By Terri Ferguson Smith / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
With campaigns for city offices under way, some voters have asked, "What exactly does a mayor do?"
The answers are found in state laws, which clearly explain the duties and offices of mayors in Mississippi, but those duties vary depending on which form of government a city or town has adopted. In Meridian, the form of government is called mayor-council, which is also known as a strong mayor form of government.
Dr. Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and professor of Political Science at Mississippi State University said in the strong mayor form of government, the mayor is given superintending authority to carry out the direction of the city council.
"The mayor's duty is to accomplish what the council wants done," Wiseman said. "There is a premium on electing someone with the ability and skills to run a multi-million dollar budget. It is not just a popularity contest, it's electing someone with the executive skills to handle the job."
Mississippi law states that under the mayor-council form of government, the mayor is charged with enforcing the charter and ordinances (rules) of the municipality. More specifically, the mayor is responsible for supervising all city departments and making sure each department submits an annual report, and other reports, as necessary.
The mayor is also responsible for hiring department heads, but those must be confirmed by the city council. Department heads may be terminated by the mayor and are not under the provisions of the civil service commission. Other city employees are hired and fired at the discretion of the department head and, or the mayor. Subordinates to department heads are covered by the civil service commission.
According to the law, "The mayor may attend all council meetings, may take part in discussions, and may make recommendations for actions he considers to be in the public interest; but the mayor may not vote except in case of a tie on the question of filling a vacancy in the council.
At Meridian City Council meetings, the mayor sits with department heads, not on the officials' dais, and the meeting is conducted by the president of the council. In other forms of city governments, the mayor sits with the council, or board of alderman, and runs the meetings, calling for motions, seconds, and votes.
The mayor may veto a council's action, but that veto is subject to being overruled by a two-thirds majority vote by the council. If the council does not hold an override vote on the veto, the veto stands.
The mayor must review ordinances, resolutions, orders, and other official actions of the council, except for procedural actions governing the conduct of council meetings, appointing a clerk of the council, and exercising the council's investigative functions, the law says. The mayor is also required to maintain an office at city hall.
The mayor works with department heads to develop budgets for each department, but the city council has to set the budget and levy taxes.
With regard to education, the mayor's role is limited, although he or she does appoint school board members. School board appointments must be approved by the city council.
"The law has a separate set of statutes for the school board," Wiseman said. "The school board does not work for the mayor. In the mayor/council form of government, the mayor has very little power to direct the activities of the school board. Being a school board member is not like being a department head."
There are many things that mayors do that are not required by law, from attending ribbon cuttings to using their "bully pulpit" to push for certain changes they believe should be made, to working for economic development.
And there is another role mayors play; chief consoler when tragedies occur.
"The mayor needs to be close to the first one on the scene, not only in times of disasters such as tornadoes and floods, but fire deaths too," Wiseman said. "The mayor is the face of concern to the city when something like that happens."
Whoever wins the seat for mayor of Meridian in June likely has a tough job ahead of him or her.
"Running Meridian is not an easy thing to do," Wiseman said.