A city council member is an elected official and legislator for a municipality. The exact duties of a city council member vary widely depending on the powers granted by municipal charters and state constitutions. Council members most commonly serve a term of four years and may represent a specific geographic district or the city as a whole, according to the National League of Cities.
City council members propose and pass local laws and ordinances. Legislation that passes through the council may relate to city budgets, local taxes, land use, zoning and licenses for both business and recreation. City council members are first and foremost representatives of the city's population, making interaction with the public essential to performing their duties effectively. As a city council member, you will listen to concerns and suggestions from the public during open meetings, explain new legislation and the impact of legislation on the community to members of the public and represent your constituents during interaction with state, federal or other local governments, such as counties.
The NLC reports that approximately 81 percent of city councils use committees in an attempt to streamline local government. Committees focus on a narrow set of issues, such as budgets, land use, taxation or temporary issues like development of a particular neighborhood. These committees consist of city council members, though the municipality may hire aides to assist committee members. When you serve on a committee, you and your fellow committee members hold meetings separate from the city council in which you hear statements from members of the public, evaluate the options related to your issue and make recommendations to the city council.
City council members assist with the administration of a municipality, especially in municipalities that grant weak mayoral powers. These duties include supervising or monitoring the performance and effectiveness of city employees and programs, negotiating contracts for projects like city developments, imposing eminent domain and communicating with other governments. In some cities, members of the city council serve as mayor without being elected to the position. In this case, the position of mayor typically rotates among council members. A council member serving as mayor is the head of the city council and often retains the authority to vote on legislation.
Ideal Background and Skills
Cities do not impose strict requirements relating to education or experience on candidates for city council, though there may be some age, residency or registered voter status requirements. Elected officials in general often gain the experience necessary for winning elections and holding office by participating in community organizations or clubs, such as the Parent Teacher Association or Kiwanis Club. Regardless of your background, strong speaking and interpersonal skills are essential for explaining your positions on the issues and core beliefs and winning the support of constituents. You also may need considerable physical stamina to stand and walk during long fund-raising or community events and door-to-door campaigning.
- National League of Cities: City Councils
- National League of Cities: Forms of Municipal Government
- National League of Cities: Local Government Authority
- National League of Cities: Municipal Elections
- National League of Cities: Mayoral Powers
- Complete Campaigns: So You Want to Run for Office?
- Complete Campaigns: The Making of a Candidate
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