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Alabama City Referendum Will Overhaul Its Government

The vote will determine whether Madison, Ala., should transition from a mayor-council format to a council-manager format, which is unusual for the state. If approved, the city will have until 2025 to make the transition.

(TNS) — Voters in one of Alabama’s largest cities are expected to go to the polls in less than two months to vote on changing its form of government.

A referendum will be held May 9 in the state’s 10th-largest city that would overhaul the city’s municipal government. Mayor Paul Finley said that the voting date is the latest Tuesday it could be held within the time frame set by state law based on when the the petition signature were certified.

The vote represents the culmination of a months-long effort to transition Madison from a mayor-council format to a council-manager format that would essentially alter the role of mayor while creating the new position of a city manager. The proposed format change has the support of Finley.

Several people spoke in opposition to the proposed change at Monday’s city council meeting. Finley said he was glad to see engagement from the community and that the issue will be before the voters.

“When the citizens get to vote, they usually get it right,” Finley said.

The city has launched an informational website about the referendum that includes some frequently asked questions.

Setting the referendum date was the next step after a petition seeking the vote was certified by the probate judges in Madison and Limestone counties – the two counties occupied by Madison. That certification came last month after the petition was approved to have the number of signatures representing at least 10 percent of the last general election voters.

A lawsuit has been filed in an effort to block the certification of the petition signatures, claiming some were “improperly obtained.” A judge has denied a request for a temporary restraining order.

The governing format change has essentially two parts. In the first, the mayor would become a member of the city council but continue to be elected city-wide. That would require Madison to undergo redistricting to eliminate one city council district with the new council format being made up of six council districts and the city-wide mayoral district.

The mayor, while remaining the face of the city, would also turn over day-to-day operations of the city to a city manager that would be hired by the city council. While the mayor and city council would be charged with setting the vision for the city, the city manager would be charged with implementing that vision.

While the council-manager format is unusual in Alabama, there are about a dozen cities and towns that use it. The largest is Auburn and Mayor Ron Anders has been working with the city of Madison through its fact-finding process.

At Monday’s meeting, the council approved the phrasing of the referendum question:

“Shall the council-manager form of government as provided by the Council-Manager Act of 1982 be adopted for the City of Madison consisting of seven members as follows: One member shall be the mayor elected at large, who shall be a voting member of the Council, and six members shall be council members elected from single-member districts?”

Voters will then have a place to mark either “yes” or “no.”

If approved, Madison would have until 2025 to complete the transition.

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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