The first Community Meeting to discuss a potential transition to a Council-Manager form of government occurred at City Hall on June 22nd with City Managers Sam Gaston from Mountain Brook and Jeff Downes from Vestavia Hills available to answer questions from the public and share how their duties are divided between a city manager and mayor in their municipalities. James Ross from the Governance Transition Committee started off the meeting reminding everyone of the committee’s unanimous recommendation to make this transition. Here are some highlights from the meeting.
Comparison of the two systems
Jeff Downes worked in a Council-Mayor form of government in Montgomery and is now working in a Council-Manager form of government in Vestavia Hills. He contrasted the two forms by explaining that the Council-Manager form is more “business-like,” where the mayor sits as a voting member who functions like a chairman of the board and the council members function like a board of directors. These functions are performed in a less politicized manner. Downes explained that now his job in Vestavia Hills is to react or respond to the collective mayor and council to work in the most rational way to deliver services in an efficient manner. In the Council-Manager form at Vestavia Hills, the mayor is the face of the community while the day-to-day operations are handled by the city manager.
Qualifications and credentials of a city manager
Sam Gaston explained that 75% of all city/county managers have a graduate degree, usually a master’s in public administration (MPA). City managers are certified and attend conferences to continue their training. Sam encouraged us to actively recruit and seek applicants who are strong seasoned professionals to apply for the job if Madison residents decide to approve a change in government. He shared that the one negative or downside to the Council-Manager form of government is when a non-professional is hired, citing examples he has seen where someone was hired who just needed a job or who was a former city council member instead of a certified and trained professional.
We learned that a city manager is held accountable through a contract which lays out the term of service and expectations and through a performance evaluation process. If the city manager is not meeting expectations, they can be removed.
Who benefits from a Council - Manager form of government?
A. Residents-because they gain continuity in city government and greater transparency
B. School system - because it can engage in long -term strategic planning with the city
C. City Hall - because a trained, certified city manager runs the day-to-day operations of the city
Timeline and Process
The transition to the Council-Manager form of government starts with the citizens of Madison and can only happen with their consent. When a special election can be held will depend on how quickly the requisite number of petition signatures are obtained.
1. Citizens sign a petition (900+)
2. Probate Judge reviews the petition
3. Mayor calls for an election
4. City holds a special election
5. Mayor transmits results to the Governor’s office
June 30th at noon – Madison Forward citizens group meeting at Madison Library.
Co-Chairs James Ross and Terri Johnson
July 11th at noon – 2nd Community Meeting at Madison Library featuring the role of the mayor in a Council-Manager form of government
Guests: Madison Mayor Paul Finley and Auburn Mayor Ron Anders
Moderator: Ranae Bartlett, City Council Member District 5
Questions can be submitted using this form.
Please click the following link to view the presentation information used during the Community Meeting: Community Meeting Presentation