In these challenging economic times, towns and cities need all the help they can get to meet budgets and carry out essential services. Since 1935, the Alabama League of Municipalities (ALM) has been providing help to cities of every size in Alabama through training, education, insurance programs and ceaseless lobbying on their behalf. And, for almost half of the League’s existence, Perry Roquemore has been with them, first as a staff attorney and later as the ALM’s executive director.
The ALM began when a small group of mayors formed the organization to foster more efficient government and promote the interests of the municipalities, hard hit by the Great Depression. Over the years, the League expanded from the initial 24 members to its current 443, but Roquemore says the mission of the ALM has been a constant. “Education, representation with the Legislature, providing the cities with the tools to do their jobs better, that’s always been our purpose.” Lobbying on behalf of municipalities is part of the ALM’s mission. “We make recommendations to the Legislature on issues important to the cities, ” Roquemore explains. “We have a committee that puts together a package of 10 to 12 bills each year on priority issues and we try to get them passed.”
Not long after Roquemore became director in 1986, the ALM successfully lobbied the Legislature to set up a health insurance plan for municipal employees through the State Employees Insurance Board. Ensuring that towns would be able to obtain affordable insurance was one of Roquemore’s major efforts. “A lot of insurance companies didn’t want to quote the small cities, ” Roquemore says. “In the late 1980s, we started the Alabama Municipal Insurance Corp., to provide liability insurance for those cities and to offer better rates than cities might be able to find elsewhere. To save cities money, provide them with good quality products, and help them do their jobs better, that’s what we’re all about.”
The ALM also is a watchdog on proposed legislation, informing the legislators when it believes one will present a problem to the cities.
“When the Alabama Oil and Gas Trust Fund was first set up, cities and counties were supposed to get a share of the revenue to use for infrastructure purposes, ” Roquemore recalls. “But in the late 1990s, there was an effort to divert that money elsewhere. We were successful in beating that back and the next year got an amendment put in the constitution where our share of the revenue is locked in. That money has created a lot of good projects for the cities.”
Education and training by the ALM expanded greatly under Roquemore’s term as director, and this is one of the accomplishments he is proudest of.
“For many years, there were programs for training city clerks but not a whole lot for elected officials, ” Roquemore says. “So, we created a program to train elected officials. We offer continuing education courses on many topics—planning, zoning, environmental issues—anything you can imagine, we run seminars on. We have probably had 2, 000 officials go through our training courses in the last 14 or 15 years.”
One of the most helpful ALM training programs is offered after the municipal elections. “With an average turnover of around 35 percent, we have a large number of newly elected officials who take office with very little knowledge of government, ” Roquemore says. “We offer a one-day orientation at different locations across the state to train these people on the basics—the duties of the mayor and council, the bid law, open records, tort liability, appropriation power. This is something we try to do for the ‘new kids on the block.’”
After 37 years with the ALM and 25 years as its director, Roquemore will retire at the League’s convention this May.
“I never had any idea that this is what I would wind up doing, ” says Roquemore, a Montgomery native who graduated from the University of Alabama Law School in 1973. “In December of 1973, I met with the previous ALM director, John Watkins, and interviewed. He offered me a job if I promised to stay for at least two years. It’s now been over 37 years, so I feel I have fulfilled my commitment.”
What kept him on the job so long? “I enjoy people, ” he says. “I enjoy working with officials and helping things happen for the positive.”
William Stevenson is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. He lives in Meridianville, Ala.
By William H. Stevenson III