The strong-mayor form of government is headed by a mayor who serves as a city’s chief executive and a city council, its legislative body. For it to be considered a strong mayor system, the mayor receives administrative authority and a significant degree of independence. He or she can appoint and dismiss staff at city hall, including department heads without consulting the city council or receiving public approval.
Characteristics of a Strong Mayor
The mayor serves as the chief executive officer of the city. While there may be some city-specific exceptions, all city staff ultimately report to the mayor. In some cities, the mayor has veto authority over actions taken by the city council. In a strong mayor system, as its chief executive, he or she prepares the city budget, which usually has to be approved by the city council. Usually, the mayor’s chief of staff wields a great deal of power, overseeing department heads and helping prepare the city budget.
Most large American cities have a strong mayor version of the mayor-city council system. Smaller cities may lean more toward a council-manager system, where the council holds more power collectively. Advocates of the council-manager system point out that, under the strong mayor system, interest groups can accomplish their goals by influencing the mayor rather than convincing a majority of city council members
Role of City Council
The city council adopts legislation under the city government’s authority as granted by state law and allowed under the city charter. Precisely how council members are elected varies by city. City council members may be elected at large, from single-member districts or in some combination. Some city councils have the right to approve high-level city staff appointments.
In a weak-mayor system, the mayor has no formal authority outside the council; it’s largely a ceremonial role. A “weak” mayor can’t hire or fire without council approval (in some cases, the mayor can’t hire at all), and has no vote on matters of city business. In this type of government, the mayoralty is mainly driven by charisma and personality; he or she does a lot of the public-facing parts of the job, such as cutting ceremonial ribbons and presenting oversized checks.
Weak mayors are usually found in smaller towns and cities since their budgets tend to be smaller and issues tend to be less complex than those of their larger counterparts. Such municipalities may have few or no full-time employees.
Role of the Manager
Unlike the council-manager form of government, cities with the strong mayor form of government usually don’t have a city manager. Department heads report directly to the mayor. A chief of staff may serve as the mayor’s right-hand person in dealing with the day-to-day operations of the city so that the mayor may have a more external focus. The chief of staff is sometimes referred to as the city manager and often acts as a check on the mayor’s power, especially in “weak” mayoral systems.