Fairhope City Councilman Kevin Boone has accused Mayor Karin Wilson of violating state law after she used the city’s communication system to display a blog post pushing the her version of a petition to change the city’s form of government.
Boone said he submitted evidence in early July of what he thinks is a violation of Alabama state law to Baldwin County District Attorney Bob Wilters. “The paperwork has been sent in to the proper authorities to do an investigation,” Boone told WABF. “Whether or not it’s going to be done, I don’t know.”
“I did this not so much as a councilman, but as Kevin Boone,” he continued, emphasizing that he did not take action on behalf of the council, but as a private citizen.
When two petitions offering two different changes to Fairhope’s form of city government began circulating in June Wilson used the city’s Everbridge communication system, to display a blog post pushing her version of a petition to change the city’s form of government. According to the Fairhope municipal website, “this system enables us to provide you with critical information quickly in a variety of situations, such as severe weather, unexpected road closures, missing persons and events happening in your area.”
According to Boone, and The Courier, this violates several Alabama laws including Alabama Code Title 17-17-4 which states:
“Any person who attempts to use his or her official authority or position for the purpose of influencing the vote or political action of any person shall be guilty, upon conviction, of a Class C felony.” Class C felonies in Alabama carry a sentence of up to 10 years in state prison.
“Section 17-17-5 goes further:
“No person in the employment of the State of Alabama, a county, a city, a local school board, or any other governmental agency, whether classified or unclassified, shall use any state, county, city, local school board, or other governmental agency funds, property, or time, for any political activities.”
“According to the subsection, political activities include:
“a. Making contributions to or contracting with any entity which engages in any form of political communication, including communications which mention the name of a political candidate.
“b. Engaging in or paying for public opinion polling.
“c. Engaging in or paying for any form of political communication, including communications which mention the name of a political candidate.
“d. Engaging in or paying for any type of political advertising in any medium.
“e. Phone calling for any political purpose.
“f. Distributing political literature of any type.
“g. Providing any type of in-kind help or support to or for a political candidate.”
“17-17-5 goes on to state that “It shall also be unlawful for any officer or employee to coerce or attempt to coerce any subordinate employee to work in any capacity in any political campaign or cause.
Wilson responded to The Courier‘s reports, saying “Supporting a referendum for a vote by a legislative body or by voters is NOT considered a ‘political activity.’ Regardless, there were no public funds used nor the improper use of public property.”
She then attached a “2003 Alabama Attorney General’s Opinion involving whether public school systems and colleges could expend public funds to advocate on behalf of ballot initiatives and a 2015 circuit court ruling involving the Baldwin County Board of Education’s advocacy for the Build Baldwin Now campaign,” the report continued.
The Attorney General at the time, Bill Pryor, ruled that state law did not forbid the activity.
No word has been reported as to whether or not the district attorney’s office will investigate.
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.