One of the most common questions I am asked is some variation of “What does a mayor do?” Article IX of Georgia’s Constitution guarantees to our residents and local government the right of “home rule,” or the ability for local governments to pass their own laws and govern themselves (within the constitutional bounds and limitations set by the Legislature). With more than 500 cities in Georgia, each possesses a charter granted by the General Assembly, and our right to govern is granted by the constitution and the Legislature. With so many cities — each one created in its own time, and by a different variation of the legislature to serve a different community — you have vastly differing charters and structures across the state.
These range from “strong mayor-council” structures, where the mayor serves as the chief executive and runs daily operations (e.g., Atlanta), to “weak mayor-council,” where the elected officials share daily operations, to Woodstock’s form of government: the council-manager system. I once heard City Manager Jeff Moon explain our city’s governing structure by comparing it with that of a publicly traded company. And, to date, that has been the best way I have heard to explain it (not to mention the comparison pulled at my private-sector heartstrings in all the right ways).
Woodstock has an elected City Council of six members and an elected mayor. For our corporate comparison, consider this body the board of directors. In a Fortune 500 company, the board ultimately is responsible for the company and sets policy direction, but its members do not run daily operations. For this purpose, they hire an experienced professional to serve as CEO, who then will hire business unit leaders. Here, in the 28th-largest city in Georgia, we call that CEO our city manager. The city manager serves at the pleasure of the City Council and has complete administrative authority over the city’s operations, including the hiring and firing of department heads. He drafts the budget, administers city functions and advises council members. The council, like a board of directors, is responsible for overseeing administrative activities, assessing performance and setting policies. It passes laws, adopts a budget and holds the civil servants accountable. In the same way a board is tasked with looking out for shareholder interests, it is the council’s duty to keep the residents and their interests front of mind in all things.
So, what does the mayor do? The charter states that I shall preside over all council meetings, be the official ceremonial head of the city, have the power to administer oaths and take affidavits, and sign all contracts, laws, etc. on behalf of the city. I also am granted a veto power, which can be overridden by the council with a simple majority vote. And, I am granted a vote on the council, but only in the case of a tie.
Practically, if we look back to our corporate comparison, I serve as the chairman of the board. A quick Google search will tell you that a board chair’s responsibilities are to head the board of directors, provide leadership to the firm’s executives and other employees, lead the charge on big-picture decisions and set the tone for the corporate culture of the company. These outline the job description fairly, in my opinion. My role is that of facilitator. I ensure that the staff has the resources from the council that it needs in order to execute the elected officials’ vision for the city, and I work to make sure that each council member’s objectives for the city are a part of a larger agenda to be executed. It is my job to build a coalition and set the policy agenda for our city moving forward, and it is, in my opinion, the best job in the world.
As I just have completed my first year as mayor, I want to say thank you for the honor of serving our families. If you ever have ideas for ways I could be doing this job more effectively, please don’t hesitate to call on me.
— Mayor Michael Caldwell
– Michael Caldwell is the 31st mayor of Woodstock, a retired state legislator, member of the Georgia Technology Authority, partner at Black Airplane, husband to Katie, and father to Oliver, Elizabeth and Charlotte.
Leave a Reply