City hall wants you to think the “city manager” style government is a panacea. At least that’s what we’ve observed from public meetings and posts at madisonal.gov. The flip side is the FACT that cities all over the country have had big problems with their city managers. Let’s take a look at a few cities that already have the proposed Council-Manager form of government in place with a city manager. Dothan for example is more comparable to Madison in terms of population (71,000) than two cities used as examples in the Madison government transition public meetings, Mountain Brook (22,000) and Vestavia (39,000). So why wasn’t Dothan used as an example or investigated by Madison’s governance transition committee? Most likely because it has been fraught with controversy. In April 2019, Dothan hired its first City Manager at a base salary of $190,000 in addition to a $700 per month auto allowance. A similar salary has been discussed as consideration for a city manager in Madison. So, what’s the catch? Within in a year of his hiring, the city manager in Dothan convinced the board of commissioners (city council) to hire an Assistant City Manager at a salary of $154,000 plus $500 car allowance. The idea of an assistant city manager and the additional salary hasn’t been mentioned at all for Madison. If voters approve changing to Council-Manager, the cost could be much more than citizens have been told. Even more concerning are issues of transparency surrounding the Dothan city manager’s support of the local tourism group’s CEO after he was convicted of felony fraud. Those who support hiring a city manager in Madison say it will improve transparency, and Dothan’s experience proves this just isn’t true.
More to come! We’ll take a look at Anniston’s experiences with city managers in a future post.