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Council, residents ponder city governance

Listening to former mayor Jan Wells, second from left, are Madison Governance Committee 2025 members Kris McBride, chairman John Allen and Bob Drolet. RECORD PHOTO/GREGG PARKER
Listening to former mayor Jan Wells, second from left, are Madison Governance Committee 2025 members Kris McBride, chairman John Allen and Bob Drolet. RECORD PHOTO/GREGG PARKER

MADISON – The future of Madison’s municipal government was the focus at Madison City Council’s work session on Nov. 17.

Chairman John Allen said the Madison Governance Committee 2025 donated 500-plus hours to study three forms of city government: mayor-council; mayor/city administrator-council; and city manager-mayor-council.

These forms are “completely feasible and legal,” Allen said. The committee has recommended city manager-mayor-council. “You have think to the future — past 2015. Is this the best approach to long-term professionalism in our government structure? Our committee would say yes.”

City leaders in Auburn, Decatur, Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills and Hoover told the committee that “willing of individuals to work together was the key to success in any form of government,” Allen said.

The city manager is hired by contract (not appointed) and can be terminated by council. “The key is to hire a professionally trained person who has the ability to bring long-term perspective … to City Hall,” Allen said.

After Allen’s presentation, council members and mayor questioned him. Councilman Steve Smith asked if council can replace the city administrator, who reports to the mayor. Allen said, “It would start with the job description.”

Councilman Tommy Overcash said the job description “would be a collaborative work” and “developed by the mayor, presented to HR committee and then presented to city council.”

Overcash compared changing city governance to the long-range process “of citizens who worked years for a referendum to establish a separate school system for Madison … Fifty percent of the people thought it was a terrible idea. Is there anyone here who regrets that we formed our own school system?”

“We are not about to change the face of Madison city government within the next two weeks,” Overcash said.

Councilman Mike Potter said council does “have a communication problem with the mayor. We’re working on that. People think we’re on a vendetta; we’re not,” Potter said. Potter believes that council can select a reliable person as city administrator or city manager.

Councilman Gerald Clark believes a candidate may use the governance issue to run on a platform for change. Councilman Ronica Ondocsin encouraged citizens to read and understand pros and cons for city manager. “We all can have a conversation about where we’re going,” she said.

“If you vote to have a city manager, you lose the right to vote for mayor every four years. The (city’s) CEO is chosen by city council and citizens cannot elect their CEO,” Mayor Troy Trulock said.

“We’ve had tremendous success without a city manager. The heartbeat of the city is the professional city staff that’s doing an amazing job,” Trulock said.

During public comments, Tim Stone agreed with having a city manager, saying, “the school system is an example because it’s removed from the political process.”

Governance committee member Bob Drolet said selecting a city manager by ordinance will cause problems. Separation of powers is violated because citizens don’t elect a council-appointed city manager.

“Citizens of Decatur voted to change their form of government from a mayor-council to a city manager-council … This change resulted in a lawsuit,” Drolet said.

“Citizens appear to be happy with the mayor and direction of the city,”

Drolet said. Drolet recommended reinstating the mayor’s aide position, which would evolve to a city administrator. For Drolet’s “minority report” and committee report, visit www.madisonal.gov.

Council President Tim Holcombe reiterated that the council would not make any changes in the near future. All council members thanked Allen and the committee.

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