The Alabama League of Municipalities (ALM) is holding its annual convention this week to educate city leaders about better serving their communities.
ALM is a nonpartisan membership association representing 453 municipalities across Alabama. Less than 10 of the municipalities in Alabama are not members.
ALM’s headquarters are in Montgomery next to Archives Center. They have been located there since 1972.
“The league was formed in 1935 at the behest, really, of the Alabama Legislature,” said Greg Cochran, the ALM’s executive director. “The Legislature recognized that a lot of special interests were forming, and they were coming and lobbying the legislature and felt like cities needed to have a voice, so they recommended to a group of city officials that they form the Alabama League of Municipalities.”
Every year, the ALM holds its convention for local officials to receive training and network for three days.
Last year, the ALM convention was in Huntsville. The ALM rotates the conference's location every year over five cities with facilities equipped to host the large crowd: Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, Birmingham and Montgomery.
This year, the ALM hosts approximately 1,200 people at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Attendees are primarily mayors and city council members, but some police and fire chiefs are also there.
ALM offers not only training but legal guidance and lobbying services. Three attorneys are available at the conference to speak with city officials.
The ALM provides an educational program called the Certified Municipal Office (CMO).
“In that CMO program, we provide a wealth of topics all related to the administration of municipal government… really the ABCs or fundamentals of how to run a city,” Cochran said.
Another essential function of the conference is to elect ALM leadership.
“Part of the reason for having an annual meeting is to adopt policies to kind of guide us for the coming year, and also new officers,” Cochran said. “…We have five municipal officials from each congressional district that really are designed to lead us and put resources together and provide us the leadership we need.”
In Alabama, anything that is not specifically mentioned in state law is left to local authorities, according to Cochran.
“We’re one of three states left with that much authority,” Cochran said. “With that, cities have the opportunity to adjust the resources they need by passing taxes, and then those taxes are used to provide the services they need to their citizens.”
ALM has a four-person lobbying team that works with the state legislature and the governor’s office to advocate for municipal interests.
“We are a grassroots organization, so we rely on our members to tell us what’s impacting our communities and what issues are impacting our communities that are being debated at the Legislature,” Cochran said.
ALM works with the legislature over tax issues, business licenses and even issues relating to scooters, dog parks and golf carts.
“It’s about 300 bills a season of the [legislative session] that our advocacy team engages on,” Cochran said.
Cochran said the ALM is funded by dues paid for by the member municipalities.
This year’s conference
This year’s conference included speakers such as University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who spoke to the conference Thursday morning about “the importance of leadership and being inclusive of the community.”
Cochran said the convention also has several guests speaking about broadband deployment, American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and grant writing.
“We use this conference as an opportunity to bring in these specialists that can provide expert advice and resources to those municipal officials,” Cochran said.
This year is Lawrence Tony Haygood’s 10th year at the convention. Haygood is the mayor of Tuskegee and president of the ALM.
“It’s a great event because we get good information, information that helps us plan what we’re doing in our cities,” Haygood said. “We learn what’s available to the cities. We learn legal information [about] what to do and what not to do and how to keep ourselves in good order. It gives us kind of some terms of what we can do as mayors, as councilpersons, and how to provide better services to our cities and our communities.
“...It was a great opportunity to get together. …It’s great to see such a large number of people coming from all over the state.”
Haygood said his favorite thing about the convention is meeting with other mayors and city councilpersons at round table discussions.
Round tables were held today at the University of Alabama’s Bryant Conference Center. City leaders were organized into groups based on population size and given the opportunity to network with peers.
Haygood participated in the round table for municipalities in the 5,000 to 10,000 population range.
“Maybe [a solution to a problem in] my community, I can learn from somebody else who’s already solved the problem,” said Haygood. “…The round table’s a lot of sharing of good information with a lot of people who are in the same position as you’re in.”
After the round tables on Thursday, ALM hosted an expo with over 100 organizations that service municipalities across the state.
Dixie Decorations, a manufacturer of pole-mounted Christmas decorations, flags and banners headquartered in Montevallo, was one of the organizations participating in the expo.
“We’ve been doing the ALM convention since 1984,” said Jerry Fulmer, vice president of Dixie Decorations. “We’ve got a great relationship with them… We’ve been serving the municipal community for almost 50 years.”
“[The expo] is a means for us to connect to our customers, said Damian Fantroy, an engineer at Alabama Power. “[It] can be used as an opportunity to present our products to the customers, the municipalities across the state, and to let them know what we can do for them as far as conserving energy and saving them some money on their light bill.”
Will Barrett is a project manager at Civil Southeast, a civil engineering and land surveying company based out of Andalusia.
“We do everything from playgrounds to treatment plants to transportation projects, everything a municipality needs for the benefit of their people," Barrett said. “We’ve always had a relationship with ALM.
“They keep our mayors and our councilors in good standing. They don’t let them get out of line as far as what they can do legally or what they can’t do legally. It keeps them out of trouble. It’s a good relationship with us and with them. It keeps everybody safe.”
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