The Interview: Foley Mayor John Koniar

Foley’s busy stretch of Highway 59 continues seeing new business added to the city’s landscape. Mayor John Konair said the Forward City has become a retail center. Konair recently talked about the city’s continued growth and working with their sister cities at the beach. The mayor also shared how an offer from his father-in-law years ago drew him to south Baldwin County.

“My father in law, when we first moved here, was very big on if you live in a community, give back to the community. So my wife and I got involved in clubs. Then in the early 80s, some people asked me to run for Foley City Council, and I did and have served ever since,” stated Konair.

Foley has seen major progress during John Konair’s four decades of service to his community. Some early life experiences helped prepare Konair for politics.

“Because we moved around when I was younger, three different high schools in four years, I had to be kind of charming. I discovered early on that if you made people laugh, they wouldn’t beat you up. So I thought that was a good trait. I enjoyed, and still, do humor. I enjoy people. It’s always wonderful to make new friends,” shared Konair.

In 1961, he headed for Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Konair calls it the golden age at the university.

“You learn more outside the classroom than I think than you do inside the classroom, practically in terms of meeting people, getting new ideas. Coach Bryant had just come on board, and it was a great time to be at Alabama. I met my first wife there. We’ve been married 48 years this summer, and that’s the best thing I got out of Alabama was my wife Linda,” said Konair.

After graduation Konair served his country.

“The U.S. Air Force was a great experience. I really wish to a certain extent, young people were required today to serve in the military. It was a chance to travel and I got a good education. I was a Communications Officer. The people you take care of were the noncommissioned officers because they could make you or break you. I made it a point every Friday night to go to the NCO Club and I bought the beer, Konair laughs. So maybe I was a politician before I knew,” reflected Konair.

His next stop was a successful stint with Shell Oil.

“I did really well in Nashville, Tennessee. I get promoted to Chicago, and I started thinking that doesn’t sound like much of a reward. So when my father in law called and offered me a job, let me think about it, yes type deal, it was quick,” shared Konair.

Konair made the move to South Baldwin County.

“My father in law, the late Cater Lee, was one of the smartest business people I’ve ever known. I learned a lot from him. He made you think things out before you presented them to him, not just say this is a good idea but made you come with facts. He was very big on treating people fairly and he said don’t burn bridges. I was the General Manager of Vulcan, Inc., Plant One for a while, then General Manager of Plant Three. They asked me to become Vice President of Sales for the aluminum portion, and I did that until I retired from Vulcan. Each office, each plant was treated like a business, stood on its own merits, stood on its own profits or losses, and so it was like running your own company,” said Konair.

Konair won his first council election in 1980 and served until appointed Mayor in 2006. Despite 34 years at City Hall, there was still a transition to make.

“The Mayor is a totally different perspective from the public’s eye and the council’s eye. A transition happened where I was gaining the trust of the council, you know unknown’s unknown. It took a short time, but once that was established we’ve gone full speed ahead. As Mayor, I really became what I feel like is a facilitator, just getting things done, working with people. My job is to get out of the way let them do their job, and they do. My biggest challenge is realizing you can’t make everybody happy. That’s kind of a given but, still I don’t like people to be unhappy, it hurts my feelings when they’re not happy with me. But, I do what’s best for the whole. And, I’ve learned there are two sides to a story when somebody calls me up and complains about something. When I call the department there’s another side of that story that they didn’t quite tell me, so I take it with a grain of salt,” states Konair.

Mayor Konair appreciates Foley’s “Mayberry” like qualities, but he knows the city has a larger identity.

“A retail center for this part of the county or maybe the whole county. Obviously, Tanger’s been a given great asset. We have Big Lots, Hobby Lobby, both already have broken ground. What-a-Burger which has been the most asked question to me I think in the last six months, people really want it and I’m happy for them that it’s coming. Three major developers are here now and are courting other big boxes. We should see some more announcements hopefully in the next 3 to 6 months. I would like to see us balanced in terms of industrial recruitment. We’re working on that as Airbus gives us an opportunity, and having United Technologies here. They employ almost 850 people the biggest manufacturer in Baldwin County,” says Konair.

Foley is also investing in tourism.

“The 100,000 square foot Events Center we’re building, and it’s all oriented towards youth sports tourism. And, we’re working with Orange Beach and Gulf Shores to grow that pie. According to Troy University research it will generate thousands of room nights. We don’t have that many rooms in Foley, so the Beach is going to benefit dramatically from this. A lot of the stuff we’re doing is extending the season, we know June, July, August are always going to be busy. Our retail numbers have gone up the last two years consecutively. Its new records and I attribute a lot of that to the BP promotion of our beaches and the whole region. We’ve taken a regional approach, the oil spill actually brought us all together on a much more intimate basis and thats continued since then. One voice is a strong voice and is better than three weak voices. So we’ve learned to pool our assets, we compete still with one another, but we get along and we communicate pretty well too,” shared Konair.

“I do enjoy what I do every day. Being Mayor has been a great opportunity, a great privilege to serve the community and it’s been a lot of fun,” said Konair.

Mayor Konair said he would like to serve one more term, to see some projects completed, $30 million in grants last year is allowing Foley to invest in its infrastructure and enhance its residents quality of life. New roads, sidewalks, bike paths and a pedestrian bridge across Highway 59 are being added. Motorists will also appreciate a more than $2 million project to synchronize traffic lights with camera’s from Foley to Gulf Shores to ease congestion on 59.

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