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Petition for city manager special election being resubmitted after being dismissed

MADISON – A petition to bring Madison’s city manager issue to the city’s voters is being resubmitted today after the initial petition was rejected by Madison County Probate Judge Frank Barger.

On Jan. 4, Madison Forward, a citizens group pushing for a special election on whether to change the city’s government structure from having a strong elected mayor to an appointed city manager, submitted the petition to Judge Barger with approximately 900 signatures. Dr. Terri Johnson, who serves as the group’s co-chair, said the petition was rejected without prejudice because some signatures were illegible, several names were of citizens who did not live within the city limits or were not registered to vote.

The city manager system has been under consideration since Madison Mayor Finley appointed a Madison Governance Transition Committee in August of 2021 to investigate the fitness of the system for Madison. The committee produced results in January of 2022, unanimously in favor of the city manager system. The issue has been brought up multiple times, including a push for a city manager-style structure in 2015.

The proposed change would place a council-appointed city manager in charge of the city’s daily operations and departments.

Ultimately the decision lies with Madison voters who must approve the transition. Madison Forward, who is in favor of the change, has been collecting signatures since last July to submit the petition calling for a public vote.
Submitting the petition to the Probate courts in Madison and Limestone counties is the next step towards having a special election scheduled, which could come as soon as this spring.

“When we submitted the original petition, we soon received preliminary information that about 150 names would have to be disqualified. That left us 28 names short to meet the required threshold,” Johnson stated. “Within a quick two days, we submitted another 40 plus signatures with the request to add them to those already submitted.”

Johnson said Judge Barger consulted with other legal advisors to see if the new signatures could be added to the previous ones, or if we would have to resubmit. “After several days of consideration, the Judge decided out of an abundance of caution that to avoid any possibility of a legal challenge later, it would be best to dismiss our petition with the option to allow us to resubmit all of the signatures together.”

Madison Forward was also advised to submit the signatures simultaneously to the Probate Judge in Limestone County. “We had been under the impression that Judge Barger would send the petitions to the Limestone County judge after he finished processing them, but we have been told now that we need to do it ourselves,” Johnson explained.

Another citizens’ group, calling themselves MC Watchdogs had filed a lawsuit objecting to the initial petition in part because it was not filed in Limestone County when the Madison County submission was made.
Currently, the city of Madison operates with a mayor-council form of government, with seven voting district representatives and mayoral recommendations with no vote.

If the change is approved, it would require redistricting Madison into six districts, with a voting mayor elected at large. The mayor would mostly represent the city in public events and in meetings with neighboring cities. Currently, the mayor is elected and oversees municipal departments and functions, with a heavy hand in deciding the overall direction for the city.

The proposed change would place a city council-appointed city manager in charge of the city’s daily operations and departments, who answers to the city council. The mayor would be the “face of the city” and serve as the city council president.

The city council recently estimated the manager’s salary could be around $184,000.

“Based on the city’s committee reports, and the response to this petition drive, we feel confident that the citizens of Madison are favorable toward a vote on the issue, and are likely to vote in favor of this change once they have learned more about it,” Johnson added.

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