Mayor hangs on to power: July 8 work session scheduled to discuss reorganization plan
By By Mitch Freeman Madison County Record
A proposed city ordinance that would have taken away Madison Mayor Jan Wells' authority to run the city was withdrawn within hours following its introduction, after the mayor and around 20 residents voiced strong opposition to changing the form of city government without a public vote.
City council members recently have been vocal about their frustrations concerning inefficiency and city projects not getting done. Tensions have been mounting between the city council and the mayor, sources have said. As a result, Councilman Ray Stubblefield introduced the ordinance to establish a city manager position. If passed, the ordinance would have redirected the mayor's authority to a city manager. The city manager would be hired by and report to the city council, effectively removing the checks and balances form of government.
In a counter move, the mayor laid out her plan to reorganize the 14 departments that now report to her. Existing departments would be reorganized into four major divisions, each to be headed up by an executive director that would report to a chief of staff. The chief of staff would report to the mayor and would run the city's day-to-day business.
At least five new, high-level positions would become part of the city's organizational structure.
The mayor's proposal would group municipal court, human resources and clerk/treasurer personnel into an administrative services division. Public works, engineering, parks and recreation, community development, general services and greenway and trails personnel would be grouped into a public services division. Finance, revenue and information technology/community relations personnel would become part of an accounting division. Police, firefighters and emergency management personnel would be part of a public safety division.
The mayor said she will shift the duties of her aide, Michelle Miller, to increase focus on day-to-day operation of the city. Although no names were mentioned as possibilities to fill the executive director slots, Wells said she expected most of the new positions to be filled from within, with minimal impact on the city's budget.
The mayor said she was going to raise the performance bar for city employees. After division directors have been named, she plans to implement a performance measurement program patterned after a system in use across the country.
At this recent city council meeting, there was not enough room in the council chambers to seat the unusually large contingency of residents. The mayor was first to speak, after the ordinance was proposed.
Wells said that she is slow to anger, but there was nothing slow about her anger at the aggressive assault directed at the authority of her office.
After the mayor spoke, public comment was invited, and comment they did.
A round of supportive clapping from the audience followed resident after resident, who stepped forward to tell council members about their opposition to strip the mayor of administrative power. Many appeared upset and spoke with strong emotion.
One resident said her research showed that all other cities using a city manager have the city manager reporting to the mayor. Several residents said the council should not decide among themselves and that the people should vote on the issue. Another resident asked council members who was in on the proposed change and who wasn't.
Councilwoman Cynthia McCollum said, "You bet. I'm in favor of a city manager."
The mayor is one person and can't do everything. She said the city is growing in leaps and bounds and they are looking to improve services to Madison residents.
Councilman Bob Wagner said the city's organization has not been looked at for some time and without professional management, the city is going to have problems down the road.
All of the council members commented favorably on the mayor's proposal, in particular the chief of staff position. They all indicated an interest in improving efficiency.
The council scheduled a work session for Tuesday, July 8 to discuss the mayor's reorganization proposal and how to fund it. The work session will be held at city hall, beginning at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public.
The council first attempted to table the ordinance for future discussion, but decided to withdraw it, because of strong public opposition. It was noted that the ordinance could be revised or a similar ordinance could be proposed in the future.