Fairhope’s hiring of new police sergeant making waves in local government

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Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson is under fire regarding an appointment she made in late February.

Wilson announced the hiring of Tony Goubil, the city’s new police sergeant and public safety director, at a council meeting on February 26.

The council and Fairhope Police Chief Joseph Petties, who were not informed of Goubil’s hiring prior to her announcing the decision, were both astonished at the announcement.

Wilson shared her reasonings and excitement for the announcement in a Facebook post:

“The hiring of Tony Goubil is a point of pride for me and for this City. His passion for safety is going to help catapult our incredible police department to far greater heights. When you have an opportunity to hire someone with this amount of experience to meet a great and growing city need, you take it. Some are casting the filling of this need in a negative light. I can assure you it is not. When a position opens up in any department, under my administration, we will make it available to all deserving and qualified individuals.”

However, questions have arisen about Goubil’s hiring after baldwin county local paper, The Courier, discovered that he met with multiple sources in Fairhope concerning ethics claims filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission commission against Wilson.

According to The Courier, the Alabama Ethics Commission sent Goubil to investigate a complaint filed against Wilson, and although the complaint was dismissed, “those who filed the claims questioned how Goubil’s investigations into those claims could be trusted in the light of his hiring by Wilson.”

The Alabama Ethics Commission has policies in place to prevent this kind of ethical delimma. A memo released in 2017 from the commission’s Executive Director Thomas Albritton said, “once you leave your public employer, for two years you may not go to work for a private business or an individual you audited or investigated while you were a public employee.”

The Courier, obtained an e-mail sent to Wilson from Petties. The e-mail, dated March 6, Petties expressed his apprehensions and thoughts about Goubil:

I wanted to inform you of the conditions of my department.

My Department has been in an uproar ever since Monday, February 26, the night you announced the hiring of Tony Goubil. I was inundated with phone calls that night about something that I had no knowledge of. I am not understanding how someone can be hired under my Department without my knowledge and without any input from me. This has been handled totally different than any hires in the past. I have been a police officer with Fairhope for 27 years and a Sergeant has never been brought in from outside.

My officers feel as though they weren’t given an opportunity to apply for the promotion and those that have gone through the process for promotion feel slighted. They feel that it’s not what you do, but who you know. Where’s their motivation to work hard knowing that they do not have an opportunity for promotion. This has caused not one, but all 35 officers to be upset, not to mention my non-sworn employees. The chain-of-command has been completely undermined, thus making it nonexistent.

We’ve had two officer involved shootings within the last 6 months. My officers need to be focused on their safety and training and not concerned about which channel their command comes from. I need my employees to stand behind me and support me and in return, I support them. This can’t happen if I am being undermined. I understand that you are authorized to hire and fire, but these decisions need to be carefully considered. The morale and motivation within my Department is the lowest I’ve ever seen at a time when they need to be galvanized behind their leader. I do not need their focus misplaced with worry as to the state of our Department.

We’ve got officers that have been off probation for over a year and a half and have not received the standard increase. I am in danger of losing these officers. Due to the lack of qualified applications being received it would be hard to replace these officers. We used to be able to attract officers from surrounding agencies, but with the perceived turmoil within the City, we are no longer attracting those applicants. I’m not sure how we have the money in the budget to award such a position that has been given to Mr. Goubil.

Petties isn’t the only Fairhope official in an “uproar” over the unexpected hiring.

“This stinks to high heaven,” Councilman Kevin Boone told The Courier. “To me, this seems almost the same as Gov. Bentley offering Luther Strange the Senate seat to end the investigation into him. This just seems incredibly wrong.”

“This doesn’t pass the smell test, It’s highly disheartening that our city is once again in the news for missteps taken by the mayor,” Council President Jack Burrell said in the same report.

Wilson said in a statement to The Lagniappe; “He (Burrell) was involved in some of the complaints, investigations and complaints are two totally different things. People file frivolous complaints all day long, I can assure you. I’m sure that by upsetting the apple cart there’s a lot of tit for tat and there’s a lot of complaints against me.”

Councilman Robert Brown and Boone are questioning Wilson’s authority to create what they feel is a new position.

“There is no such position nor is one budgeted,” Brown told The Courier. “Mr. Goubil could fill Officer Bishop’s position; however, that is another issue. There is no full time SRO position, much less two. There was no communication with council, who is the funding authority. A position is not funded or created until council has approved the position.”

“There was nothing done inappropriately, if anything, it’s the best hire we’ve made as far as doing proper procedures in that department than has been made. This is an all-encompassing person that’s going to really help plan for Fairhope’s future. Citizens should applaud,” Wilson told The Lagniappe.

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