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A home-run alternative to the council-manager form of government

Dear Editor,
An alternative to changing our Madison city form of government is to use the available resources we currently have more effectively.
The proponents for the change say the mayor needs more time to devote to the political duties of representing the city. They say we must contract out a city manager—appointed by the council—to run the city, which is currently a primary executive responsibility of the mayor.

I’m sure most all realize the tough job of a mayor and recognize the need for assistance in performing the demanding tasks of the executive position. So, let’s look at how our much larger sister city attacks this challenge.

Both Huntsville and Madison cities employ a city administrator, but how they operate is vastly different with information gained from past and/or current officials of both cities. Huntsville’s population is approximately 220,000, and Madison’s population is approximately 62,000—about three-and-a-half times smaller than Huntsville.

Huntsville is managing their city very well and use their city administrator like a chief of staff or like an executive officer (xo) in the military, to coordinate the staff and department heads under the authority and direction or guidance of the mayor. The city administrator reports to and is responsible the mayor.
Huntsville’s use of their city administrator negates the need for a council-manager form of government, maintains the citizens’ vote in electing the executive who runs our city, maintains checks and balances and separation of powers, with greater transparency in government.

Our Madison city administrator works primarily on special projects as an assistant to the mayor and is not involved with the department head or staff functions. So why is Madison not employing our city administrator effectively like Huntsville does?

This approach was recommended in the 2015 Governance Transition Study and dismissed, but why? Both then and today, it makes sense to use the existing resources more efficiently without significantly changing the city’s form of government.

The change to a council-manager form of government plan includes a multi-year transition period while our city officials figure out how the council-manager change will really work. Can we afford that distraction and increased bureaucracy with an increased potential for corruption and wasteful spending—all with no guarantee of improved performance?

The challenges we face as a city are not so much in the day-to-day management of the city (as we have qualified department heads), but with the prioritization of initiatives and budgeting that drives the day-to-day management. This is a function and responsibility of our political, elected officials. So, it does not really matter if we have a council-manager or mayor-council form of government.

In Madison, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time, money, and effort had we taken the city administrator approach, similar to huntsville, instead of this special election.

Madison already has a city manager—we call that person, the mayor.

Madison citizens can hit it out of the ballpark by voting no on May 9th and demanding our elected city officials hire a qualified city administrator and employ that person more effectively to serve the citizens under our elected executive, the mayor.

Sincerely,
Rick Makowski
Madison City Resident

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