For some, a confusing purpose to open comment session at Aug. 18 Orange Beach City Council meeting  

By Melanie LeCroy
Posted 8/26/20

The open comment session at the Orange Beach City Council meeting August 18 included confusion for some attendees about whether it was a political debate, forum or normal comment session.

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For some, a confusing purpose to open comment session at Aug. 18 Orange Beach City Council meeting  

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The open comment session at the Orange Beach City Council meeting August 18 included confusion for some attendees about whether it was a political debate, forum or normal comment session.

A post on the city’s Facebook page announcing the meeting led some residents to believe there would be a forum for candidates to answer questions, according to citizen comments at the meeting.

The Facebook post read:

“For anyone who will not be attending the meeting and has questions of the council or general questions related to the Aug. 25 Municipal Election, please text your question and your name to 251-597-2982. Questions must be constructive and respectful, or they will not be considered. All candidates in attendance will be given an opportunity to respond if they want to participate.

Questions can be sent any time prior to the meeting, which is encouraged and also during the meeting. The more questions sent in advance the better the discussion will be.

Those in attendance will be welcome to ask questions as well. All seating at the Community Center will be spaced appropriately for social distancing, and attendees are asked to wear a mask or face covering.”

A statement by former police chief and city council candidate Joe Fierro opened the comment portion of the meeting.

 “I’ve given this a great deal of thought and I mean no disrespect to anyone here council and mayor included. I prepared a statement. Approximately two weeks ago, council meeting was moved to this venue. Saturday night this question and answer session was announced for this evening on the city Facebook page. As far as I know, none of the challengers received any formal notice. I didn’t receive any notice at all. I’ll speak for myself,” Fierro said.

“Being totally honest I’m uncomfortable with the format for this evening. I have never heard of anything like this being done. In other forums there’s a neutral moderator, a neutral location and candidates none of them are made aware of any questions in advance. It’s a level playing field. What’s happening this evening gives, at least in my mind, the appearance of impropriety,” he continued.

“I want to be clear I am in full support of a fair debate, forum as the business chamber recommended several weeks ago,” Fierro said. “My understanding is the forum was not conducted due to COVID-19 concerns. They advised me these were concerns voiced by yourself sir (Tony Kennon) and other city officials. And I agree very legitimate concerns. I am wondering what’s changed for this evening.

Fierro continued, “If anyone here would like a fair debate I am game and I would like to participate as I said I think it’s an excellent idea. But I think the individual campaigns should concur on the moderator, location and the format before we proceed and be given proper notice as well. It’s an excellent idea and I sincerely would like to participate but I will not under these circumstances.

“I thank everyone for being here and I ask for your understanding. You all have my phone number, you have my email, I am accessible and I will meet anyone anywhere. Thank you. You all have a good evening,” Fierro said.

After Fierro’s statement resident Shirley McCabe had a back and forth exchange with Kennon regarding the Facebook post and the format of the comment session.

“The advertisement for this question and answer session that appeared on the city Facebook page indicated that it was a questions and answer session and all council and candidates were invited to participate. If that is truly what this is, I think I just heard you say this is not going to be any type of a campaign event. So, what is the purpose of having opposing candidates be here,” McCabe said.

After a five minute back and forth with McCabe asking why host the candidates if it was not an open political forum, Kennon said, “To participate in the discussion because they are citizens too. They are citizens, we are mayor and council, but we are candidates. So, the point is if someone asks a question on Joe Fierro’s stance on x, Joe gets to go up there an answer that question from that citizen whatever it may be. Then I may say well Joe I’m sorry I disagree with that because that’s not the case or I may say that is exactly right.”

McCabe said, “Then it is a political meeting. It’s a debate. It’s a political meeting.”

Kennon said, “I think you have been to our council meeting. This is exactly what I do and we do at every council meeting. There is no difference here.”

McCabe ended the exchange by asking all the incumbent candidates if they would participate in a debate if one was set up. Mitchell, Blalock and Kennon all said they would consider it.

Kennon apologized to those in attendance for the confusion.

“I am very sorry that this was in any way miscommunicated because that was not the intent. I do not understand. If you are a candidate for office and you have a strong platform there is no place you won’t show up to be heard. I don’t understand that. If you are secure in your position, I mean have sermon will travel. Where do you want me next? I don’t know what the beef is. These candidates now have an opportunity to speak at a meeting that we run. I think it’s extremely fair,” Kennon said.

The meeting continued when Jeb Smith asked councilperson Jeff Boyd if it’s in the city’s best interest to break away as a school system to itself.

Boyd said have been a lot of rumors going around that it’s the city’s intent to break away but he made it clear that it is not something the city is looking to do because the relationship the city has with Baldwin County is a win win.

“They build the school; they pay for the school and they pay for all the teachers and staff in the school,” Boyd said.  

Next up to the microphone was John McCabe who opened by giving the definition of moderator. He expressed he was of the opinion Mayor Kennon should not be at the microphone and that someone from “our side should be up there with you.” Kennon asked McCabe what our side meant. McCabe explained he was part of the opposition. 

The entire comment session of the meeting can be found on the City of Orange Beach YouTube channel. The comment portion of the meeting lasted over one and a half hours. To view the meeting visit https://youtu.be/QJxMzZ-5I4U.