Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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State Expert: Elected Boards Designed For Big Picture Focus

A Tennessee government expert said City Councils and Boards of Aldermen are designed to bring big-picture guidance to the cities and towns they lead, rather than day-to-day decision making.

Honna Rogers is a MTAS Municipal Management Consultant at the University of Tennessee. Algood, Baxter, and Gainesboro have all dealt with multiple issues in recent weeks surrounding oversight from elected boards over city staff.

“Typically, they’re going to set that strategy, yes, and be a little more big picture,” Rogers said. “They are handing it off a little more, if you are following exactly how it is handled, to either the city manager or to the mayor. And so that person is then responsible for working with the department heads to get it done.”

Rogers said each city has a different charter that sets out the duties of aldermen and councils, but generally, boards are expected to set budgets for daily operations, not manage execution. She said most people would likely agree that it is far easier to work directly under one supervisor than be managed by a handful of voices.

“It just is easier when one person supervises,” Rogers said. “And if that is the way the city was established in their charter or in their personnel regulations, then it’s confusing if you do something different and expect employees to just bend and do different things than what they have been told to do when hired.”

Rogers said if a board has major concerns with the way daily tasks are being handled, boards can go through the mayor or city manager and have them consult with department heads. Overall operational issues can also be brought up in board meetings. She said some boards may have hiring and firing responsibilities or the freedom to call for disciplinary hearings in the city’s charter. Rogers said accountability can become more tricky in strong mayor forms of government, versus bodies led by a city manager.

“On city manager, they can hold them accountable because they appoint that position,” Rogers said. “But with a mayor, they don’t appoint the mayor. Typically, that mayor is being elected or has been appointed for a multi-year term. They have to answer to the people. The citizens and residents. Not the board.”

She said boards have a great deal of input into which direction the city is headed by passing budgets that fund programs that they feel are important. The responsibility of how to get things done with that budget more often trickles down through the city manager to department heads and their employees.

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