How It Works: City government positions, and how you can run

Published by Imani Benjamin on

How It Works: City government positions, and how you can run

City government functions like a machine. 

Everyone is a cog in the machine that makes the city run smoothly and fairly (for the most part). 

The two most important cogs in local government are the city council and administration. While the city council works to create policy and affect city-wide change, city administration makes sure the job gets done. 

In an effort to encourage young people who want to be more involved in their local government, we’re gonna review them. 

Starting at the executive level are the mayor and city council, and these are elected positions. There are age and residency requirements for both. 

The mayor, along with the city council, are the city’s legislative body. They are officials elected to represent the interests of their constituents and make sure that the city is safe and profitable for all of its citizens. 

The power of the mayor and city council depends on the form of government presented in the city charter. There are three forms of municipal government: 

  • Strong mayor- Council – The mayor is the chief executive of the city. They have full responsibility for its daily operations. They can hire and fire department heads, prepare budgets and veto legislation laws among other things. The council enacts city policy and can override a mayoral veto. 

  • Weak mayor- Council – The mayor shares policymaking with the council. In a weak mayor-council government, the position of mayor is mostly ceremonial. They sit on the council with none of the executive powers of a strong mayor. 

Council-Manager – The citizens elect a city council to represent their concerns. The city council, in turn, hires a manager to implement their policies. The mayor, as a member of the council with no special powers, does not hold veto power.

The Mayor

When you think of the mayor, you think of the face of your community. They are the spokesperson of the municipal government and a community leader. Behind the scenes, they’re involved with making sure all municipal departments run smoothly. Depending on the above forms of government, the mayor’s executive powers and duties will vary.

Amanda Funger | Avant-Youth

 

City Council

The city council works to make decisions on ordinances and local legislation. They also work with different departments to ensure the safety and comfort of their constituents. Their administrative powers depend on the city’s form of government. In some systems, they can be restricted to creating laws. In others, they make and enforce those laws. The requirements for running and holding office as mayor 

Amanda Funger | Avant-Youth

or a council member vary, but here are the basic requirements when running for… 

Mayor:

  • Must be 18 years of age.
  • Must be a resident of the city for at least one year.
  • Must be a qualified elector of the city.

City Council:

  • Must be at least 18 years of age.
  • Must be a resident of the city and of the council district you are looking to represent for at least one year.
  • Must be a qualified elector of the city.

City Administration

The city council works with administration to make sure the legislation they pass is effectively enacted. City administrators hold official office but are not elected into these positions. These individuals are hired by the mayor and/or the council. They do not have age or residency requirements.

City Manager/ City Administrator

The city manager is the head of administration. A city manager and city administrator share responsibilities but are hired under different municipal governments. 

The city manager is hired by a council.

The city administrator is a mayoral assistant, hired by the mayor with council approval. Their duties vary in different municipalities. 

Amanda Funger | Avant-Youth

But their main purpose is to manage municipal staff, create budgets and communicate and interact with department heads. The person hired to be city manager will usually have a post-secondary degree in public administration or accounting. Anyone looking for this position should check their city’s website for an application like this.

City Attorney

The city attorney is the city’s chief legal advisor. Their role varies and sometimes they may not be a city employee. Some municipalities will hire or contract an attorney or a firm to represent them. Other cities will have entire departments dedicated to the city’s legal team. Their job is to advise, stay up to date on state and federal laws, review municipal contracts and, in the case of an incident,  represent the city in court.

Amanda Funger | Avant-Youth

Municipalities will often contract an attorney or firm to represent them. But if you are hired by the city, your application might look like this

Attorneys must be authorized to practice law in their state and jurisdiction and hold a doctorate in law.  

Finance Director

The city’s finance director is the city’s bookkeeper and manages its expenses. The finance director is integral to the system. They manage cost estimates, revenue projections and make sure the city can function with the funds available. When it comes to interacting with residents, it’s their job to maintain transparency and accountability. The finance director should have a degree in finance, public administration and other related fields as well as experience. 

Amanda Funger | Avant-Youth

 A glance at your city’s open positions might pull up a job description like this one.

Public Works Director

When there’s a problem with your water, there are a couple of places you can send a complaint like the commissioner’s board or city council. But the departments who fix your water problems are under the Public Works director.

They work to make sure that the departments responsible for maintaining public facilities like 

Amanda Funger | Avant-Youth

parks, roads or important community resources are all functional.  They manage a variety of services and their responsibilities include managing local facilities, assessing staff proposals and developing protocols for working with private contractors or vendors. They ensure that you live in a clean and safe environment. Those hired have a background or education in public administration and related fields.

 If you’re aspiring towards this position or wondering what’s required, here’s an example.

Economic Development Director

The economic development director works to strengthen the local economy. Their job is to advise the city council on economic issues and opportunities. They also develop policy concerning taxes and incentives that will be levied on local businesses. They work with local businesses, from mom and pop stores to large corporations, to make sure that there are jobs for residents and investments in the local community.

Amanda Funger | Avant-Youth

 Beyond their work developing policy, they work to promote the city as a good location for businesses to settle.

Positions like this are available on city websites or career specific job boards like the Georgia Economic Developers Association or geda.org 

This is not a complete list of all the positions required to run a city. Municipalities of all sizes have different needs and requirements to run efficiently. Some need more people, some need less and some have departments who make specific positions obsolete. 

This rundown of administrative and executive jobs at city government has positions that require years of experience. Years that some of us don’t have. But we hope that this provides our readers with an understanding of how, at a basic level, their city functions. And, ultimately encourages them to pursue careers in public administration that, in turn, help their communities. 

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Imani Benjamin

Imani Benjamin-Wharton is a graduate from Georgia State University with a degree in English. She’s an aspiring novelist hoping to write the next great American novel. In her free time, she learns the secrets of survival from her favorite horror movies.

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