How Mayors Work

What Does a Mayor Do?

Traditionally, mayors oversee a city's main departments, including the police, fire, education, housing and transportation departments. At the same time, their responsibilities vary depending on the local power structure. There are four main options for a city's local government structure, and some cities use a combination of several.

A common power structure is the council-weak mayor. This type of structure gives the majority of the city power to the council members, with the mayor acting as more of a ceremonial leader of the council. This traditional form of governing, which was adopted from the British style of local government, sets up the mayor as a member of the council, equal to all other members, except for a few other responsibilities. The mayor in this structure may have final authority over fiscal issues and will usually be the presiding member over all the council meetings, sign proclamations for the city and make ceremonial appearances.


Another structure is the council-strong mayor, in which the mayor has significantly more authority. In this system, the council members are in charge of the legislative processes of the city, while the mayor is responsible for all the administrative duties. This differs from the council-weak mayor, in which all of the legislative authority is given to council members, with no direct administrative offices established. The mayor in this type of city is responsible for hiring and firing staff, may have veto power and is responsible for implementing legislation passed by the council. The mayor is responsible for ceremonial duties, and some cities may give the mayor legislative power as well.

The other two types of local government systems are the council-manager system and the commission system. Few cities use the commission system, but the Council-Manager system has become quite popular. In both of these systems, the mayor has power similar to the council-weak mayor, who may oversee council meetings or even appoint staff, but mainly serves in a ceremonial role [Source: Florida League of Cities].

Even if the mayor in a city doesn't have direct authority, his or her ability to use local politics can lead to more power. Some mayors may use politics to influence council members, or the city manager, to meet their agenda [Source: Romanet].And, of course, a city's citizens have power, too -- if they don't like what the mayor's doing, they can vote him or her out of office.

On the next page, we'll find out how mayors get elected.