Last week, the Weekly Newspapers reported that the city of Marathon operates as a “Strong Council/Weak Mayor” system when the city was in incorporated with a “Council-Manager” form of government and continues to operate under those conditions today.
Talk of shifting to a different style of government is nothing new to local politics, so the Weekly Newspapers recently sat down with Marathon Vice Mayor Mike Cinque to discuss Marathon’s current form of government. A Marathon resident for more than 35 years, he was a leading advocate for Marathon’s incorporation more than a decade ago. Cinque is a small business owner and was elected to his second term in November, 2009.
JK: What was the reasoning behind establishing a Council-Manager form of government when the city incorporated back in 1999?
MC: Basically, that was the consensus of the majority of the people who pushed for incorporation. The most common form is what we currently have and is a way to keep politics out of the city manager’s job. However, in small towns like ours it is difficult to keep politics out of that job. A city manager is a visible part of the community and must interact with the residents on a regular basis. Inevitably, the residents start treating the manager as a sixth councilperson.
JK: Is this a good time to revisit the city charter and begin dialogue for change?
MC: Our current form of government is perfect for a young city that must contract departments. But now that most of our departments are “in-house,” we must establish some form of responsibility. I have always been an advocate of a “Strong Council/Weak Mayor” hybrid where whoever the council appoints as the mayor serves alongside the city manager as the head of government between meetings. I believe an elected official should take responsibility of the day-to-day operations of city government. That is what people expect.
JK: How would moving to a strong council/weak mayor system benefit the people of Marathon?
MC: The council and mayor would be more reactive to the citizens and handle complaints on a day-to-day basis instead of on a bi-weekly basis. Right now we have no elected official taking any responsibility for 14 – 20 days at a time. With a weak mayor system, I could call up the mayor, report a problem and ask him or her to take care of it. The mayor would have the authority and power to make a decision that day and take care of the problem without waiting until the next council meeting.
JK: Although the salary of a Marathon councilperson is only $18,000 a year, the position requires a full-time commitment to study issues, attend meetings and perform various other responsibilities. If Marathon was to change the charter and move to a strong council/weak mayor form of government, should the mayor earn extra compensation?
MC: Under that system, there will definitely be a heavier workload for the mayor. I think we can find an extra chunk of change in our budget to compensate whoever serves as the weak mayor. I see no problem in kicking that person’s salary up $12,000 a year to $30,000 a year while they serve as weak mayor. I know we want to keep the positions open to everybody, but there is a reality to how our system is set up. You only have certain kinds of people who can afford to do this and serving as a local elected official is not a well-paying job.
COUNCIL-WEAK MAYOR FORM
The weak-mayor system, the office of mayor is simply rotated among the elected council members on an annual basis and the council retains collective control over administration, including appointment and dismissal of municipal employees and appointments to boards and commissions. In general, the mayor’s authority is little, if any, greater than that of the other council members. Sometimes the city manager or city clerk functions as a de facto chief administrator. Department heads – e.g., the clerk, police chief, public works director – report to the council as a whole or to the mayor, or city manager in his or her capacity as spokesman for the council.
The council-strong mayor form provides for a distinct division of powers between the council and the mayor. The mayor is the chief executive and holds substantial influence in the policy-making process and substantial control over administration including the power to veto legislative actions of the council.
COMMISSION OR STRONG COUNCIL
The commission form combines both executive and legislative powers in a governing board, the commission. There is no single chief executive; rather, the commissioners, who serve collectively as the policy-making body, also serve individually as heads of the principal departments. In the basic commission form, there is neither a mayor nor a city manager.
This form parallels the organization of the business corporation with a non-political executive chief, aka as the city manager.
The voters (stockholders) elect the council (board of directors), including the mayor (chairman of the board), which, in turn, appoints the manager (chief executive officer).
The manager supervises and coordinates the departments, appoints and removes their directors, prepares the budget for the council’s consideration, and makes reports and recommendations to the council. All department heads report to the manager, who is fully responsible for municipal administration.
The mayor in a council-manager form is the ceremonial head of the municipality, presides over council meetings, and makes appointments to boards. The mayor may be an important political figure, but has little, if any, role in day-to-day municipal administration. In some council-manager cities, the office of mayor is filled by popular election; in others, by council appointment of a council member.
The Commission Plan was first employed in Galveston, Texas, after a disastrous hurricane almost destroyed the city in 1900. It enjoyed widespread popularity for about two decades
For more information regarding state and local government, please visit the Florida League of Cities website at www.floridaleagueofcities.com.