Good Governance: What Does a Mayor Do in United States?
Exploring the Mayor’s role in our community.
Even before this campaign started, I would get the question almost daily, “So what exactly is the Mayor supposed to be doing?” Friends and neighbors knew that not only was I serving on Troy City Council, I also earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and a long history of working in local government here in Miami County. I was as close to an expert on the topic as anyone around.
Well, it’s not exactly an easy question to answer because when we think of a Mayor we think of ribbon cuttings and handing out keys to the city. And while these parts of the job have a role, there are some critical activities that a Mayor does that are more than just ceremonial.
When we think about Troy, we have to realize that the Ohio Revised Code largely tells us how our community is run, we are what is commonly referred to as a “statutory city”. Section 733.03 of the Ohio Revised Code states that this is the job of the Mayor:
The mayor shall be the chief conservator of peace within the city. He may appoint and remove the director of public service, the director of public safety, and the heads of the subdepartments of public service and public safety, and shall have such other powers and perform such other duties as are conferred and required by law.
In any city the legislative authority thereof may, by a majority vote, merge the office of director of public safety with that of director of public service, with one director to be appointed for the merged department, and the director of the merged department shall have those qualifications provided in section 735.01 of the Revised Code.
In our system of government, the Mayor is the Chief Executive Officer of the City and the Director of Public Service and Safety is to play the subservient role as Chief Administrative Officer of the City. In a general sense, the Director of Public Service and Safety takes direction from the Mayor.
In the Ohio Revised Code, the final executive decision making authority is held by a Mayor who is elected by the public every four years. Knowing that being a Mayor is a huge responsibility, the position of Director of Public Service and Safety was designed as an administrative role to help advise the Mayor on the right decisions to make. The Mayor is there to advise the Director of Public Service and Safety on the needs and desires of the community as a whole. Ideally, the two work as a team for the benefit of the entire community.
When the Director of Public Service and Safety is empowered to make all executive decisions in a community and the Mayor is relegated to a merely ceremonial role, we are not operating in a system that was designed to deliver a well-functioning community. Residents and elected officials can often feel ignored, real issues dealing with residents can often go unaddressed and community input is not sought out, let alone respected. Our local government system was not created to be led by bureaucrats that are not accountable to the public.
Directors of Public Service and Safety tend to be career bureaucrats that have long experiences in local government and have at least a Bachelor’s Degree and many have Master’s Degrees, usually in Public Administration. Many of these individuals have training in urban planning, public finance, civil engineering or other public sector disciplines and have experience in local government.
In practice, there are three positions that the Mayor has full responsibility to appoint or terminate; the Director of Public Service and Safety, the Police Chief and the Fire Chief. In communities with a City Charter (like Tipp City or Piqua) these positions are filled with the approval of the City Council. Again, Troy doesn’t have a City Charter, and we follow the laws in the Ohio Revised Code.
Council holds some powers, though not as many as you would think. In a statutory city, Council is relegated to exercise powers such as broad policy making decisions, which are largely seen as amendments to the Code of Ordinances and authority over how tax dollars are budgeted and spent over certain amounts, though even council has some limitations on how these powers are exercised. Decisions that are made by council, may be vetoed by the Mayor (much like the President of the United States can veto legislation passed by Congress), however, there are provisions where Council can override a Mayor’s veto.