Fairhope mayor, council spar on governmental powers on professional services

K-1 Center purchase loses out on federal grant funds


While the Fairhope City Council passed a resolution last week that authorized spending $9,730 for a mountain bike trail feasibility study at the Triangle Property, it led to a disagreement over governmental power between Mayor Karin Wilson and the city council.

The resolution authorized a not-to-exceed spending amount of $9,730 with International Mountain Bicycling Association Trail Solutions for a feasibility study for possible bike trails for the Triangle Property, an idea that was suggested to Councilman Robert Brown.

“I’ve met wit ha group of biking enthusiasts about these bike trails,” Brown said. “It would be trying to utilize the northern parcel of the Triangle Property, but the city is not being asked to purchase any land for this - we already have it … I thought it was a good low-impact use and could be done relatively inexpensively.”

Council President Jack Burrell said doing the study would not force the city to build the trails.

“We don’t have to build it if we don’t like it,” Burrell said. “While we’re doing this, I’d like to see us push for some pedestrian trails as well. We probably have over 5,000 walkers in this city.”

Wilson said during the council’s work session that she was definitely in favor of the project but had concerns over moving forward right now on the study.

“Anything we approve now is going to have to have money be taken from the utilities,” Wilson said, adding that the trail study was not part of the city’s budget. “We’re doing a comprehensive land use plan. We’re doing a separate study on prioritizing needs for the community. This does need to fit into the puzzle so there is a focused way to unfold our plans.”

During the council meeting, Wilson said the move to approve the bike study “usurps (her) role as mayor” when it comes to choosing professional services.

“The role is I choose and then you approve,” Wilson said. “Choosing professional services is the role of the mayor.”

Wilson said she had attempted to contact the council members about the matter but had received no response from them.

Wilson questioned City Attorney Marcus McDowell over whether it was a conflict of powers for the council to choose a professional service, with McDowell replying he believed the council could, as the choice was a “dual function” of the government.

Wilson disagreed.

“When there is an impasse, that is when you can select,” Wilson said to the council. “No one responded to me on this. The choice of professional services is the role of the mayor, and then you approve.”

Burrell questioned Wilson if she had another service provider in mind.

“Is there another firm you have in mind for this?” Burrell asked. “This is simply a study to find out if it’s even feasible to do out there. It’s not a firm plan of what’s going to happen.”

The council passed the resolution to award the agreement unanimously.

K-1 property

During the meeting, Burrell also announced that the city did not receive the grant it was expecting from the federal government for the funding of the K-1 Center property purchase.

“We received word this afternoon we were not approved for the HATCH Grant for the purchase and renovations to the K-1 Center,” Burrell said. “We’re going to try to press forward with the purchase of that property without it and we will certainly be looking at other grant opportunities to make improvements to that property.”

The property purchase, without grant funds, will cost the city almost $2.5 million.

Wilson had said previously that funds for the purchase could likely be found in the city’s cash reserves.