to work with me and get this resolved, even going so far as we would take the time needed to do something I would feel comfortable with,” Wilson said.
Wilson and McEnerney began talking over one another at that point.
Wilson: So, the fact that you have said something totally different at this meeting.
McEnerney: Karin, I didn’t say something different.
Wilson: (To City Attorney Marion “Tut” Wynne) Tut, did we hear that at our meeting?
Wynne: You said that you were considering having to go forward without the cooperation of the mayor, whereas yesterday when we talked, we are all trying to work together with Mayor Wilson to get everybody back on the same team again.
Wynne said he believed Wilson was an ex-officio member of the board and including her in the requests for proposals and other board matters would help bring everyone onto the same page.
McEnerney said exchanges like this were “one of the reasons our bond counsel retired.”
Wilson said she didn’t like being accused of postponing the refinancing for the airport’s debt.
“I want everybody at this board to understand that I have nothing to do with postponing this,” Wilson said. “You tried to push it through with an email that would have happened before I took office. After I took office, the negotiations continued without me. Those deadlines on the original RFP were October and you didn’t send another RFP until January, so how is that my fault?”
‘There is no debate’
McEnerney said he wasn’t going to debate Wilson at the meeting, which led to a quick reply from her.
“There is not a debate,” Wilson said. “You dropped the ball on this. Stop telling everyone this is my fault. If you had done the RFP in October, we wouldn’t have this issue.”
Wilson then informed the board she would be making three new appointments on March 1, when the terms of those Airport Authority members would be up, though she might consider reappointing Hix.
Wilson said she didn’t think the board should approve any of the current RFPs because they still included pre-payment penalties, which she didn’t think were in the best interest of the city.
McEnerney said he hoped to be able to negotiate with the bank they would eventually choose to get that clause removed from the contract.
Wilson said she was glad to have other people witnessing the meeting so that they could know what actually goes on there, which started another exchange between her and McEnerney.
Wilson: You continue to state facts that are not true. I’m going to come in here and state the truth. I have nothing to do with prolonging this. The banks could have been called before this deadline. Extend it, or let’s work on right now putting something else in place.
McEnerney: I disagree with everything you’ve said, but I’m not going to debate you. You came in here and you planted two people and told them to table the motion.
Wilson: Did we table your efforts? You’re still engaging these same banks. I’m not going to micromanage this - I have a city to run.
The board then voted to try to go into executive session to discuss pending litigation, but before they went into executive session, Wilson and McEnerney had another tense exchange in front of the city attorney.
Wilson: They’re finally witnessing what I witness all the time. It’s fine what you say behind close doors, but once you go out, you say a totally different thing.
McEnerney: You think I go into that board and people don’t say bad things about me.
Wynne: Look, guys, we were trying to get it back on the right track yesterday. Let’s get it back there.
Wilson: We can’t get back on the right track with him.
Wynne: You can’t go back and forth and cry over what happened yesterday. You’ve got to move forward now. And there may have been mistakes made yesterday, by the board and by who knows.
Wilson: It was stated again that this is my fault and that we’re going to bring in a bond attorney that will put something together that doesn’t matter if the mayor is involved.
McEnerney: That was the overriding factor in picking this bond attorney.
Wilson: What did you say last night to us?
McEnerney: I asked you point blank if you would support them, and you said you would.
Wilson: No, but you also said that whatever we do, you’re going to work with me and then you come out here and you say the bond attorney that we choose will be someone who has no problem if the mayor is not involved. Two totally different things, which is why I think I have reason to replace him on the board with cause.
McEnerney: With cause (laughing)
Wilson: I want to go ahead and start that process.
Once the board entered the executive session, Wilson said she felt she and Wynne deserved to sit in on that meeting, but were asked to leave the executive session based on the legal interpretation of Wilson’s role on the board from Airport Authority attorney Josh Myrick.
Following the executive session, Wynne told Myrick based on an interpretation of Robert’s Rules of Order from Florida, an ex officio member is a “full-fledged member and does have the right to attend that meeting.”
Burrell said the current bylaws did not necessarily grant Wilson full status as an ex officio member.
“It says the mayor ‘shall ex officio be entitled to notice,’” Burrell said. “There is no reference to the mayor being an ex officio member.”
Wilson disagreed with the interpretation.
“Y’all arguing this matter to try to keep me out is not in the best interest of the city, and I think the citizens will have a problem with that,” Wilson said.
This led to an exchange between Wilson and Burrell.
Wilson: That was not a voting session. I wasn’t there to vote, and when I come to these meeting, I’m not here to vote. If that’s how you interpret it, that needs to change.
Burrell: The board is a sovereign entity that does operate separate from the city. It very specifically states you aren’t a voting member, and that states to me you shouldn’t be in the executive sessions. I think it’s a worse violation to allow a member of the public in a executive session - that’s a far more serious thing.”
Both Wynne and Myrick said they would study the law on the matter and get back to both the board and mayor with their opinion.