City explores using former mayors' knowledge
By Kevin Elliott
Looking to tap into the wealth of knowledge in the community, Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus on Monday, January 10, pitched the idea of developing an Emeritus Mayor’s Club to the city commission.
Markus said he spoke to a former mayor about the number of civic-minded people in the community and about the idea of the forming of local think tank.
“It seems like such a waste. We get you guys all trained and then you decide you’re not going to be an elected official anymore, and it all just goes away,” Markus said. “Well, I’m not willing to let them go. We should keep them engaged.”
Markus the goal of the club would be to create a resource to providing strategic advice on broad ideas and topics facing city government. Former mayors, he said, have unique historical perspectives and could offer advice on various issues. Further, he said the club could assist community groups, charities and other projects by forming a non-profit entity.
Markus said he had already contacted past mayors who no longer serve on the city commission in order to gauge interest in the concept of an Emeritus Mayor’s Club.
The Birmingham City Commission elects a mayor and mayor pro-tem each year, with a new mayor selected each year, with the exception of 2020, when former mayor and current mayor pro-tem Pierre Boutros was elected by commissioners for a second term as mayor. Markus said there could be as many as 25 members of the club, due to the way mayors are appointed. The mayor is responsible for leading city commission meetings, working with staff to direct the city, conduct ceremonial functions and other duties. The city manager runs the city government and reports to the city commission.
Commissioner Clinton Baller made a motion to approve a resolution to encourage Markus to explore the concept of the club with those interested in forming it.
“I think we should have some sort of round table,” he said. “There’s so much knowledge in this community, it’s ridiculous. Let’s get these people to the table.”
Commissioner Andrew Haig asked how the city would prevent any appearance of influence of the group over decisions on various boards and committees.
Commissioner Brad Host also asked the purpose of the city commission voting on the matter, if such a club were to operate as its own entity apart from the city.
“Why should the city commission give direction on this,” Host asked. “Why should they be organized? Because you want a foundation or a non-profit? I see this going south. Why do you want to do this?”
“Because they have a lot to offer the community,” Markus answered. “You represent a group of people who commit to do something. I’m a paid gun. Compared to people from the community who basically volunteer to run this organization, it takes a lot of time. And they take a lot of heat, depending on the issues. That’s an expression of complete commitment to me, and a resource the community can use.”
Commissioner Elaine McLain also said she was concerned about unintended or unforeseen consequences by the commission taking formal action.
Baller said commissioners may misunderstand, as such a club would be its own entity and not fall under the city’s purview.
“If it’s not under the city, then why is it being voted on,” Haig asked.
Markus recommended Baller withdraw the motion to approve exploring the committee. Baller subsequently withdrew the motion and the commission moved on without further action.