Alexander City Mayor Woody Baird is ready to start implementing changes to improve the city he leads.
Baird called a Thursday work session of the Alexander City City Council to discuss the appointments ahead of Monday night’s council meeting. Although the council did not end up making any moves on the appointments, Baird said the appointments are crucial to beginning progress.
“The sooner we start the ball rolling the better,” Baird told the council at last week’s work session. “I’m trying to move the city forward and I need stability. We have a bunch of people with question marks over their head; they don’t know. I’m just thinking we go ahead and resolve that question for as many as we can.”
The council voted at its organizational meeting earlier this month to delay appointments of city clerk, police and fire chiefs, finance director, city attorney and municipal judge until the first meeting of January. The council's reasoning was to allow new councilmember Jimmy Keel to meet with officials and make an informed decision.
The last several councils have delayed appointments for a few months to give councilmembers time to figure them out. Four years ago was no different.
“We pushed a couple of them back and went ahead and did a few of them,” council president Buffy Colvin said. “We were all new except Bobby (Tapley). We wanted to give ourselves an opportunity to make sure we knew what we were talking about and who we were appointing and what was going on.”
Keel initially said he would like time to consider the appointments.
“I don’t want to make a decision until I get a chance to talk to people,” Keel said. “I don’t want to come up and vote no for somebody I don’t know a thing in the world about. Some of them I don’t know. I would like time.”
Baird said the appointments need to happen as soon as possible.
“How much time do you think you need?” Baird asked Keel. “I think this is pressing.”
Councilmembers chimed in to urge Keel to take his time.
“Historically for the last four or five administrations they have moved it to January,” councilmember Chris Brown said. “Do not get rushed, Mr. Keel; anytime you need, you take.”
Councilmembers asked about a process to discuss the issue.
“We can’t float that out there,” Baird said. “We can’t go into executive session for that. We can’t discuss it. It is just an appoint or reappoint.”
Brown expressed frustrations over not being able to discuss the issue.
“It is one of the craziest rules we have as a governing body,” Brown said. “Just like council president, the six of us couldn’t sit in there and have an open discussion in a public forum. Me and you can sit down in your office and talk about it.”
Baird proposed a hypothetical situation of the council meeting in smaller groups for the purpose of discussing the appointments.
“So if I decide I want to meet with one or two councilmembers over the next week or so at a time, so long as I don’t explain what was going on with the other two,” Baird said. “If I don’t discuss it with either of those groups, what the other groups discuss, we are clear, right?”
Colvin said that would constitute a serial meeting. City clerk Amanda Thomas cautioned the council about creating a serial meeting for discussions as it violates Alabama’s Open Meetings Laws.
Four years ago the council postponed all appointments other than finance director Sandra Machen who was not reappointed. Two months later the council decided to not reappoint then-police chief Willie Robinson and fire chief Kem Jones and named interim chiefs after the councilmembers discussed what they felt were issues in the departments. The public discussion was prompted because of a possible violation of the state’s open meetings laws as it was having impromptu electronic conversations about the reappointments.
Thomas said the council could start to lay out a process for appointments but it all had to be in public meetings.
Currently Sandy Stanbrough serves as finance director; Thomas serves as city clerk; Larkin Radney as city attorney; Jay Turner as police chief; Reese McAlister as fire chief; and Randy Haynes as municipal judge.
Baird asked the council if it had any reappoints it wanted to go ahead and do at Monday’s meeting. Baird said it leads into changes he wants to make to the organizational chart of the city.
“The organizational chart was designed by (Mayor Jim) Nabors and implemented by Mayor (Tommy) Spraggins,” Baird said. “It is more aligned to a manufacturing setting, not a service industry; the city is a service industry. This organizational chart came straight out of Russell Corp. Right now we are having problems with the flow on the reporting. I think we can shorten that.”
Baird said the appointed positions are a crucial part of the organizational chart but believes the changes will make the city government better.
“I think some of the conflict is within the administration of the city,” Baird said. “I think this is going to help a lot of that conflict and get people back to doing what they are supposed to be doing.”
Keel said he also understands the urgency in making the appointments.
“I think (Baird) needs to get everything going,” Keel said. “I know he is ready to move.”
Baird said every moment lost to the appointment process is time lost moving Alexander City forward.
“If we don’t reappoint someone, we are starting from square one trying to find someone to appoint,” Baird said. “That is what I’m trying to get beyond. I’m trying to save time; three weeks from now is three weeks from now — it’s time lost.”
Councilmember Scott Hardy said there appears to be some middle ground on the issue.
“I want to give Mr. Keel the time to make a decision but it sounds like there are some positions there could be some questions about,” Hardy said. “If that is the case, do we want to go ahead and do the appointments for the ones we want to do or not?”
Appointments were not on the agenda for Monday’s meeting but it is written in the resolution approved earlier this month on the appointments, so it can be brought up at any meeting before the first meeting in January.
Councilmember Eric Brown said he sees both sides but believes the city will better in the long run by making sure it is making a good decision.
“On a business project, if I rush something because I have a deadline, the final product is not always something I’m proud of,” Brown said. “(Thursday), I had to slow down. I’m rushing to make this meeting. I had to stop myself and say, 'I don’t care if we finish today or not. I want to make sure I do this right.'”