Thursday, October 20, 2022

A mayor is not the president of a municipality

I was handing out postcards in one of the townhouse complexes in Langley City. A kid rode his bicycle up to me and said, “Hey, are you running to be president of Langley City?” I chuckled and said, no, I was running to be mayor. We had a conversation about what a mayor does.

I’ve watched many TV shows over the years. When a mayor is involved in the storyline, they often have absolute authority over their community alongside the sheriff.

In the US, many communities and states operate under the “strong mayor” system. The mayor is essentially the CEO of a municipality, having the ability to hire/fire management and broad authority to manage the day-to-day of a municipality. Councillors are like the board of directors, setting the budget and policy.

In BC, we operate under the “weak mayor” system. If councillors are like the board of directors, a mayor acts as the chair of the board. A mayor has one vote like every other councillor. Mayor and councillors hire a municipality’s Chief Administrative Office (CAO). The CAO is the only employee of the mayor and councillors and is responsible for hiring/firing management, managing the day-to-day of a municipality, and implementing the budget and policies of council.

As the chair, a mayor has several important responsibilities to enable a productive council. The first is to act as a council facilitator, working to ensure that council is operating smoothly, that all councillors are empowered, and that council does not end up in deadlocks or dysfunction.

The second is to act as the representative of council, working with the CAO to implement council policies in the municipality.

The third is officially representing the municipality with residents and business owners, at events, or with the province and federal government.

In Metro Vancouver, mayors are also appointed by provincial legislation to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, which oversees TransLink.

In BC, mayors have some special authority that councillors do not.

Mayors can:

  • Establish standing committees to consider any matter, and report back to council their findings
  • Suspend municipal officers and employees, though a majority vote of council can override the suspension
  • Schedule a council meeting
  • Have council reconsider a matter or re-vote on a matter

While a mayor in BC does have a lot of responsibilities and some special authority, it doesn’t reflect what you see on many TV shows and movies.

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