The mayor in council-manager cities

Understanding your role as mayor is critical to helping successfully govern your municipality. This guide was developed to help mayors in council-manager cities govern more effectively.

The Mayor:

  • Understands that the city council is a governing body and that they are one member of that body and “the first among” equals with regard to their council colleagues.
  • Realizes their most important job is to “fill cups” and create model community members that want to “give back” – and so they must focus on the critical role of community building.
  • Understands only the governing body can set the long-term direction for the city and fulfill that role of community building – and therefore, time spent on administrative matters creates a void  that no one else in the community can fill.
  • Recognizes that negotiation and compromise are skills of the political craft and works hard to find opportunities for as many members of council to stand inside consensus as is possible.
  • Has regular check-ins (one-on-one) with all members of the council – knows their interests and passions and looks for opportunities for each person to have a sense of ownership, contribution, and accomplishment as they serve.
  • Sets a tone of respect and collegiality for interactions with city staff, the public, the press, and their council colleagues.
  • Promotes the city’s brand – in the community, in the region, and across the country

At meetings:

  • Runs a fair and efficient meeting – recognizing that sticking to time frames ensures everyone has an equal opportunity to participate.
  • Uses their comment time to pull together critical thoughts that express the majority opinion of the council.
  • Learns the art of when to speak first, when to speak last and when to push the council to move forward and make a decision.
  • Recognizes that there is a time to call the question – and that when all the facts are known, reasonable people can still disagree – and that is what voting is for.
  • Speaks for the majority even if they voted in the minority.
  • Serves as a non-anxious presence when issues become contentious – requests and requires civility and respect from the dais and the podium.

What not to do:

  • Does not use possessive pronouns when referring to the city council (“my council”) or city manager (“my city manager”).
  • Does not provide direction that has not been formally given by the city council.

With regard to the city manager:

  • Has regular communication with the city manager.
  • Serves as a sounding board and shares “a sense” of the council without overstepping and providing direction.
  • Understands that the city manager is there to fulfill the direction of a majority of the council – even if the mayor disagrees.
  • Realizes the city manager cannot in good conscience take direction from one person even “if they know” what the council may want.