Gulf Shores officials fight back against outraged citizens

Crystal Cole/ Islander Editor
Posted 8/28/18

After weeks of being confronted, verbally attacked and mocked by citizens of the city, Gulf Shores City Council members battled back Monday night.

At the end of the Council’s regular meeting, …

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Gulf Shores officials fight back against outraged citizens

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After weeks of being confronted, verbally attacked and mocked by citizens of the city, Gulf Shores City Council members battled back Monday night.

At the end of the Council’s regular meeting, Mayor Robert Craft announced before opening the floor to public comment that discussion on the Regency Place Apartments would be limited.

“For the last six council meetings, we’ve listened with patience and understanding to your fears and concerns related to the Regency Place Apartments,” Craft said. “We’ve heard you loud and clear. However, the law is also very clear that at this point in the process this is totally a planning commission decision, and the council does not play a role in this process.”

Craft went on to say that discriminatory comments would not be tolerated as the city will have no discriminatory policies, and suggested topics like drainage, setbacks and parking.

“Since this issue has been aired at length at previous meetings and it is before the planning commission for its consideration, tonight we will restrict comments to those here with a different topic to discuss or topics not previously discussed on the Regency Apartments,” Craft said. “Please bear with us as we move through this, and please participate in the process.”

Pete Sims, who owns a condo on an adjacent property and has been a vocal leader in the citizen rally against Regency Place Apartments, got up to speak in favor of a proposal made by a fellow citizen.

Sims suggested the proposal to stream all public meetings in Gulf Shores wouldn’t cost the city a penny as it would be led by citizen volunteers. When he pushed for the council to vote on the suggestion given minutes before, and after Craft said more research needed to be done, Councilman Gary Sinak appeared agitated in his response.

“Excuse me—did you hear the mayor?” Sinak said. “There’s no reason for you to keep on like this. I mean this is ridiculous. We just said that we were going to research it and let you know something. You’ve got to put a little faith in us here.”

After some more back and forth between Sims and the council, he said he felt it was unacceptable to restrict input at the meeting.

“You’re shutting down the citizens, and it’s not proper,” Sims said.

Craft said the group had been given six meetings to air out its grievances, and that he hadn’t heard anything new in a while. Councilman Dr. Jason Dyken said Sims was “badgering and grandstanding.”

Craft said he and the council had “bent over backward” to allow for the citizens’ free speech and there has not been a question they had not been allowed to ask.

“We’re willing to do everything that is right by the world, particularly to our residents,” Craft said. “So—we’re going to do the right thing, but we’re not going to be pushed into a corner and try to answer questions tonight that we don’t have the answer to.”

Sims left the podium with comments about Craft’s and the council’s legacy, particularly how it related to citizen engagement. He cited questions from citizens at a previous meeting over the increased cost of a handrail for a bridge.

“That’s engagement, and that’s what citizens need to do,” Sims said. “The legislative branch of this organization right here had nothing to say about that. It took citizens from the audience to ask hard questions about why a blueprint wasn’t read properly.”

Sims then read a post from a local blogger which compared the planning commission’s decision to convene an executive session as similar behavior to the Rock Creek Apartment controversy in Fairhope in 2016, which the blogger said led to the ousting of longtime Fairhope Mayor Tim Kant and several council members. The post Sims read also accused the Gulf Shores council of defending the developers of Regency Place and of keeping the opposition in the dark.

Councilman and Mayor Pro Tempore Philip Harris—who also sits on the planning commission—told Sims the group had every right by law and reason to go into executive session.

“I don’t understand how y’all think we’re defending the developer,” Harris said. “The only defending that goes on up here is when we have to defend ourselves form your disrespectful comments and your personal attacks on this body. I have about all of this personal attack and these degrading remarks that I care for.”

Harris urged the citizens to stick to the facts and topics so the issue could be worked through in a productive manner so everyone could do the jobs they had been elected to do. He ended his time at the mike with a comment which was met with thunderous applause from city staff.

“2020—don’t vote for me,” Harris said. “If y’all believe that we are conspiring, if you believe that we’re underhanded and having private meetings with developers that are criminals, please don’t vote for me.