In a blog post on her official blog made Friday, Dec. 23, Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson responded to questions made about a disaster debris removal contract non-renewal, made comments about the use of the city’s barricades at a private event and shared her feelings about The Courier’s coverage of those issues.
Wilson first took aim at Gulf Coast Media managing editor Cliff McCollum’s reporting on transcripts received by The Courier regarding Wilson’s direction of an investigation by Elias Technologies into former city employees Sherry Sullivan and Jennifer Fidler, which Wilson in which had previously claimed she had no direct involvement.
In the Aug. 30 edition of The Courier, the article ‘The detail invoice that was sent I think will get me in trouble’ contained a sentence on Page 2 that said “On July 7, Wilson writes that ’the police dept has lost trust’ in her.”
Mayor Karin Wilson’s attorney Harry Satterwhite wrote in an August 31 letter to The Courier that, in the article’s quoted transcript of instant messages referenced, Wilson was not speaking about the police department losing trust in her but instead that the police department had lost trust in the services of its IT contractor.
Upon a careful second reading of the transcripts referenced in the Aug 30 article, it was not clear to whom Wilson is referring when she states “the police dept has lost trust.” Therefore the Courier retracted the words “in her.”
“The retraction happened, but the damage to the City was done,” Wilson wrote on her blog. “He knew the statement was malicious and Gulf Coast Media knew, or should have known, that this statement was totally false, yet they published it anyway.”
Wilson also posted a screenshot of McCollum and a Facebook post he made about the threat of litigation.
“Attempting to destroy the reputation of a city, stirring up unnecessary drama and spinning the truth is no joking matter,” Wilson wrote. “And it is costing our City greatly.”
Use of city barricades
Wilson then addressed The Courier’s article about the use of city barricades that may have been improperly used at a Sept. 25 rally for then U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore at Oak Hollow Farm.
“A few days ago, another hit-piece article by the same person insinuated that the City may have violated state law with the use of our city barricades. If he knew the whole process started with a city councilman reaching out to one of the city employees to help out a fraternity brother whose father worked for the Roy Moore campaign, maybe he wouldn’t have started the ‘investigative’ story,” Wilson wrote.
In The Courier story posted online Dec. 23 before Wilson’s blog post and printed Dec. 27, The Courier did address that Councilman Jimmy Conyers had been involved in the process.
“Councilman Jimmy Conyers said he had been contacted by the Moore campaign prior to the event and had been asked for the city’s assistance, but Conyers said he gave them (Community Development Director Sherry-Lea Bloodworth) Botop’s contact information and did not have any further involvement with the event or usage of city property,” the article said.
Wilson continued by saying she was unaware of the details about the event until questions were asked.
“The ‘state law’ violated was that council should not direct city employees,” Wilson wrote. “That is the role of the mayor and I was never contacted. In fact, I didn’t know about the details of what happened until the ‘reporter’ started asking questions. Bottom line, barricades were used to protect citizens and all City expenses were reimbursed when the invoice was paid. The probe is simply embarrassing and a waste of time.”
Disaster debris removal contract
Wilson also addressed at length questions raised about the expiration of a disaster debris removal contract that was held by Pittman Tractor Company that was re-bid and given to another company.
Wilson took issue with the questions asked by The Courier.
“I received the following email yesterday questioning why I misled council and the public about the debris removal contract,” Wilson wrote. “As with most of his negative reporting on my administration, he takes the questions he’s been fed from his secret sources, presumes the questions are fact-based, uses sensationalized headlines, confuses the public and ultimately further divides the office of the mayor and council. His questions are typical of his reporting – he implies I’m guilty and asks how I wish to respond and invites council to point fingers – which they do. When he finishes his articles, you will also notice there are never any ‘unavailable for comment’ responses from detractors as his articles are intended to be a platform for, and pander to, council, disgruntled city employees and adversaries. Therefore a response from me is not important for these articles. However, I will bring the facts to the citizens as always – the same facts that were shared with council in July so they could make an informed decision.”
On Monday, July 10, 2017, Fairhope Special Assistant Lynn Maser emailed The Courier instructing that questions for Wilson would have to be sent through her.
“This email is to let you know that from now forward requests for comments from the Mayor’s office should be directed to my office,” Maser wrote. “Thank you for your help in this matter.”
The Courier has complied with Wilson’s request to do so. The Courier is able to directly contact each of the council members via phone and email without going through a second party.
Wilson said she chose to wait to see the article come out rather than responding to The Courier’s questions directly.
“I decided not to answer the questions and instead waited until he posted the article to see what was written, again without facts, and see how the detractors responded,” Wilson wrote. “I had this blog ready to post and everything came out exactly as I predicted.”
Wilson said she had requested then Purchasing Manager Dan Ames rebid all of the city’s contracts in January, but took his advice and did not rebid contracts if there wasn’t “ample time for the RFP process.”
“As a new mayor, it was important for me to not only look at all expenses to ensure the City is receiving the best service and price, but also give opportunity for other qualified businesses to bid,” Wilson wrote. “These RFP (request for proposals) go out to ever (sic) qualified company on our bid list, which included Pittman Tractor.”
Wilson said the city did not receive an RFP from Pittman tractor, as they declined to submit a bid before the deadline. Wilson said she contacted Pittman Tractor owner, State Senator Trip Pittman, who told her he had received the RFP but chose not to bid due to his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat at that time.
Wilson said she was concerned about the timing of the RFP for this contract.
“The biggest concern I explained to council was the fact that this RFP did not go out until six months after I requested it,” Wilson wrote. “The email referenced was sent to me and council on July 24 at 2:58 p.m. This was the day of the council meeting and the day the contract with Pittman Tractor expired!”
The email referenced in The Courier’s question was actually sent July 20.
According to emails obtained by The Courier between Wilson and Ames, Pittman Tractor’s contract expired before July 24.
“Please bring me a copy of the full bid for Pittman’s old contract which expired today and the winning bid from the new process that was going to be walked on last night,” Wilson wrote in a Jan. 11 email.
Wilson wrote that “she was made aware of the email for the first time when Dan (Ames) presented it to me minutes before the meeting started that day,” which she wrote was July 24.
However, on July 19, Wilson asked Ames via email if he had received a letter from Pittman stating his company would extend the same contract or if it was just a phone conversation.
Ames replied July 20 that he had received a phone call from Pope July 10 and quoted the same message in sent in a July 10 email.
“I have received a call from John L. Pope, of Pittman Tractor Co., the current contract holder,” Ames wrote. “He said he would be willing to extend the current amount for an additional year, if it is in the best interest of the City to do so.”
Wilson confirmed she received Ames response at 8:45 a.m. on July 20 via email.
Wilson goes on to write in her blog post that the agenda item involving the contract was not voted on at the July 24 meeting.
“A bid like this should have been on a work session to discuss the evaluation in detail,” Wilson wrote. “This agenda item was being walked on to the council meeting expecting an answer. Council President Burrell stated it would have to wait - it was too big of a decision to add that night.”
The council did vote on July 24 to award the bid to D&J Enterprises in a unanimous vote, despite questions and concerns from Burrell.
In the blog post, Wilson wrote she stood by her assertion that Pittman Tractor did not want to extend the contract.
“If Pittman wanted to extend the contract, they would have responded to the bid request before the deadline and that simply did not happen,” Wilson wrote. “To accept Pittman’s bid after the deadline not only taints the bid process it is also unfair to those who took the time to submit bids. It could also have subjected the city to a potential lawsuit and liability.”
Wilson wrote she felt she did not mislead the council about the contract.
“Council was well-informed (including the email sent to them on July 23),” Wilson wrote. “If council had concerns or questions, none responded to this email or asked any questions.”
Wilson sent an email on July 23 to two council members, Jay Robinson and Jimmy Conyers. Burrell and Councilmen Kevin Boone and Robert Brown do not appear on the email received list.
“I wanted to send you the facts about the Debris Removal contract for you to read through,” Wilson wrote. “I want to point out that I did call Tripp Friday and he chose not to rebid and felt timing-wise with campaign not good. Nevertheless, consideration for an extension should have been considered in May as it was last year. No letter was sent for an extension agreement and Pittman decided not to re-bid which is what I requested the beginning of the year which should make the decision easier to make which is to go with Dan’s recommendation for the lowest responsible bidder D&J.”
Wilson explained the bid process and then said:
“The City is not required to accept the lowest bid,” Wilson wrote. “It must exercise good faith to determine the lowest “responsible” bidder. Many factors can go into that determination. Also, the City is not required to accept any bids, but instead may reject all bids. But doing so now, in my opinion, would be highly criticized. Ken stated the city could “Possibly, reject all bids and renew the contract with Pitmann. However, I do not recommend this course without doing additional research”
Wilson attached a review from Volkert’s Disaster Services Manager Kirby McCrary dated July 10 in which McCrary lays out a case for not renewing the contract if the city chose to do so.
McCrary wrote that the instructions to bidders stated that the city “will award to the lowest responsible bidder, it goes on to indicate the City has the right to reject all bids if it’s in their best interest to do so.”
After posting links to the email and review she sent Robinson and Conyers, Wilson wrote “As you can see, council was given all the facts,” though her emails do not show them being sent to Burrell, Brown or Boone.
Removal of city legal ads from The Courier
Wilson then wrote the following:
“I hope the editor will begin to recognize that leaked documents and misinformation he’s being fed are coming from politicos and special interests that want to see me fail,” Wilson wrote. “But because I have only one agenda – to make positive changes and enhancements in our great City in a meaningful way – it has been more difficult than they expected.”
“It has gotten a lot easier to ignore the lies and innuendo directed at me, however, when these articles start costing the City in unnecessary legal fees, disparaging City staff and subjecting the City to unwarranted liability – all at taxpayers expense mind you – I will come back with the same tenacity that got me elected and will continue to give you the facts.”
Wilson said she would research an alternate way to run the city’s required legal ads.
“The Courier is primarily funded by legal ads,” Wilson wrote. “Since the Courier has relinquished its role as a legitimate primary publication of record for the City of Fairhope, I will be seeking an alternate source in which to place our legal ads. You deserve better.”
According to the Code of Alabama, in order to be a newspaper allowed to publish such legals that “All publications required by any law, mortgage, or other contract to be published in a newspaper must be published in any newspaper printed in the English language which has a general circulation in the county, regardless of where the paper is printed, if the principal editorial office of the newspaper is located within the county and which newspaper shall have been mailed under the publication class mailing privilege of the United States Postal Service from the post office where it is published for at least 51 weeks a year.”
The Courier and Gulf Coast Media are the only newspapers in general circulation in Baldwin County which have their principal editorial office located within the county.
The full version of Wilson’s blog post can be found at mayorkarinwilson.com.