It has been a long year and media in general hasn’t made it any easier, but one media outlet in particular took things too far. In August I made the decision to take action. I had an attorney send a demand letter for a retraction of a fabricated quote the editor at GCN (The Courier) attributed to me in one of his many biased articles. The retraction happened, but the damage to the City was done. He knew the statement was malicious and Gulf Coast Media knew, or should have known, that this statement was totally false, yet they published it anyway.
After receiving the letter from my attorney, a citizen forwarded me a screenshot of what the the author of the article posted on his FB page:
Attempting to destroy the reputation of a city, stirring up unnecessary drama and spinning the truth is no joking matter. And it is costing our City greatly.
A few days ago, another hit-piece article by the same person insinuated that the City may have violated state law with the use of our city barricades. If he knew the whole process started with a city councilman reaching out to one of the city employees to help out a fraternity brother whose father worked for the Roy Moore campaign, maybe he wouldn’t have started the “investigative” story. The “state law” violated was that council should not direct city employees. That is the role of the mayor and I was never contacted. In fact, I didn’t know about the details of what happened until the “reporter” started asking questions. Bottom line, barricades were used to protect citizens and all City expenses were reimbursed when the invoice was paid. The probe is simply embarrassing and a waste of time.
In addition, I received the following email yesterday questioning why I misled council and the public about the debris removal contract. As with most of his negative reporting on my administration, he takes the questions he’s been fed from his secret sources, presumes the questions are fact-based, uses sensationalized headlines, confuses the public and ultimately further divides the office of the mayor and council.
His questions are typical of his reporting – he implies I’m guilty and asks how I wish to respond and invites council to point fingers – which they do. When he finishes his articles, you will also notice there are never any “unavailable for comment” responses from detractors as his articles are intended to be a platform for, and pander to, council, disgruntled city employees and adversaries. Therefore a response from me is not important for these articles. However, I will bring the facts to the citizens as always – the same facts that were shared with council in July so they could make an informed decision.
I decided not to answer the questions and instead waited until he posted the article to see what was written, again without facts, and see how the detractors responded. I had this blog ready to post and everything came out exactly as I predicted.
Here is the article. (I will discuss why I didn’t sign the appointment for the City attorney later).
I requested the purchasing manager to rebid ALL contracts in January, which included debris removal – six months before it expired – in an effort to leave PLENTY of time to get RFP responses in and to review them. Pittman Tractor received this request and declined to rebid. The other answers are in red:
Here are the facts about the Debris Removal Contract I sent to council in July:
As you can see, council was given all the facts.
I hope the editor will begin to recognize that leaked documents and misinformation he’s being fed are coming from politicos and special interests that want to see me fail. But because I have only one agenda – to make positive changes and enhancements in our great City in a meaningful way – it has been more difficult than they expected.
It has gotten a lot easier to ignore the lies and innuendo directed at me, however, when these articles start costing the City in unnecessary legal fees, disparaging City staff and subjecting the City to unwarranted liability – all at taxpayers expense mind you – I will come back with the same tenacity that got me elected and will continue to give you the facts.
The Courier is primarily funded by legal ads. Since the Courier has relinquished its role as a legitimate primary publication of record for the City of Fairhope, I will be seeking an alternate source in which to place our legal ads. You deserve better.
At the November 27th Council meeting, a citizen spoke to gravity fed sewer system vs low pressure sewer system which is what is being installed in new developments despite the City having a standard. Let’s break through the confusion.
In December 2002, Fairhope Utilities and the City Planning Commission set the standard for wastewater collection methods in new developments. All City standards are established to provide a desired level of service for property owners that the City feels is appropriate and justified. Gravity fed sewer is the standard level of service the City chose for wastewater collection. It is our preferred method of sewer service, and the least troublesome to the customer in the long term. Our Director of Operations, who was hired for his expertise in matters such as this, maintains that this is still the best way for us to go and I support him in this effort.
Gravity sewer does require maintenance and some public awareness of the best practices for longer term functionality – proper disposal of grease, “Baby Wipes” and certain other products as well as the protection of sewer clean-outs in yards and any connection of storm water drainage system to the sewer. The gravity fed system was chosen because it delivers the most reliable service long term both for our customer and for the city.
The low pressure system may initially be less expensive but requires a grinder pump at each customer site. These grinder pumps have a +/- 5-year life span and replacement costs are born by the homeowner – every time. Despite claims to the contrary, the gravity system for most subdivisions is not any more expensive vs the low pressure system considering overall costs.
We believe the primary reason why developers install the low pressure system is because they don’t pay most of the total system costs. The homeowner pays for the grinder pump required for this system in their total construction costs. Ongoing pumping costs are included in their power bill. This system does not meet the City standards unless there are significant hardships, in the opinion of Fairhope Utilities, from a maintenance or cost evaluation.
Fairhope Utilities and the City Planning Commission worked together in 2002 and continue working together on this issue to preserve and protect our City’s future. We want to establish an Engineering Department where better mapping and long-term planning can better assist developers in their planning efforts while protecting our city’s environment. The ability to perform long-range planning for water and sewer utilities will help minimize overall infrastructure costs and decrease the overall operation and maintenance costs of these systems. Planning is predicated upon long-range land use planning where density, intensity and location of development is provided in the form of a future land use map.
Future land use planning will be a component of a new and reality-based Comprehensive Plan. By being able to project land use, our utilities can better project and plan long-range in order serve the proposed development type and density/intensity appropriately.
Fairhope Utilities must operate efficiently and effectively. We have determined that the gravity fed sewer system allows us to do that while providing the best possible sewer service to our customers. Land use planning helps our utilities to plan sewer services into the future using our standard to determine whether we can serve the site economically. If not, other plans will be made for the site. Maintaining the standard keeps costs down for the city’s utilities company and the consumer. Deviating from the set standard costs the utilities company and our consumer. You can read more about this from Water Environment & Reuse Foundation.
Mayor Karin Wilson
Voluntary Curfew Strongly Encouraged:
This is a serious storm with an expected storm surge of up to 8ft.
The Shelter of Last Resort is now open. The Baldwin County Coliseum has been activated as a temporary 24-hour shelter. Pack only personal items and medication for this time-frame.
Utilities: 251.928.8003 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Customers should report utility outages, low water pressure, water leaks or sewer problems to the number and email provided. Leave a short description of the problem with name, address and phone number. Operators will monitor the calls and we will be mobilizing crews when conditions are safe to respond. Please do NOT call the police department.
Please remove and/or bring in garbage cans and small items. This is another reason to stay off the roads due to flying objects.
For consistency, we will be sharing information from BCEMA and encourage you to follow their FaceBook for your up-date info.
Sat, 6:10pm – Hwy 1 Limited Water:
The significant damage to piers that caused problems with our water system during Ivan were on the stretch of County Road 1. They planned to isolate that section of the water system to protect the integrity of the entire water system based on historical data.
The storm projections for landfall further west than when we first announced our plan to shut off all water on County Road 1. After further evaluation late this afternoon, we are now going to use the valves to limit the volume of water through this section of the system so any leaks from storm damage will not drain the entire water system.
The City of Fairhope is prepared. Please be safe!
Mayor Karin Wilson
Here is the update from the National Weather Service: 4pm Tropical Storm Nate Briefing
We will keep you posted as we receive updates. I encourage you to LIKE Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency’s FaceBook page for timely updates regarding this storm system.
Mayor Karin Wilson
For 2017’s budget the focus was cutting wasteful spending and separating the financials for the City and Utilities. The result has already demonstrated a path for a more financially responsible government. We exceeded revenue goals and were under budget on expenses which not only saved millions of dollars over previous years, but greatly reduced the city’s reliance on our utility profits.
The Utility subsidy came in the form of transfers into the City’s operating account and also by directly paying City operating expenses as you can see in the graph above. After separating out City & Utility financials, Utilities no longer pay for City expenses such as phone, computer, community development among may other expenses. Utilities will continue to make up the shortfall for the City but only in a transparent transfer and only for the amount needed until infrastructure is updated.In 2017, the Utility transfer exceeded the City’s need showing a surplus. The actual subsidy should have been $1,787,671, which is substantially lower than previous years.Here is the net City deficit and when compare to the last two years, the City’s reliance on Utility assistance has greatly reduced and well on its way to being self-reliant. In 2017 the City did not use any cash reserves as in years past either. While we transferred more than what was needed from Utilities, this is the first surplus in many years. Now that expenses are properly appropriated, we can manage utility subsidy and even plan for the correct amount the city should be getting to better serve its citizensBecause less is being transferred out, Utilities’ profits have increased. With 2018 projected profits, we can start immediately on upgrading the urgent needs in the sewer department.Since 2010 the City of Fairhope has grown in population almost 27% while the total number of Full-time City employees has decreased almost 4%. The shortage has been a long-term problem but has been particularly exasperating now due to rapid growth. We must fill in the holes to bring better services, become more efficient, capitalize on revenue opportunities and greatly reduce overtime.
The budget also includes 2% fund for merit increases based on performance. By eliminating the standard cost-of-living raise, we can afford to raise employees for exceptional performance. The increase will happen on the anniversary date rather than all at once after the budget passes.Total debt with 2020 projection. The City debt will be paid down to just under $2MM, but Utility and Airport debt are long term. Utilities have also held debt which should have been under the City such as the settlement/purchase of the “Triangle” property. We can no longer co-mingle expenses and revenue or we cannot properly manage the areas that need attention.One of the big reductions in 2017 was excessive engineering expenses. We saved $341K+ by hiring the Operation Director who is a civil engineer. The 2018 budget includes a new engineering dept which will be a shared expense in all departments which will include SCADA, mapping and GIS services. This department is a critical need to solve sewer leaks and quality water concerns.
Fiscal 2017 began with 234 passenger vehicles. We were paying more in mechanical expenses than the vehicles were worth and also paying unnecessary liability insurance. We are beginning 2018 with ~142 passenger vehicles.
When new vehicles were purchased, the old ones were handed down. New purchases must replace old equipment unless we are adding a person.
2018 budget includes leasing larger equipment so we are not having to pay the whole purchase up front. There will be no surprises on capital outlay each year, full warranty and maintenance included with lease and turned in for new equipment. This process will save money (mechanical, overtime, efficiency).
Top line budget numbers for City and Utilities. Here is the link for full budget. Proposed Revenue & Expenses are both conservative. Below is the video presentation.
It didn’t start last month. It didn’t start a year ago. We were warned in 2011 when our water reclamation plant (WRP) was upgraded. “The development of a comprehensive sanitary sewer collection and conveyance management plan is an important element to consider in planning future operational and maintenance budget needs.” (Technical Memorandum 6; CH2MHILL; November 7, 2011) We’ve had no plan. CH2MHILL, the firm that conducted the 2011 review of our WRP, recommended that the next phase of the 2011 study ‘…should be to examine the city’s wastewater collection system (underground piping, lift stations, etc.) – which have been subject to overflow in recent years.”
The City of Fairhope is in one of Alabama’s most complex and diverse watersheds – the Mobile Bay Estuary. That alone is reason enough to be vigilant about and to be proactive about our waste water transmission capabilities. We must, as a community, realize the condition of the sewer system will not improve until we make it our priority. It must be our priority to eliminate overflows. It must be our priority to protect Mobile Bay. It is not enough to have an award-winning water reclamation plant. If we can’t get the waste water to the plant safely, what have we achieved?
Our priority should be options suitable for an alternative to the direct discharges of wastewater effluents into Mobile Bay. If the citizens of Fairhope can’t be supportive of the objective to protect and preserve our bay, who will?
We must ask ourselves: Where do we want to be 20 years from now? If we don’t act now, then we must get use to the idea that unnecessary sanitary sewer overflows will be a part of our everyday lives. I find that unacceptable. In 2011 we were advised to perform analyses that would be used to develop a Facility Plan which would present infrastructure improvements recommended to meet the City-endorsed short- and long-term planning goals.
Short-term improvements were those required during the next 5 years (2011-2016) and included improvements required to meet EPA redundancy and reliability criteria.
Long-term improvements were those required between 5 and 15 years (2016-2026) and included planning goals that would be assessed every 3 to 5 years to track flows and loads, to consider current regulatory environment, and to adjust the long-term improvement implementation schedule as needed. The City never endorsed planning goals.
Well, that was 2011. It’s 2017 and our waste water transmission lines are the same as they were in 2011. Meanwhile our population has grown 27% and we hook up hundreds of new homes and businesses each year. In fact, permitting to date has increased 57% since 2000. We don’t need to go into the details of our growth.
Everyone feels it every day. ALDOT is taking 181 to 4 lanes between Daphne and 104 and will possibly extend the four-lane to County Rd 32. When complete we can anticipate development along 181 to accelerate. It’s already accelerating along 104. The Comprehensive Plan completed in 2015 showed same growth pattern yet still there is no plan for sewer. Growth will not stop. Comprehensive Plan was completed in 2015 and showed same growth pattern as relate in latest study yet still there is no plan for sewer. Comprehensive Plan was completed in 2015 and showed same growth pattern as relate in latest study yet still there is no plan for sewer. We have not been looking forward. We cannot afford to continue without a plan. Our sewer system must keep pace with our growth now and our growth in the future.
From Operation Director, Richard Peterson:
“The sewer capacity study and assessment offers an insight into how the sewer system has been allowed to grow. By all indications, future growth of the system in the Point Clear area and the area east of Greeno Road has not been planned where developers are held responsible for the transmission upgrades to handle the extra sewer flows these developments bring into Fairhope. In addition to a lack of planning for future transmission needs, the system has been allowed to grow with a disregard to the standards established by the city.
Numerous subdivisions have been built allowing a low-pressure sewer system, with individual grinder pumps at each residence. The governing standards require gravity sewer as the rule, with a low-pressure sewer option allowed only when there is a defined economic hardship to the developer. Low pressure sewer systems burden the home owner with long-term operation and maintenance responsibility of the grinder pump. We must return to our standard and verify any hardships that exist with gravity sewer installations. And we must assist in the design of each development to assure we approve the best possible system in accordance with our standard.
In addition, above normal rain events, where inflows and infiltration inundate our collection system, can cause problems, such as sewer overflows and high flows through the wastewater treatment plant. These types of problems take time to assess and remediate. Fairhope must devote resources to improve the system monitoring capability (SCADA) and the equipment and manpower to continuously assess the system where annual contracts for specific types of repair are managed through this continuous evaluation process. Rain events will continue. Our system must be designed to handle these events better.”
The Capacity Study for Gas, Water and Sew Utilities conducted by Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood, Inc. (GMC)
Following is a synopsis of their findings.
GMC tells us Fairhope is “…facing a significant landmark in the life of its sewer system.” We can “…allow the system to continue to function with its current intent and convey all of its sewage to trunk lines through the central business district and old Fairhope. These major pump stations and gravity lines have reached the end of their useful life and need substantial upgrades to continue serving the residents of Fairhope.”
Further, “It is recommended that the City make the critical infrastructure improvements indicated in the report herein to continue providing quality sewer service to its existing customers. Major pumps stations and gravity lines are in need of immediate (emphasis added) attention. Investment into the sewer system is vital to extend its life.”
GMC also recommends that we develop a sewer model which then may be used to create a Sewer Master Plan that meets all the objectives of the City and provides avenues for growth.
Going forward, Fairhope Utilities will be tasked with improving the transmission capabilities of the wastewater conveyance system(s) to meet future development needs, while performing rehabilitation work on the existing collection system. Our goals to accomplish these tasks will include priorities for how to manage the treatment and disposal of our wastewater flows in the longer-term future. This should include disposal options for reuse water.
Reuse water is a wastewater effluent that meets all EPA and State standards for use in irrigation. The existing irrigation demands we might identify as suitable applications for reuse water include golf courses, the Auburn Experimental Agricultural Center and established residential developments adjacent to the reuse water transmission mains we install. To fully evaluate the available capacity for a reuse water facility, we need to collect data on the existing irrigation demand. The data will help establish both the daily demand for irrigation water, including storage needs for times when rain reduces the irrigation demand and the reuse water must be stored for future use.
There is a lot of work to be done; it won’t be cheap, but it is inescapable and has now reached the end of the road. Things will not get better unless we take the necessary steps outlined above. Fairhope citizens must understand what is at stake here and be prepared to support the city’s efforts to correct years of neglect and to protect our environment and our property values.
You can pick up a copy of “Future Fairhope: Moving Forward Together” at the Nix Center, City Hall or the Fairhope Library.
HISTORY: Fairhope is rich in culture, heritage, and tradition that lifelong Fairhopers and newer residents alike have come to cherish equally.
PRESENT: Every day we are reminded that nothing stands still. Change is inevitable and must be guided to reflect the wishes and needs of our citizens, our businesses, our city employees, and our government which serves all stakeholders.
FUTURE: Fairhope has a future that is being driven by record growth. Growth cannot be allowed to occur randomly. Growth must represent our values. It must add to the quality of life for which Fairhope is known and which is the reason for all this growth. To come to share in what is so special about Fairhope is to share in the responsibility of protecting it.
Because we must have infrastructure that is safe and serve our growing needs now and into the future, we’ve created a team between our Planning Department, Public Utilities and Economic & Community Development departments that allows us to move our vision forward openly and with community input and support.
We will exercise responsible growth that will be resilient and capable of responding to changing times and conditions. We are looking to new technology and innovative ways to treat waste water, provide smart metering and high-speed internet via fiber-to-home service.
Drainage has been a main concern, we’re taking advantage of the moratorium to develop appropriate regulations that will help us get a better handle on storm water drainage. We cannot change the fact we live in the rainiest city in the U.S., but we can learn to live better and build better within our watershed environment.
Because you’ve told us you’re concerned about growing tourism and resulting traffic and parking problems, we are creating a new BRATS transportation hub, improving the parking garage facilities, encouraging entrepreneurial transportation and finalizing our Complete Streets program with improved bicycle and pedestrian lanes.
Now is the time we lay the plans to be implemented to meet the needs of our growth, to preserve our lifestyle and our heritage. We all have different approaches to solving the issue that face our city. That’s good! We eagerly share those approaches. And when we share them with respect for each other, they blend together and take root and form solutions we can all live with.
It will take more than your government alone to accomplish the all-encompassing task that lies before us. We want to partner with our citizens, our communities and our businesses to reach the solutions that will work for Future Fairhope: Moving Forward Together.
In seeking ways to encourage civic participation and get more feedback from our citizens, we launched an online tool called One Fairhope Forum on July 27th.
The forum was open for five days on the topic of Responsible Growth. Here are the highlights from this poll:
There were 12 seeded comments to help generate a conversation including “population growth is putting a strain on our city-provided services” and “the growth in Fairhope is a reflection of the city and demonstrates that Fairhope is a great place to live and call home”.
Around 100 Additional comments were made by those who participated in the survey and these were moderated by a third party (the creators of this platform) to exclude comments that did not relate to growth or that were repeats of similar comments. City officials did not have access to the comments.
Our Economic and Community Development Director was the point of contact for the platform, called polis (Greek for tight-knit, small community), and she communicated directly with their CEO to design the process. The final result was 63 total comments on which people could weigh in.
In total, 6224 positions, or votes, on statements were submitted.
This kind and scale of participation is a very exciting start to an exciting and effective method of gauging citizen input. I hope we can continue to use this platform to get citizen input on a variety of topics.
What we learned from this particular survey is that people feel a lot of different ways about the issue of responsible growth. Of course we knew this going in, but the question we hoped to answer is “What are the specific issues and how do different stakeholder groups feel about those things?”
The recurring themes included: concern about school overcrowding, increases in traffic, zoning outside of city limits, strain on infrastructure – mainly stormwater, and inevitability vs. control (what is inevitable vs. what the city can control).
Questions have been raised regarding invoicing for IT services as well as about surveillancing of city employees. I wish to answer those questions to the extent I am allowed without divulging confidential information. My comments are also tempered by my constant efforts to safeguard the privacy of current and former city employees.
Elias Technologies was hired to perform internet security services for the City and the Police Department. The fact that the City entered a contract with Elias, and the amount of the contract, is not confidential. Those facts can be released to the public and the media, and I will be glad to continue to discuss those issues publicly.
However, because the services provided by Elias were part of a process to update and improve the security systems of the city, I do not intend to discuss the actual details of that work. If someone with the City has released such confidential information to the media, that would be a serious breach of the city’s security. The invoices that have been released to certain media outlets contain confidential security information and I respectfully request that all media outlets use the leaked information in a responsible manner.
I, in my role and capacity as mayor, asked questions about some of the language in the Elias invoices, which may have caused some confusion. I would like to clear up any confusion to the extent that I can do so without revealing information that would compromise the security of the city’s IT systems.
Elias contracted with the City to perform security services as described in memorandum called “scope of work.” Elias agreed to perform those specific services for a total amount not to exceed $35,000. Unfortunately, Elias performed additional services that were not described in the scope of work, and Elias billed for those services. I did not receive an invoice indicating that this additional work had been performed until well after those services had been performed. When I called this to the attention of Elias, the company redacted those charges and submitted a second invoice containing charges for only those services specifically described in the scope of work. Elias willingly agreed to remove the disputed charges, and Elias will not be compensated for those charges. Thus, by bringing this to the attention of Elias, I saved the City several thousand dollars. I considered the issue a non-controversial and routine day-to-day function of my role as Mayor. The City Council does not necessarily need to be notified of these ongoing security procedures, but I am happy to discuss these issues with any Councilman who desires to do so.
As with most private and government organizations, when an employee leaves the City, their computer must be processed. This is done for reasons of routine efficiency, security, and in some cases, in anticipation of litigation for any employee, both terminated and those leaving voluntarily. This process has been in place long before I took office and will continue to be in place long after I leave. To the extent that a former employee’s computer was processed as a result of a security measure, or in anticipation of litigation, it is not appropriate for me to comment. However, this is a reasonable measure taken by most, if not all, municipalities and counties.
To clear up any confusion, Elias was not hired for purposes of processing the computers or devices used by former employees. That job is handled by in-house IT professionals working for the City. To the extent that Elias attempted to, or did perform such services, I will not approve any charge related to those functions submitted by Elias. Due to the confidential nature of the work performed, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the exact nature of the work performed on former employees’ computers or devices but I will say this practice has been in place with our City before I took office.
Moreover, Elias’ scope of work did not include taking any part in the implementation of any other security measures taken by the City, such as the keystroke software that has been publicly discussed and criticized in some circles. I have no plans to involve Elias in this particular security program in the future.
Unfortunately, certain media outlets have chosen to take this relatively minor billing issue, which was easily corrected, and blown it out of proportion with sensationalized headlines and innuendos. This is a perfect example of the media trying to hype an issue when there really was no controversy in the first place.
Furthermore, any insinuation of my being under investigation is patently false. It is easy to claim and and publish accusations without any regard for the truth while putting me in the difficult position of having to prove a negative.
Mayor Karin Wilson
I owe a great deal to my Dad! Can you imagine having twins at the tender age of 21 years old? He went to college with us in tow and raised us with the mentality that you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it.
(Robbie Wolff, in 1972 when we moved to Troy, AL – the last time he shaved.)
My Dad is the one who shaped my character and taught me the life lessons that still endure today.
BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED
When my dad made the life-changing decision to quit drinking when we were around 13 years old, he withdraw us from school to travel the country for three months to figure out where we might consider moving for a fresh start. It was an amazing experience and the pinnacle of my childhood. But after three months, home was looking better and better. On our journey back to Fairhope my dad said something I’ll never forget. He compared our trip to the old fable about how treasures can be found in our own backyards. If we’re always focused on greener pastures, we may risk losing out on opportunities that exist right where we are.
He also never let me quit anything. There were many instances growing up where I begged and pleaded but he instilled in me at an early age that if you sign up for something you see it through because you’re invested for the long haul. This lesson has helped me in all aspects of my life from giving me the resolve to endure the hardships of being an independent bookseller to understanding, no matter what conflict face, circumstances always improve if you keep the right attitude.
I want to wish all the Fathers, Single Moms, Grandfathers and Stepdads a wonderful Father’s Day! And hope you, too, enjoy your day reflecting on the life-lessons this person instilled in you.