City of Fairhope to vote on changing form of government

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A non-profit group in Fairhope, Ala. has turned in enough signatures to create a special election, allowing Fairhope citizens to vote on whether or not they want to change the city’s current form of government.

Probate Judge Tim Russell is still in the process of verifying the 857 signatures Fresh Start Fairhope garnered, the group only needed 685 John Hancock’s to be granted the referendum.

The special election may be held as soon as September, but cannot be held later than 90 days after the petitions are validated.

“I think we’re making a great case for a council manager system. I think when we get closer to actually having an election, we’ll have more opportunity to explain the benefits of that system and our message will continue to get stronger,” Fresh Start Fairhope leader Chuck Zunk told WPMI.

The new form of government they are proposing 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 they would no longer be over all city employees, or the council. The mayor would also be in charge of ceremonial events, and serve as a representative of the city.

The way the members of the council are elected would also change, “One member will be a council member elected by the voters at large. Three members will be council members elected by the voters from each of three single-member districts,” the group states.

Fairhope’s mayor Karin Wilson issued her own petition supporting the Council-Manager form of government, because it “takes the day-to-day administrative role out of the political limelight which has been very detrimental to not only our City but others also still operating under the Council-Mayor form of government.”

Her version of the petition failed to meet the necessary amount of signatures to be considered by the probate court.

Wilson under fire

Wilson has been under fire from the City Council  repeatedly this year. In March, Wilson received an email from Fairhope Police Chief Joseph Petties, after a controversial hiring decision she made in February without the council, or police chief’s approval, later retracting the hire.

Wilson again came under fire in May with Fairhope’s Financial Advisory Committee (FAC), after sending an e-mail to committee chairman Chuck Zunk telling him the city budget was ultimately her responsibility, and that she would let the committee know if and when she needed their input.

Earlier in June, Petties announced his retirement at a city council meeting after saying Wilson bullied him and made false accusations against him. In an unanticipated turn of events, council members emphatically tore up Petties’s resignation letter, refusing to accept his resignation. They said they would look into whether or not the council could pursue efforts to pry police supervisory power from Wilson.

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