The city council is a common form of local government in the United States. A city council is an elected legislative body with the authority to pass municipal ordinances and budgets, make appropriations, and even set local tax rates in many cases. City council members are elected by district in bigger cities, but smaller cities have an at-large system or a combination district and at-large seats. The job description for city council members varies significantly from city to city, but almost all share basic similarities.
Although the qualifications to become a city council member also vary, most cities require that you be at least 18 years old and have resided in the community for a specified period, generally one to three years. Many cities also disqualify anyone with a felony conviction or any bribery or fraud-related conviction from serving on the city council.
One of the most important city council duties is to select and hire the top administrators for the city, such as the city manager or chief of police. Smaller cities will have a city council staff of at least one or two individuals to assist city council members in identifying and vetting candidates, preparing for meetings and drafting bills and regulations. City councils in larger cities might have a staff of dozens.
Another essential part of the job description of a city council member is to pass local ordinances. Most city councils have broad powers to write laws in any area that does not impinge on state or federal prerogatives. Traffic ordinances, noise control regulations, anti-pollution measures and ordinances regarding land development are all examples of ordinances passed by city councils. New city ordinances must go through a legislative process just as federal or state laws do. A bill must be introduced by at least one city council member. Colleagues discuss and may modify the bill and it is voted upon at a later date.
City council members are also responsible for the development of an annual city budget. Larger cities will typically have a separate budget committee that is responsible for writing a budget to submit to the overall council for discussion and approval. There might be a separate budget for a capital improvement plan or regarding funds approved in bond packages. In some places, a mayor or other administrator prepares a budget and presents it to city council for approval.
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