Fairhope asks AG’s office for clarification on new form of government

Fairhope Pier
[Photo Credit: Joseph Brooke via Flikr]

The city of Fairhope, Ala. has already set October 2 as the date for a special election to allow voters to decide whether or not they will change the city’s form of government. Now, the mayor and City Council members are looking to the Alabama Attorney General’s office for clarification on how the new system would play out.

After a months-long battle between Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson, and a non-profit group, Fresh Start Fairhope the group garnered enough signatures to call for a special election; allowing Fairhope citizens to vote on whether or not they want to change the city’s current form of government.

The new form of government being proposed would create a new governing body known as the “Council of the City of Fairhope,” which would have the same executive powers and duties of the council, but would make the mayor a member of the council, not an executive over it. Meaning the mayor would no longer preside over all city employees, or the council. Instead the mayor would be in charge of ceremonial events, and serve as a representative of the city.

The council and the mayor are now seeking an opinion from the Attorney General’s office on how the new council members would be elected if the vote passes in October.

According to meeting minutes from the August 13 Fairhope City Council meeting, the council voted to ask the AG’s office:

“Does the petition process contained in the Council-Manager Act of 1982…permit the adoption of the council-manager form of government by petition to consist of council members elected at large as the legislature provided for in Section 11-42A-1.1 or does the petition process only to provide, pursuant to Section 11-43A-8(a) for election of council members in single member districts?”

“Clarifying this important distinction is a must,” Wilson told the Lagniappe Mobile. “Many who signed the petition, including me, believed they were signing for a new form of government with council districts. The vote should not take place until this is clearly communicated.”

Spokesman for Fresh Start Fairhope, Chuck Zunk also weighed in on the issue: “Our reading of the law is that the law is silent on whether the City Council should make a determination on at-large or district representation before or after,” Zunk also told the Lagniappe Mobile. “We would prefer before. But we’re not the lawyers and we’re not the attorney general.”