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Proponents of a Council-manager style of governance answer questions


Guest posts are written by citizens who hold various opinions. The statements and opinions presented in this guest post do not necessarily reflect those held by I Vote Madison or its leaders.


Madison Forward is a citizens group that proposes placing the council-manager form of government on the ballot so that city residents may decide what kind of city government would work best in a rapidly growing city. We are in favor of the Council-Manager form of government because it places a credentialed, experienced professional in charge of the day-to-day operations of the city. This helps provide continuity across election cycles, improves efficiency of city operations, and removes politics from the city’s administration. Transparency is improved with a clear chain of command. This also frees up the Mayor to represent the city locally, regionally and at the state level in matters of legislation and economic development.

We saw the blog post by I Vote Madison where several questions were asked about the Council-Manager form of government. Below, we have written answers to the questions that appeared in the blog. The bold statements and questions were taken from the I Vote Madison blog. The Madison Forward answers are in italics.

Laws governing a transition to Council-manager government

Question (I Vote Madison): Is this 2021 code the most recently updated, applicable code that dictates this possible transition for Madison (a 2018 document was mentioned by Councilperson Bartlett, but we have not found one from that year)?

Answer (MadisonForward): The state code is compiled each year with the adopted and codified additions, deletions, and amendments made during the former legislative session. Thus, the "2022 Code of Alabama" is the compilation of all the changes and reflects the most recent changes. In the Council/Manager code of reference (11-43A) the Council-Manager Act of 1982 is the governing code section. This is the section that applies to the petition to Madison Forward is using to get the Council-Manager form of government on the ballot. The only recent changes to this section were in 2018 and 2019. (Act 2018-569, §1; Act 2019-360, §1.)

To answer another question that some folks have asked, the Council Manager Act of 1991 applies to cities that are already operating under the council-manager form of government. That is not the case in Madison.

Question: We have seen debate among citizens about whether the mayor could vote on council decisions under a council-manager form of government. Some citizens have been citing section 11-43-16 of this 2021 code but not including section 11-43-1.1 to support their argument that the mayor is ceremonial and does not vote. Are we correct in understanding that both of these sections apply to a mayor in a council-manager style of government? In other words, the mayor simultaneously plays a legislative role (laid out in 11-43-1.1) and an executive role (laid out in 11-43-16) and that one section does not negate the other. The legislative role is serving as City Council President and a voting member and the executive/administrative role is mostly ceremonial with the city manager taking on the day-to-day administrative duties (This is, of course, the same information the city has presented from the beginning). Answer: We believe you are interpreting this correctly, except that all of your references in your question should be about section 11-43A. This is the relevant section of code relating to the Council-Manager form of government. In 11-43A-1.1 it clearly states “One member of the council shall be the mayor elected at large, who shall be a voting member of the council”. We do not believe that stating in Section 11-43A-16 that the mayor has no administrative duties precludes him/her from voting on the council.

Question: For further clarification, we noticed there are exceptions for certain classes of cities, 6 and 7, so are those two sections mentioned above applicable to cities the size of Madison? Class 4?

Answer: Madison is a Class 8 city, per the 1970 census. Once a classification is set, it never changes regardless of changes in population.

(Acts 1979, No. 79-263, p. 402, §§1, 3.)

Opinions of the Mayor and Council

Question: Is there something, legally speaking, that would prevent the mayor and council members from expressing their opinions publicly (and reasons for their opinions) on this possible transition?

Answer: None that we are aware. As they are elected officials, they are also voting citizens of the city of Madison and would have a right to express themselves.

Question: We were told that the last time this option was presented, the current mayor was opposed. But we have been told it is a citizen-led effort, with a petition and then a vote, and that it is the citizens who ultimately decide and not the mayor and Council. Did the people who wanted the change a few years ago just decide not to pursue it further because they decided to follow the wishes of that current mayor? Could they have gone ahead anyway? Answer: The Madison Governance Committee - Madison 2025 was established by the Madison City Council on August 10, 2015. Their report is available here. The group was tasked with the research and reporting specifically in evaluation of the Council-Mayor and Council-Manager form of government. Madison Forward does not know why the recommendations of that committee were not pursued. The current effort is citizen led by Madison Forward in response to the findings of the Madison Governance Transition Task Force appointed by Mayor Finley on August 9, 2021. Their report was presented in January 2022 and was favorable toward moving to a Council-Manager form of government.

A problem/solution lens

Question: So, what is the identifiable problem(s) that a transition to a council-manager form of government would solve? And if a problem(s) can be named, is there perhaps more than one possible solution?

Answer: Madison Forward is a group of engaged city residents, several of whom have long histories of public service in the city. We have seen what happens when an inexperienced mayor takes over at a critical time. Right now, we have an excellent mayor who is in his third term. Mayor Finley has provided our city much needed continuity and stability in the city government. Also, our mayor is a gifted manager of personnel and public relations. Our group is looking ahead to will happen with our city when Mayor Finley moves on to other opportunities. The “identifiable problem” is how do we ensure that an experienced person is running the city government, and that this person will serve on a long term basis? A dysfunctional City Manager can be dismissed by the council at any meeting. A dysfunctional Mayor-Council relationship must wait until the next election cycle to see changes. The best way to address this is to hire a city manager. The Council-Manager provides the best solution for the City of Madison for these reasons:

Continuity & Stability: • Ability to carry out comprehensive long-term planning • Stability for decision-making to span numerous election cycles

  • Continuity and sustained direction for Dept Heads and City Staff

  • Near-Term actions while staying true to the Long-Range plan

  • Ensures stable, long-term collaboration with, and support for, our schools.

Public Administration Experience/Expertise: • Experienced in managing municipal processes and handling daily administration • Expertise in providing municipal services, operations and budgeting.

  • Master’s Degree in Public Administration or equivalent

Day-to-Day Operations: • Accomplish the daily internal and external requirements of city administration • Ability to adequately lead, manage, direct and mentor Dept Heads and City Staff: (Supervise an appropriate number of subordinates and operations (not overstretched)

  • Ensure professional growth/development guidance and support to subordinates.

The “why” can be summed up using this quote from the Madison Governance Committee - Madison 2025 report: “It is the considered opinion and recommendation of the Madison Governance Committee that City Manager—Mayor— Council form of municipal Government is best for our community. - The City of Madison will benefit significantly from continuity in City Government necessary for a rapidly growing and vibrant city - The City of Madison will benefit from an organizational structure (Manager-Mayor-Council) that can simultaneously lead and manage the current and future direction of the City and the City Departments - The City of Madison will benefit from appropriate experience and expertise to properly administer and execute public services - The City of Madison will benefit from sustained leadership and the ability to manage both near term growth and long range planning - Provides a team to manage both internal & external requirements”

Question: We also know that there is more than one way to have a city manager. As we understand it, the council could place a city manager at the helm of a lot of the executive/administrative tasks without changing the structure of the government and without a petition/vote. If one reads through the report by the committee, one will see that the committee briefly mentions appointing a city manager and keeping the current structure of government. They say that it would be better to change the structure so that the mayor and manager would not be in competition and that department heads would have a clear chain of command.

Why is it better to formally change the form of government to a council-manager?

Answer: The state code 11-43-20 allows for a city manager in a Council-Mayor municipality to be hired by the council through an ordinance. The main issue with this approach is that the state statute is conflicted in regards to the duties of a mayor and city manager (11-43-20). They overlap and thus are in competition in section 11-43-21 for the city manager and 11-43-80 for a mayor. This is a known code conflict of duties and should be rectified. That is another issue for another day. The reason for the recommendation to change the form of government for the City of Madison is to bring clarity, as you state, to the department heads and chain of command. The duties of the City manager under the proposed ballot language are spelled out in Section 11-43A-28. Question: It’s been said, though, (by several professionals) that under a council-manager form of government, the biggest con is what would happen if the wrong manager was chosen. Competition between the mayor and city manager was cited as a reason that would be a con. So in either city manager scenario, it seems like a lot hinges on who exactly is appointed.

Answer: We agree. Much hinges on the city to a) elect a competent, skilled, and professional mayor or b) for the mayor and council to hire the right city manager. In option b) the entire legislative body is in the process of hiring the right person through a planned and well executed national search for a professional. In option a) the mayor selects a city administrator that may or may not have the needed skills to effectively run the day-to-day operations of the city. If the city chooses the wrong mayor in option a), then they have to wait 4 years to correct this selection. In option b) the council, which INCLUDES the mayor as a voting member and presiding officer can rectify the hiring of the wrong manager at the next council meeting with a 4/7 vote. See Alabama code 11-43A-18. At present, a city administrator is not 'accountable' to the voters. A city manager would be accountable to the mayor and council elected by all of the voters of Madison.

Question: With growth being a main reason given for needing this transition, is there a concern that a mayor-council form of government will not be able to manage it as efficiently as a council-manager government? Growth is a big topic for Madison residents. How much to grow and how. What does “manage” mean exactly in this context? Does it involve being able to continue to grow but providing the infrastructure and other things to support that growth? Does it mean curbing growth? Being more thoughtful and strategic about growth?

Answer: The city is currently working with a professional planning firm to update its Comprehensive Plan. This plan is called Madison on Track 2045 and has been in the development process since early 2022. There have been many public meetings where residents could give feedback on how growth should be managed in the city. You can read summaries of these meetings by clicking on the link above. The plan is expected to be adopted in Summer 2023. Here is a quote from the website: “As a comprehensive plan, Madison on Track 2045 will be a policy document for use by city leaders, developers, business owners, and citizens to make decisions about future growth, development, policy, and capital improvements. It will also serve as a vision for the City, developed by the community, for the community, based on community-wide values and inputs”. This is how growth will be managed in the city in the future. The city manager, mayor and council will all make decisions that are consistent with the growth plan.

Question: Some citizens who are opposed to more growth, are concerned that a city manager will lead to even more growth. If growth getting out of hand is the problem that a council-manager form of government will solve, are there not other ways to solve it? For example, are there zoning changes that can be made?

Answer: Right now, the decisions about growth for the city are being made according to the 2018 Growth plan passed by the council. Under the Council-Manager form of government, the Mayor and Council will still be the ones who set policy and vision for the city. The City Manager carries out these policies through day-to-day operations. Citizens who have concerns about growth should continue to share their thoughts with their council member and the Mayor. Zoning changes come at the request of the property owner. The city cannot tell a property owner how to use their property as long as they use it in a manner consistent with its zoning.

Thank you for the opportunity to write this guest blog. Citizens can reach the co-Chairs of Madison Forward, Terri Johnson at or James Ross at


If you are interested in submitting a guest blog post, please read this post to learn more.


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