Second meeting tonight to discuss Pell City government form
by Elsie Hodnett
Jul 28, 2011 | 1174 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mountain Brook City Manager Sam Gaston, left, and Vestavia Hills Mayor Butch Zaragoza spoke about the city manager form of government.
Mountain Brook City Manager Sam Gaston, left, and Vestavia Hills Mayor Butch Zaragoza spoke about the city manager form of government.
PELL CITY — The second of two public hearings to discuss whether the city should hire a city manager or change to a council-manager form of government is tonight.

The second public hearing is at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at city hall, and will feature guest speaker Brian Muenger, city manager for Talladega.

The first public meeting Wednesday featured Vestavia Hills Mayor Butch Zaragoza and Mountain Brook City Manager Sam Gaston.

Zaragoza spoke about the process Vestavia Hills took to change to a council-manager form of government while keeping the council members at-large.

“The state law dictates that you must go to three districts if you change to a council-manager form of government,” Zaragoza said. “We felt districts would separate the sections of Vestavia Hills when we wanted to unite them.”

Council members of districts can only be voted for by residents living in that district. Council members who run at large are voted for by all city residents.

Zaragoza said Vestavia Hills received legislative approval to change its form of government, but keep the current council as it is at-large.

He said with the change, the mayor will be similar to the president of the council and run the council meetings, as well as be a figurehead for the city. The city manager will handle day-to-day city operations.

Zaragoza said Vestavia Hills held town hall meetings to discuss the change in government, and also during the first interview process for a city manager.

“We talked with the city employees as well, because they were concerned a city manager would come in and wreak havoc,” he said.

Zaragoza said when the candidates were narrowed down to the top five, the city held a public meeting, allowed the candidates time to speak, and received feedback from the people who attended.

“We also had an employee interview panel,” he said. “The mayor and council interviewed one candidate, and the employee panel interviewed another candidate at the same time. The citizen feedback cards and the employee interview panel both picked the candidate we picked. We just couldn’t come to terms on the salary.”

Zaragoza said the city is preparing to go back through the interview process to hire a city manager.

“I would suggest having the employees involved in the process,” he said.

Gaston, who has been city manager for Mountain Brook the past 18 years, said a city manager helps streamline city departments.

“There is greater emphasis on long-range planning,” he said.

Gaston said a city does not always have a mayor who is a responsible administrator.

“With a city manager, you can have an immediate change (if the city manager is not a responsible administrator),” he said. “With a mayor, you have to wait until the next election.”

Gaston spoke about different duties of an appointed city manager or administrator, such as carrying out the policies adopted by the elected officials, managing city services, preparing a comprehensive annual budget and capital improvement program, ensuring fiscal responsibility and modern accounting practices, recruiting, hiring and supervising the workforce of the city, preparing council or board meeting agenda materials, developing long-range plans with guidance from elected officials, assisting in the achievement of common goals and objectives and more.

“If we do this, we would want someone qualified and experienced,” Pell City Mayor Bill Hereford said. “My job would be a lot easier, and I could get a lot more done with a city manager.”

The city has the option of creating a city manager position by ordinance, or changing to a council-manager form of government by a vote of the people. If the city manager position is created by ordinance, the city manager appoints all employees except the police chief and fire chief, who are appointed by the council. The mayor must vote to hire and fire the city manager.

Several residents attending Wednesday’s meeting spoke in favor of, and no one spoke against, creation of a city manager position.

Contact Elsie Hodnett at

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