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Madison Forward: Special election on city manager issue a long time coming

Opposition to the proposed change in city government structure forms new group

MADISON – Madison Forward, the citizens group that submitted a petition earlier this month to hold a special election in Madison, issued a statement this afternoon after their petition was approved by the Probate judges of Madison and Limestone counties. The group has been backing the city’s proposed change in local government structure, replacing the current system of having an elected mayor running the operations of the city, with a council-appointed manager instead.

Click here to read Monday’s story in The Record about the petition being approved.

To move forward with the proposal, a petition calling for a special election on the issue needed about 900 certified signatures of registered city voters and be submitted to the Probate judges in the counties where the Madison city limits are located. Madison Forward worked to collect those signatures and submitted the petition.

Mayor Paul Finley, who has expressed support for the change, said at Monday’s city council meeting the election is expected to take place in early May. He announced a date will be set and announced at the March 13 city council meeting.

“This next step towards a special election to allow the citizens of Madison to vote on this initiative has been a long time coming.  Two separate citizen-led committees in 2015 and 2021 unanimously recommended that Madison move forward to a council-manager form of government. These reports can be found on the city of Madison website,” stated Jim Ross, Madison Forward co-chair.

The most recent push for the city manager system has been under consideration since Finley appointed the Madison Governance Transition Committee that Ross chaired 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.

“A change in the form of government for Madison can only be made by a majority of registered voters in the city.” Dr. Terri Johnson, Madison Forward co-chair, added. She served on the Madison Board of Education from 2007-2017 and as board president from 2015-2017. Johnson also co-chaired the city’s Growth Impact Committee in 2018, and was appointed to the city’s planning commission in 2019.

Under a council-manager format, Madison would be redrawn into six districts, with the mayor elected at-large and serving as the seventh vote. The mayor would also serve as the president of the city council. The city manager would oversee day-to-day operations. The mayor would mostly represent the city in public events and in meetings with neighboring cities.

If approved by the voters, the new form of city government would officially be in place in November of 2025.

The proposal has been met with some opposition. Another citizens group, MC Watchdogs led by Margi Daily recently filed a lawsuit against the Madison Forward seeking to stop the petition from being approved on the grounds that signatures for the petition were improperly obtained. Another group has also formed in response to the initiative, “Don’t Mess with Madison PAC”. They are claiming the move to a council-manager form of government disenfranchises voters by depriving voters the opportunity to vote for a leader of the administrative branch of the city.

According to a press release issued by Madison Forward, they believe moving to a city manager type of system will help the city manage continued growth by placing a credentialed city management professional in charge of daily operations of a rapidly growing city. “The city manager is tasked with executing the collective policy, vision and strategy of the mayor and city council.”

Those against the change have said there is no guarantee the council will hire a professionally trained city manager. They have also expressed concerns at prior city council meetings with placing too much power into the hands of the city council. The council currently appoints the city’s school board members, who in turn hires the superintendent. Placing them in charge of hiring and overseeing the city manager too would mean the only elected city officials will be the city council. They say even though there will still be a mayor, in reality he will be an “at-large” council member.  

Madison Forward boasts that the council-manager form of government has proven effective in other cities in Alabama, including Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, Anniston and Auburn.

They say the change is needed to bring stability to the separate functions of a city continuing to experience tremendous growth. Having department heads in place under an overall city manager that is appointed rather than elected would remove the threat of change every time a new mayor is elected, they say, and give the city a better chance at realizing long-term goals without the interference of politics.

It was announced last month the estimated salary of a city manager would be around $184,000.

You can read more about this issue in the March 8 issue of The Madison Record.



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