Roles in Municipal Government


A clear understanding of what each member of the city is responsible for and where to turn for help on different items leads to a more efficient and responsive local government. The Code of Iowa details some of the duties for certain elected officials and city employees, while city policies and job descriptions will add more specific requirements. City officials should also receive input from the citizens of the com­munity and be responsive to their needs.

City Council

Under Chapter 372 of the Code of Iowa, cities are able to select a form of government that best represents the community. In addition, Section 364.2(1) of the Code states, “A power of a city is vested in the city council except as otherwise provided by a state law.” The city council can express this power through legisla­tion in the form of ordinances, resolutions and motions that are approved as a group during council meetings. Individual council members have no authority on their own unless such power has been delegated to an individual member by action of the city council.


One of the important responsibilities of the city council is to determine the organizational structure of their government and how responsibilities will be assigned. Each city is required to have a city clerk appointed by the city council. Positions such as the city attorney and city manager/administrator are typically ap­pointed by the city council, although the mayor could have a role in the appointment process of these and other positions. Another duty for city council members is to appoint members to the vari­ous city boards and commissions that serve specific purposes for the community.

Mayor

According to Section 372.14 of the Code, the mayor is the chief executive officer of the city and presiding officer of the council and supervises all city officers and departments, “except for the supervisory duties which have been delegated by law to a city manager”. It is important to review city ordinances and policies to see how supervisory responsibilities have been assigned, particu­larly for cities with a city manager or similar position.
For cities without a city manager or administrator, it can be helpful to have a supervisory role maintained in the mayor posi­tion. It provides a consistent supervisor for city staff to look to for direction, rather than potentially hearing from the entire council and its varying ideas of how a job should be done. Mayors should remember to invite the council to express their opinions on the management of the city and include them on decisions. The mayor also has a role in signing or vetoing ordinances and resolutions passed by the council. The mayor does not have the ability to veto city council motions.


City Clerk

City councils are required to appoint a city clerk as stipulated in Section 372.13(3) of the Code. The city clerk position is essential to the operations of any city because of the numerous and varied duties they fulfill. From taking minutes at council meetings to bal­ancing the city’s budget, to handling citizen requests, the city clerk is often in the middle

A clear understanding of what each member of the city is responsible for and where to turn for help on different items leads to a more efficient and responsive local government. The Code of Iowa details some of the duties for certain elected officials and city employees, while city policies and job descriptions will add more specific requirements. City officials should also receive input from the citizens of the com­munity and be responsive to their needs.

City Council

Under Chapter 372 of the Code of Iowa, cities are able to select a form of government that best represents the community. In addition, Section 364.2(1) of the Code states, “A power of a city is vested in the city council except as otherwise provided by a state law.” The city council can express this power through legisla­tion in the form of ordinances, resolutions and motions that are approved as a group during council meetings. Individual council members have no authority on their own unless such power has been delegated to an individual member by action of the city council.

One of the important responsibilities of the city council is to determine the organizational structure of their government and how responsibilities will be assigned. Each city is required to have a city clerk appointed by the city council. Positions such as the city attorney and city manager/administrator are typically ap­pointed by the city council, although the mayor could have a role in the appointment process of these and other positions. Another duty for city council members is to appoint members to the vari­ous city boards and commissions that serve specific purposes for the community.

Mayor

According to Section 372.14 of the Code, the mayor is the chief executive officer of the city and presiding officer of the council and supervises all city officers and departments, “except for the supervisory duties which have been delegated by law to a city manager”. It is important to review city ordinances and policies to see how supervisory responsibilities have been assigned, particu­larly for cities with a city manager or similar position.

For cities without a city manager or administrator, it can be helpful to have a supervisory role maintained in the mayor posi­tion. It provides a consistent supervisor for city staff to look to for direction, rather than potentially hearing from the entire council and its varying ideas of how a job should be done. Mayors should remember to invite the council to express their opinions on the management of the city and include them on decisions. The mayor also has a role in signing or vetoing ordinances and resolutions passed by the council. The mayor does not have the ability to veto city council motions.

City Clerk

City councils are required to appoint a city clerk as stipulated in Section 372.13(3) of the Code. The city clerk position is essential to the operations of any city because of the numerous and varied duties they fulfill. From taking minutes at council meetings to bal­ancing the city’s budget, to handling citizen requests, the city clerk is often in the middle of things. State law details several duties the city clerk is required to perform:

  • Promptly record each council measure.
  • Where applicable, indicate whether the mayor signed, vetoed or took no action on the measure (and if the measure was re-passed after a veto).
  • Publish a summary or complete text of all ordinances and amendments.
  • Authenticate all measures, except motions, with a signature.
  • Maintain for public use copies of all effective ordinances and codes.
  • Publish the minutes within 15 days of a regular or special council meeting.

Some cities also establish a deputy city clerk position to help with the work load, particularly in cities with larger populations or if the city runs a municipal utility. As with any city position, the city council and mayor should create a job description that outlines the responsibilities for the employee.

City Manager/Administrator

The city manager or administrator position may be established by the form of government or by an ordinance passed by the city council. Some cities decide to appoint a city manager or adminis­trator who then becomes the chief administrative officer of the city. City managers often have the responsibility of supervising city employees with the ability to hire or dismiss employees with the consent of the city council. They receive direction from the council and execute the policy decisions the council makes

In some communities the position of city manager is separate from that of city clerk. In others, the city manager and city clerk position are combined. In cities with a combined manager and clerk position, a deputy city clerk often handles many of the city’s routine administrative functions. In any case the city council and city employees need to review related ordinances and job descrip­tions to ensure everyone understands what is expected.

City Attorney

A city attorney provides many services to a city, and those services can vary depending on the size and circumstances of the local government. While many medium and larger cities have full-time city attorneys who staff a legal department, smaller cit­ies often contract with private attorneys who may serve multiple cities. The role of the city attorney is typically defined in the city code, while the role of the contracted attorney may be described in a contract or letter of retention. It is important to review the city’s defined relationship with its city attorney.

Cities create an incredible amount of legal documents every year – contracts, deeds, easements, etc. One of the many impor­tant services a city attorney provides is the preparation and review of legal documents, which gives the city assurance that they are acting in compliance of the law. City attorneys also provide sound legal advice to city officials, which can be crucial when a legal opinion is needed. Development and enforcement of city or­dinances is another service that city attorneys offer and is very im­portant in matters where a city needs to prosecute a violation of its laws. City attorneys can also represent the city in judicial and administrative proceedings, such as defending the city in a lawsuit.

Other Positions

While each city must appoint a city clerk, cities are free to cre­ate other positions to effectively deliver services to citizens. City employees also provide elected officials a good resource for in­formation and knowledge of city operations. There are a number of different positions that cities may employ depending on the needs of the community, such as a police chief, finance officer or engineer.




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