Gerald Allen Introduces Amendment to Merge Governments of Tuscaloosa, Northport and County
State Senator Gerald Allen has introduced a bill proposing a constitutional amendment to merge three local governments and effectively end Tuscaloosa and Northport's status as independent cities.
The amendment, introduced as Senate Bill 344, says there is no current law governing the merging of existing county and municipal governments.
The new bill proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would combine the governments of the two cities -- the fifth and seventeenth largest cities in Alabama -- together with the county government.
"To facilitate the operation of local government, to prevent duplication of services, and to promote efficient and economical management of the affairs of local government, the voters in Tuscaloosa County may merge county government and the municipal governments of the City of Tuscaloosa and the City of Northport into an urban-county form of government," Allen wrote in the proposed amendment.
It calls for a vote of the citizens of Tuscaloosa and Northport to approve merging the governments and lays out a basic framework to create a 10-member Advisory Council on Metro Government to propose a charter for the new body.
That charter would then be voted on during a general election in 2026, Allen suggests, paving the way for nonpartisan elections of a Metro Council and the Mayor of Metro Tuscaloosa County - meaning candidates would not need to run as Republicans or Democrats.
Allen introduced the amendment Tuesday, where it was read in the Senate and referred to the Senate Local Legislation Committee where it remained Friday. There are only three days left in the regular Legislative Session, leaving very little time for the amendment to progress through both the Senate and the House.
UPDATE: Senator Allen discussed SB344 with the Thread in a phone interview after this report was first published. He said he does not expect the bill to pass this legislative session but wants to introduce the idea of the Metro government to the Legislature and to the citizens of Tuscaloosa County and let it grow over time.
"The Chamber [of Commerce of West Alabama] had a Governmental Affairs Meeting Monday and had a nice group there, and I told them I was going to introduce a Metro Government bill in the morning [...] and that I was not going to move this bill at all," Allen said. "But I want to put the bill in play where the community and Tuscaloosa County, all the citizens who have interest in looking at and reading and considering the bill could do so. And I challenged everyone at the Chamber and I challenge all the citizens to be involved in this process."
Allen pointed to the Louisville Metro Council, which was created by the merger of the City of Louisville with its Jefferson County, Kentucky government in 2003. He said he wants to begin a conversation about a similar system in Tuscaloosa County to ensure the area remains competitive for industrial recruitment and retention.
"It's important for us to be competitive and effective in economic development opportunities for the future. There's no metro government in this state, currently, but we must be prepared to position Tuscaloosa to be competitive," Allen said. "Maybe it's time for us to take a serious look on how we can prepare for the future. I challenge everyone to take a look at this and if it's something where they would meet the challenge and develop a plan, I'm willing to work with them."
This bill won't pass in 2023, Allen said, but the idea will carry on.
"I'm watching my third generation in my family, my grandchildren -- what's best for them? How well are we going to plan for the future and put the pieces of the puzzle together that will impact the third, fourth, fifth, sixth generation of my family and others in the years to come?" Allen said. "I don't think there's room for us to be complacent and say 'Everything's going to be beautiful and lovely!'"
"There's nothing easy -- Nothing. And I want Tuscaloosa to be the very, very best because I love Tuscaloosa, I'm proud of Tuscaloosa. I love the University of Alabama and Stillman College and Shelton State -- I mean, we've got a beautiful community here! But how can we make it better?"
Editor's note: The featured image accompanying this story features the heads of the three local government bodies affected by this amendment - Probate Judge Rob Robertson, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and former Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon. Herndon resigned at the end of last year and is no longer mayor - that office is now held by Northport's John Hinton.