Citizens hold ultimate authority

KINGMAN - In the daily events and coverage of city politics, it's often assumed that we're all on the same page as far as how the basics of local government work.

Kingman has what's known as a Council-Manager (or Weak Mayor) form of government. In this system, used predominantly in smaller cities and more often in the West, elected officials comprise the governing body - City Council, in Kingman - while a professionally trained manager oversees the daily operations and delivery of services to the community.

Simply put, the mayor and Council set the policies and direct the city manager to implement them. The manager then delegates the responsibility to the appropriate department head or heads, who then put feet to the policies through the department's employees.

For example, at last week's Council meeting, officials voted to revoke an ordinance from last year that had moved the Call to the Public portion to the end of the agenda.

Staff drafted the ordinance, the city attorney conducted the research that was presented in two options to Council at this week's meeting, and officials voted to approve a new policy that will allow the mayor to place the Call to the Public wherever he believes it would be appropriate on the agenda - most of the time at the beginning, he said.

In this system, the legislative and executive branch is powerful, but it is mostly separate from the administrative side.

Power structure

The Council-Mayor form of government gives elected officials almost all of the power in a city; elected officials have final say on the budget, local development issues, such as rezones, code amendments and the creation of new city laws (called ordinances). They are in charge of hiring the three top city administrators - the magistrate, attorney and manager, all of whom are contracted. It is in that capacity that, as elected officials, they exercise some power over all city employees.

But elected officials have almost no administrative control in the daily delivery of services (police and fire protection, water, wastewater, street maintenance, etc.). They also hold almost no authority in terminations of the dozen department heads and hundreds of other city employees within each department.

Section 2:40 (4) of the city code gives the city manager the power to "Appoint, and when deemed necessary for the good of the service, lay-off, suspend, transfer, demote or remove all department heads and employees of the city ...."

The code continues, stating that "Neither the common council nor any of its members shall interfere with the execution by the city manager of his (or her) powers ...."

Section 2-42 states, "Except for the purposes of inquiry, the common council and its members shall deal with the administrative service under the city manager solely through the city manager, and neither the common council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinate of the city manager either publicly or privately."

The subsequent section does give Council the ability to "fully and freely" discuss or suggest to the city manager "anything pertaining to the affairs of the city of Kingman, Arizona or the interest of the city."

With that, Council is able to question employees and discuss policies, but they cannot force policies relating to personnel onto the manager.

Last spring, when the mayor and several Council members were unhappy with the performance of one of the manager's employees, they terminated him by making it a budgetary rather than a personnel issue. The manager didn't fire the economic development director, but Council voted to eliminate the department from the 2008-09 budget, thereby achieving the same end.

Power of

the people

The organizational chart on Page 1A representing the power structure in the city has at the top of the diagram a large bubble that says "Citizens of Kingman." Underneath is the mayor, then the Council, then the manager and two other contracted employees, followed by department heads and the rest of staff.

Although the Council-Manager system gives the mayor and Council most of the power, it is still the people, citizens of the community and registered voters, who hold ultimate authority.

Citizens may challenge Council decisions, as seen on a rezone vote and major amendment to the city's land-use map last year, and citizens have the ability to recall elected officials, as one resident tried to do twice, albeit unsuccessfully, in recent years.

Nonpartisan

Under the Strong Mayor form of government, power is concentrated in the mayor, and other elected officials relinquish some of their policy-making power and influence. City councils retain their legislative authority, but the mayor has the power of the veto. In the Weak Mayor system, this is not so.

Some argue it is easier for special interests to lobby the Strong Mayor system, with money or other influence, because there is only one person making the decisions. Whereas in the Weak Mayor form, special interests must gain the approval of a majority of elected officials.

In Kingman, there are seven members who sit on the governing board - one mayor and six Council members, one of whom the mayor and Council vote to appoint as vice mayor. All are elected by popular vote of the citizenry.

According to city code, the mayor receives an annual salary of $9,600 and serves a two-year term; the vice mayor, who is appointed by the majority of Council, earns $7,200 per year serving a four-year term; and individual Council members make $6,000.

The City Council meets twice a month, on the first and third Monday, usually at 6 p.m. Meetings are open to the public, as are the majority of documents associated with city business.

Council agendas and information packets are online at CityofKingman.gov.