No voter should have to say - I wish that I had known. Many voters find it difficult to assess the qualifications of candidates for mayor and council member in a council / manager form of government that is used by more than 4,200 cities and counties across the United States including Coos Bay. The role of mayor is probably the most misunderstood leadership position.
Citizens should understand the job of their mayor before they vote in November. Most citizens have never been inside of the city hall building or met the mayor. Many have never attended a council meeting. Most have never been elected or appointed to a political position. Many don’t know who the mayor, council president or city manager is. Sadly, too many don’t care.
During November of even numbered years the city of Coos Bay holds an election to choose a mayor and half the council. Generally speaking, the council / manager form of government is a representative system where all power is concentrated in the elected mayor and council and where the council hires an overqualified manager to ensure that services are being provided to the entire community. The mayor and council are the city’s decision makers. The mayor and council rely on the city manager to provide complete and objective information to them. The Coos Bay mayor does not occupy an executive position within city government like his / her peers in large city government. All too often the mayor is considered to be a chair of meetings and the person who attends dinners and social functions. Occasionally the mayor forgets that the city manager runs the day to day city government operations. The city charter prohibits the mayor or council members from communicating directly with department heads or department employees; except when that interface is as a private citizen with a concern. This is typical of Oregon council / manager government charters. It is difficult for city employees to serve two masters.
Many voters will have difficulty assessing whether a candidate has the qualities and intentions needed to be a good mayor. The mayor must have a vision, experience and a successful track record working in small groups. Candidates for mayor often present themselves as the leader who will take charge of city government and propose bold solutions to the cities problems. However, when they are elected, they have extreme difficulty following through with their promises.
In the Coos Bay council / manager form of government the mayor has no powers on which to base true executive leadership and they must depend on other officials, elected and appointed, for most of what the mayor accomplishes. The charter of the city of Coos Bay makes it difficult for the mayor to initiate policy on their own and the mayor lacks any legal authority to implement new policy.
The Coos Bay mayor is responsible for soliciting citizen’s views in forming policy and procedure. The Coos Bay mayor should be considered as a Chairman of the Board, important to smooth city government but not crucial to any city organization operation. The city government will operate adequately with minimal leadership by the mayor. The Coos Bay mayor should assure that all elements of city government are coordinated to improve their effectiveness. The mayor must have a close working relationship with the city council, the city manager and the citizens. The mayor has the ability to raise issues and to put forth proposals, working to assure that he / she does not alienate the city council.
Every mayor has a different style of doing business. You already employ good people at good salaries to manage your city; to assure your public safety; to identify and solve problems related to infrastructure; etc. Day to day city operation is not the mayor or council member’s primary role. There are several parts to the mayor’s functions and responsibilities. Of primary importance is presiding at council meetings; being the spokesperson for the city; assisting the council in setting goals; serving as a promoter and defender of the city. The mayor is responsible for informing the public. The mayor must have extensive contact with the public and with the media - all citizens and all media. The mayor must be a team builder and player and work to build consensus on matters before the council. The mayor may also be in demand for appearances at meetings, dinners, and other special occasions. This is not an inherent part of the job as mayor. The city manager and the city council president should share the ceremonial duties receiving recognition for the work that they, not others, have undertaken and accomplished.
The city charter requires that the mayor conduct two council meetings each month and sign all documents set in front of them by the city council that require signature. Absolutely, positively, no more! The Coos Bay mayor has no executive authority; has no veto powers; may not appoint or remove department heads for any reason; and may not ask questions of department heads or department staff. The Coos Bay mayor’s primary purpose is to provide leadership and guidance to city government and to be an advocate for the people.
Our view: We can learn a lot from other communities that have turned their fortunes around.
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