Homewood plans to change city government

Homewood residents could have a chance to change their form of government within the next year.

Mayor Patrick McClusky led a study to bring a city manager or administrator to Homewood. The city currently has a mayor/council form of government, which gives the mayor day-to-day responsibilities of the city while the council serves as the city’s legislative arm. Homewood’s 11-member council is also the largest in the state of Alabama.

The possibility of a city manager or administrator was part of McClusky’s campaign platform. Several options are available to the city:

Board/manager: This is Vestavia Hills’ form of government, where the mayor votes as part of the council and represents the town for ceremonial purposes, while the city manager carries out the day-to-day duties of the town. The city council is responsible for hiring the general manager.

Mayor/Council/Manager: This is the form of government in Mountain Brook, where the city manager can be removed from office with a two-thirds vote of the council, who can also vote to change the form of government. The director handles the administrative duties of the city, except for the hiring and firing of police and fire chiefs.

Municipal administrator: This is the form of government in Hoover, where the mayor is the chief executive and hires a city administrator, who works for the mayor and takes care of some of the city’s administrative duties.

The board’s finance committee convened an ad hoc review committee to review the impact of each option, with subcommittees reviewing each option individually. That committee includes City Council Speaker Alex Wyatt, Ward 2 Councilor Carlos Aleman, Homewood Fire Chief Nick Hill, Homewood Chamber of Commerce Director Meredith Drennen and two residents, Kent Haines and Andrea Snyder.

In April, McClusky advised the city council to hold public meetings, create subcommittees and establish a full schedule of open business meetings, where administrators or managers from the nearby town could come and speak.

While looking at how other towns worked, McClusky realized that Homewood needed a full-time professional on a day-to-day basis.

McClusky is the town’s chief, but he said he couldn’t “keep his finger on the pulse of everything every day” because he still works full-time as a senior operations manager for the Community Food Bank. of Central Alabama. .

McClusky said he wanted to see a professional recruited, but had no preference on the style of administration chosen by the city.

As part of possible changes, the city could also recommend reducing the number of council members, McClusky said, as long as the new number is odd.

In Hoover, Allan Rice is the city administrator under Mayor Frank Brocato. Rice directs day-to-day city operations and reports to Brocato, the mayor said.

“I don’t have to focus on what’s going on in each of those departments,” Brocato said.

While all employees ultimately report to Brocato, Rice has authority delegated to her by the mayor. The two are in constant contact, the mayor said. Having someone like Rice is a big plus for the city, Brocato said.

“It works really well,” Brocato said.

Rice responds to council needs and speaks to the council chairman almost as much as Brocato, the mayor said.

“It’s about working together as a team,” Brocato said.

Whatever form of government a city chooses, it won’t matter if they can’t work as a team, Brocato said.

Mountain Brook City Manager Sam Gaston said having an expert to run the day-to-day affairs of the town brings “professionalism, effectiveness and efficiency” to a town. It also allows for more streamlined services and more skilled staff, Gaston said.

Mountain Brook has had a city manager since its inception in 1942. Gaston has been a city manager since 1993.

“I love what I do,” Gaston said.

The area above the mountain has a high quality of life, Gaston said, and residents often want to take it “to the next level” and make sure what they have is professionally managed.

Compared to other states, Alabama does not have a high number of city managers. Gaston said that’s due to a lack of supportive legislation or state advocacy to encourage it, as well as the philosophical makeup of many Alabamians who don’t see the need for a city manager.

“We’re taking baby steps,” Gaston said. “It would be a good fit for Homewood.”

The only possible downside is if a city doesn’t hire the right person, Gaston said.

This sentiment is echoed by Vestavia Hills councilor George Pierce, who began his term on council in 2008 and served during the city’s change from a mayor/council form of government.

“I think it made a huge difference,” Pierce said. “We are very lucky to have Jeff [Downes, the city manager].”

Steve Ammons, currently Jefferson County Commissioner, was also on the board when the change happened. Ammons said he has previously encouraged Homewood board candidates to consider this style of government.

“Municipal planning gets very complicated,” Ammons said.

Downes has been in city management for 35 years, the last nine of them in Vestavia. In Montgomery he was the unelected principal and reported to the mayor, while in Vestavia he reported to the city council.

The best analogy he can give, said Downes, is that of a publicly traded company. The mayor is the chairman of the “council”, or council, which is involved in policy-making at the highest level, while the city manager is the CEO who executes the vision of that council.

Another benefit of having an unelected professional, Downes said, is the lack of politicization that comes into play in personnel decisions. Appointments are made for performance, not politics.

Downes said his role is that of a facilitator who carries out the council’s will. For example, in 2016, the council decided to improve the city’s communications service. Downes hired current communications director Cinnamon McCulley to help achieve this goal.

While there’s a lot of power given to a city manager, Downes said the city is run by a ‘collective thought process’, as he is accountable to a five-member council that sets the city’s priorities. and is accountable to the voters.

McClusky’s suggested timeline calls for studies to be done through the end of this year and a public presentation to come in January 2023, with a possible citywide vote to follow, based on the results.

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