The mayor-council form of government is one of the five historical forms of municipal government in the United States. The others are council-manager, commission, open town meeting and representative town meeting. A city's form of government and distribution of powers may be determined by state law, the city's charter or local ordinances. The mayor-council form is the second most common form of local government in the United States, after the council-manager form. It is popular in large cities and cities with fewer than 5,000 people. According to surveys by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), as of 2011 33% of cities use the mayor-council form of government.
Division of power
The executive power of the mayor in a mayor-council government may be classified as strong or weak. These designations signify the amount of political power and administrative authority granted to the mayor by the laws governing the form of the municipal government.
Strong mayor form
In the strong mayor form the mayor exercises a true centralized executive authority. He or she has robust powers of appointment and removal for heads of city departments and commissions, has the power to veto measures passed by the council and prepares the budget. Some municipalities permit strong mayors to appoint a city administrator to assist with day-to-day administrative responsibilities.
Advantages of a strong mayor-council form of government
- The structure of centralized responsibility allows strong leadership and provides sufficient power to the mayor to run the operations of the city;
- The structure provides a single point of accountability; and
- The structure offers opportunity to build professionalism through mayoral appointment of qualified personnel.
Disadvantages of a strong mayor-council form of government
- Too much responsibility for one person;
- No assurance that the elected mayor has administrative talents, which can also be a detriment to managing the daily operations of a city;
- Exacerbate partisanship;
- Undermine professionalism by, depending on the individual, encouraging political patronage, and making political appointments and dismissals if partisan wishes are not followed.
Weak mayor form
In the weak mayor form the mayor is lacking elements of executive authority. The position may be stripped of appointment and removal powers, veto powers and power over the budget. This executive power is shared with or fully granted to the council. Administrative boards and commissions acting independently from the council are also common in weak mayor forms of government.
Advantages of a weak mayor-council form of government
- Safeguards against potential abuses of power and political patronage;
- Has worked well in small and rural localities.
Disadvantages of a weak mayor-council form of government
- The mayor lacks any real power to run the city;
- There are multiple heads of the organization and this creates multiple lines of authority and problems in coordination of services;
- Elected executive officials or commission members, many of which are volunteers, often lack professional expertise to administer the needs of local government;
- Constituents still blame the mayor for things not in his or her control.
- Council-manager government
- City commission
- Open town meeting
- Representative town meeting
- General law local government
- Chartered local government
- Home rule