City officials, residents respond to possible city manager position

Published 10:40 am Friday, February 19, 2016

City Council President Rick Hayes addresses the residents of Pelham concerning the potential of hiring a city manager. (Reporter photo / Jessa Pease)

City Council President Rick Hayes addresses the residents of Pelham concerning the potential of hiring a city manager. (Reporter photo / Jessa Pease)

By JESSA PEASE / Staff Writer

PELHAM— The residents of Pelham expressed several concerns with the possibility of hiring a city manager to take over the general, day-to-day operations within the city at a Feb. 16 town hall meeting.

Sam Gaston, Mountain Brook’s city manager, gave a presentation on the benefits of the city manager position and explained why a council-manager form of government would be a good fit for Pelham.

“Pelham is a high-income, more affluent community,” Gaston said. “You have a well educated caucus in Pelham, and you have great schools. You want to continue to improve the quality of life that makes Pelham the special place that it is.”

The City Council has been discussing the potential of hiring a city manager at several of its past meetings. Bringing on this new employee would shift the mayor into more of a part-time position, according to City Council President Rick Hayes.

If the city chooses to move forward with hiring a city manager, Hayes said it would allow the city to evaluate the benefits of transitioning into a council-manager form of government, which would be the potential next step.

Opinions concerning this new hire appeared to be mixed among the residents with many speaking out either in favor or against it. Some residents said they were concerned with how Mayor Gary Waters’ role would shift and others wanted to stress that Pelham should not be compared to its neighboring cities, such as Mountain Brook and Alabaster.

“Is it going to be better government?” former Mayor Don Murphy asked at the meeting. “Because I don’t think so. I think the closer you can get to the people in our city, that’s (better). I’m not worried about other cities, I’m worried about Pelham.”

Other residents expressed concerns that the City Council had already made the decision to hire the city manager.

“I absolutely do agree that this is the way to go, but my concern is somewhat on how it has been presented to us,” said Pelham resident June Fletcher. “For instance, when does this become effective?”

Fletcher also asked Waters and Hayes if they had considered a city administrator position instead of hiring a city manager. She said she feels a city administrator would be a better transition for the city.

Hayes said the City Council is required to set compensation for the next elected officials by Monday, Feb. 22, saying that a resolution could be put in place to hire someone to a new position with no time frame.

Despite some opposition to hiring a city manager, each of the City Council members spoke out in favor of the decision, giving thorough explanations of why they support it.

Former City Council member Jim Phillips told Hayes that the council would be crazy not to include this on the agenda for the Feb. 22 meeting. He said doing so would give the council the ability to implement this in the next six months.

If they don’t include this on the agenda, the city would be forced to wait another four years to bring it up again. Phillips also added that he thinks it is a positive thing, because city manager could help transition new elected officials into their roles.

“If you don’t do it now, you are waiting four years,” he said. “I think you are crazy if you don’t do this Monday night.”