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Madison City Hall

Former Madison mayor questions city council over city manager proposal; special election date set

By Maria Rakoczy (maria@themadisonrecord.com)

MADISON – The upcoming special election in Madison for the city manager proposal undoubtedly took the spotlight at Monday’s Madison City Council meeting. At the last council meeting on Feb. 28, Mayor Paul Finley announced the petition for a special election to decide the future structure of the city government had been approved by Madison County and Limestone County Probate Court Judges. At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Finley announced the date for the election will be Tuesday, May 9.

Currently, the city of Madison operates with a mayor-council form of government, with 7 voting district representatives and Mayoral recommendations with no vote. If the change is approved by a majority of voters, it would require redistricting Madison into 6 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 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 issued a press release earlier in the day with the language, in which, the item will be presented on the ballot and a frequently asked questions section. The press release restates the announcement that “the special election will be held on May 9, with voters utilizing their regular local election polling places open from 7am to 7pm.

The city has posted the release on the city’s website at madisonal.gov/councilmanagervote with information that breaks down the implications of the city manager form of government. Finley acknowledged that the website may not answer every question and encouraged citizens to reach out by email to communications@madisonal.gov with further questions.

A handful of people lined up during the public comments portion of the meeting to ask questions and express concerns about the proposal. Included was Sandy Kirkendall, who served as Madison’s mayor from 2004 until 2008 when Finley was elected to his first term.

Kirkendall asked clarifying questions surrounding the status of the city manager’s employment, financial burden of his or her salary and potential retirement benefits, and the city manager’s authority over other city officials.

“Section 11-43A of the Code of Alabama says the city manager should be an officer of the city. So, specifically, will the city manager be an employee or a contractor? If the city manager is a city employee will he or she be on a contract or just serving strictly at discretion of the council?” Kirkendall questioned.

He further asked, “Will the city manager be eligible to participate in the state retirement system? Right now, the mayor is not on the state retirement system, and would having a city manager on the retirement system cause extra cost for the city over and above the higher salary that you’re likely to pay a city manager?”

Kirkendall also asked the council to clarify the authority of the city manager, “Will the city manager have the power to hire and fire the police chief, fire chief, city clerk, and city attorney?”

Mayor Finley acknowledged his predecessor’s “detailed” questions. However, he did not respond to them immediately and promised to add answers to those questions to the website.

A number of other citizens expressed concerns over the city-manager system and offered criticism for the performance of the current city council and mayor. Many shared concerns about the state of the city debt, infrastructure, and development, accusing the council of inappropriately prioritizing the demands of developers over those of constituents.

Finley responded generally to their comments. “[I’m] happy that it’s out there, that we’ll have this vote. It will be good to see our citizens engaged in a positive or negative. This has happened before in our city, and when the citizens get to vote, they usually get it right,” he stated.

City council member Karen Denzine said she is excited to see the broad involvement of Madison residents on this issue, “I really believe this is the opportunity for the city to decide what kind of governance you want, not what we decide. It’s in the people’s hands now, and I think that’s absolutely the best place for it. I am excited about that. I am excited to see people so involved.”

“I look forward to the vote. I look forward to information getting out and folks becoming aware of what the pros and cons are and making their own decisions on that, just as I will,” fellow city council member John Seifert expressed.

City Attorney Brain Kilgore presented the ballot language for the Council-Manager Special Election for approval by the council. In approving the ballot language, the council also agreed to redistrict and consolidate the current seven districts into six if the initiative passes on May 9.

The ballot reads,”Shall the council-manager form of government as provided by the Council-Manager Act of 1982 be adopted for the City of Madison consisting of seven members as follows: One member shall be the mayor elected at large, who shall be a voting member of the Council, and six members shall be council members elected from single-member districts?”

The council also had a chance to celebrate notable promotions within the Madison Police Department in a ceremony recognizing Jackson Coleby Pressnell to Sergeant and Daniel Weaver to Police Communications Manager. Both individuals are working their way up the ranks of the police department through their outstanding work and dedication.

Other items approved by the council include:

  • Renewal of Financial services Agreement with Synovus
  • Agreement to reimburse ALDOT $175,000 from the 2022 Bond Issue for inspection services for I-565 Overpass Project
  • Designation of Council President Bartlett as the City of Madison voting delegate and Council Members Spears and Wroblewski as alternate delegates for the Alabama League of Municipalities Annual Convention held May 10 through 13 in Birmingham, AL
  • Annual appropriations to the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville-Madison County for $35,000, to Partnership for a Drug-Free Community for $15,000, to the Riley Center for $7,500, to United Way of Madison County for $5,000, and to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for $10,000
  • Donations from J. Crazer for $100 and from M.C. Flurer for $25 both for the Senior Center
  • Streetlight maintenance agreement with Huntsville Utilities
  • Agreement with Turf Tank to lease an athletic field marking robot for $16,000 per year and a one-time installation fee of $1,700
  • Transportation Agreement with the Madison Board of Education for the 2023 Easter Event, July Fourth Event, Christmas Parade, and Summer Day Camp
  • First Reading for an ordinance authorizing the transfer of city properties and granting of utility easements to Madison Utilities as part of the Western Transmission Main Project, which is improving water quality and water pressure to recently added areas of service

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