Republican Women of Madison hosts forum on city manager issue
By Kassidy Wilkins
MADISON— On Tuesday night, the Republican Women of Madison hosted a Madison City Governance Forum at Bob Jones High School. The forum was designed to allow Madison citizens to hear both sides of the issue surrounding the proposed change in government organization in Madison from the current mayor/council organization to a council/manager organization.
The panel discussion was moderated by Michael Yaffee, WVNN talk show host. Representatives from two groups, “Don’t Mess with Madison” and “Madison Forward”, were panelists.
Tiffany Knox, small business owner and homeschool mom, and George Berry, previous political candidate for senate and state legislature, and a long time Madison resident, represented Don’t Mess with Madison. This organization advocates for maintaining the current mayor/council form of government.
Terri Johnson, former member and president of the Madison City Board of Education and faculty member of UAH, along with Mike Oliver, minster at Trinity Baptist Church and member of the governance transition committee appointed by Mayor Paul Finely, represented Madison Forward. This organization advocates for the change in governance structure to the council/manager organization
The Madison city special election regarding the governance structure will be held on Tuesday, May 9.
Each panelist had an opportunity to introduce themselves, make opening remarks for five minutes, present rebuttals and additional thoughts for two minutes, and answer pre-submitted questions.
There was a short period at the end of the meeting for live Q&A.
Both representatives from Don’t Mess with Madison and Madison Forward encouraged the public to do their own research about the form of governance they want for their city.
Should the vote pass for a council/manager organization, the elected mayor would become president of and a member of the city council with the other elected city council members. The entire city council would then appoint a qualified individual as city manager, who would handle the day-to-day activities of the city.
In the current mayor/council organization, it is the mayor’s responsibility to handle the daily operating tasks of the city. According to the panelists, Mayor Finely currently spends about 85% of his time meeting with department heads to discuss day-to-day operations.
Madison Forward claims that transitioning to a council/manager form of government would free up to the mayor to become the political visionary of the city and bring in a qualified professional to handle the details of city operations.
“The role of the manager is to implement the will of the city council,” Terri Johnson said when asked how much autonomy the city manager would have. She also emphasized that the city manager is not a political leader and does not create policy.
Don’t Mess with Madison claims that putting an unelected official in charge of the day-to-day operations of Madison would eliminate the voters’ power to select who runs the city. Don’t Mess with Madison representative George Berry discussed the dangers of election vs. selection.
“Are we going down the road of election vs selection?” Berry asked. “We in Madison have created what I think is a marvelous city, through the form of government that we have.”
One of the major concerns with the council/manager form of governance is that the city manager has no term of office and can remain in the position indefinitely.
Don’t Mess with Madison representatives claimed that it would be dangerous for someone to have an unlimited term of power. Tiffany Knox described their concern.
“Under our current form of government,” Knox said, “if we don’t like how things are going in the city, we can vote out the people who are in the government. With the city manager their term is indefinite…if the citizens don’t like the direction Madison is heading in, our recourse for that is taken away.”
In discussing the indefinite term of a city manager, Mike Oliver, representative of Madison Forward, pointed out that the city council has the ability to fire the manager at any time.
“If we have a mayor elected,” said Oliver, “and we don’t like how that mayor’s operating, we have to wait four years to elect another mayor. If the city manager in that new form of governance isn’t doing the job we want them to do, we go to our city council and they can fire [the manager] immediately.”
Madison Forward representatives also claimed that the indefinite term of would provide continuity between mayor administrations, allowing new mayors to be brought up to speed quicker.
Several other cities in Alabama employ the council/manager form of government, most notably Auburn, Pelham, Mountain Brooke, and Vestavia Hills.
All members of the current city council unanimously voted to transition to the council/manager form of government. The final decision will be made by the citizens of Madison through a secial election planned for May 9.
If Madison citizens choose to adopt the council/manager form of governance, the changes would not go into effect until 2025, after the next mayor and city council elections.