City Attorney Coleman defines roles, responsibilities of City Commission, Chair and City Manager
Published 1:34 pm Wednesday, June 29, 2022
In an attempt to clarify the roles of the Cordele City Commission, the Commission Chair and the City Manager, City Attorney Tommie Coleman released a letter outlining the duties and responsibilities of each office.
“In recent weeks, I have received an increasing number of requests to clarify the roles of the Cordele City Commission, the Commission Chair, and the City Manager,” he wrote. “ I trust the following will be of benefit to the City Commission in their efforts to resolve this issue.”
“City governments exist at the pleasure of the State. A charter granted by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor creates cities. At the request of the City Commission, the General Assembly granted a new charter to the city that became effective on July 29, 2020.”
Charters granted by the General Assembly are in two basic forms. Many cities in Georgia have a strong Mayor/Council form of government. In these cities, the Mayor is the chief administrative officer. The Mayor carries out administrative duties granted by the charter and general law. The Mayor enforces the policies and ordinances adopted by the Council. The Council has legislative authority only.
The other form of government is a weak Mayor/Council Manager form. In this instance, the Mayor is a member of the council and the Council carries out the legislative function. The administrative duties and powers, however, are reserved for the City Manager.
The terms “Mayor” and “City Council” are used by the great majority of cities in Georgia. Of course, the City of Cordele uses the term “Chairman” and “Commissioner”. The office of Chairman of the City Commission is the same as if it were Mayor. The term Commissioner is the same as if it were a City Council member.
The City of Cordele has for many years operated as a weak Chairman/Commission/Manager form of government. The charter that existed for many years prior to July of 2020, was a Commission/ Manager/weak Chairman form of government.
The current charter adopted by the General Assembly continues that structure of government. Our charter provides for a City Commission of four Commissioners and a Chair. Like other communities with this form of government, the Chair is a member of the Commission. The authority of the Chairman and Members of the Commission is confined to legislative and policy decisions.
All of the administrative authority in Cordele is vested in a City Manager hired by the City Commission. It is the duty of the City Manager to hire, discipline and dismiss employees and see that ordinances, contracts, and other directives of the City Commission are carried out consistent with a majority vote of the Commission. The authority of the Chairman and members of the Commission are confined to the legislative function only. The Chairman and other members of the Commission are excluded from any executive or administrative tasks.
The Chairman has additional duties as provided in Section 2.31 of the City Charter. Those duties are generally confined to procedures dealing with the Chairman’s colleagues on the City Commission. For example, the Chairman presides over the Commission meetings but only votes in case of a tie or when his vote is necessary to make a majority of three. He may veto ordinances. The Chairman is required to conduct certain ministerial duties such as signing contracts, once approved by the City Commission, and executing ordinances. The Chairman may administer oaths, take affidavits, and receive process. Of course, under some circumstances, the City Commission is authorized by ordinance to establish other duties for the Chair if they are not in conflict with those already granted to the City Manager.
It is important to point out that members of the Commission, which includes the Chairman, must deal with employees only through the City Manager. In no event should any member of the Commission give any order or direction to a City employee. Should a member of the Commission wish for some action to be taken by a City staff member, he or she must communicate with that staff member only through the City Manager. The Charter or any other ordinance or state law does not provide any additional or extraordinary duties for the Chairman or Members of the Commission under any circumstances other than those enumerated in the City charter.
Questions have arisen regarding the application of Section 2.15 of the charter which provides for inquiries and investigations. As provided in this section, the City may adopt a resolution authorizing the investigation of the affairs of the City. As provided in this section, only after a majority vote on an authorizing resolution may the City conduct an investigation on any matter related to the affairs of the City. To my knowledge, the City has not passed such a resolution providing for the parameters of any inquiry of any department, office, agency, or any affair for the City. Consequently, an investigation cannot be conducted by the Chairman or any member of the City Commission absent this authority.
I trust the foregoing will be helpful in determining the roles of the Chairman, other members of the City Commission and the City Manager. Following the requirements of the charter are an excellent road map to managing the relationship between members of the Commission, City employees, and the public. Of course, members of the City Commission are always granted great deference by virtue of the important offices they hold. However, the deference granted to each elected official could be damaged and destroyed by failure to maintain the proper relationship between members of the Commission, City employees, and the public. Great care should be taken not to exceed the authority granted by your charter and other laws and ordinances.
I trust you will find this letter helpful as you proceed with the difficult job of governing the City of Cordele. Working together in the structure provided by the General Assembly, I am certain that you can enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Cordele and accomplish the goals as established by a majority of the City Commission.