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What Does a City Councilman Do?

City councilmen are elected to serve on the legislative body of a municipality's government.
City councilors are responsible for municipal zoning, such as determining where residential homes may be constructed.
City councilmen are tasked with hiring personnel for municipal departments, including police and fire.
A city councilman may engage with members of the public during meetings.
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  • Written By: Jason C. Chavis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2014
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A city councilman is a person who is elected to office within a certain area of a town or city and helps make decisions that impact said municipality. Generally, he is part of a council ranging from a few individuals to dozens of elected officials, depending on the location and size of the city or township. While serving on the city council, a councilman works to establish the parameters of local government. Usually, a city councilman acts as a member of the legislative branch, creating laws and mandates that need to be approved by the city's mayor. The members of the body both introduce and vote on certain aspects of a city's needs and how to pay for them.

The first thing a city councilman must do in order to obtain the job is stand for election by a constituency. This constituency is usually divided into a series of wards within the city. The city is segmented into different sections, each with a similar population count. Depending on local ordinances, an election is held with various candidates and a winner is determined on voting day. The city councilman then takes his position on the city council with the elected officials from other wards.

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Some cities provide for an equal relationship between the city council and the mayor in terms of legislation and voting rights. This means that the mayor and city council work together as if the executive and legislative branches were merged, in which case the mayor is essentially the chairman of the council. Other cities make the mayor a chief executive that maintains veto authority over the council. In these cases, the mayor and the city council often find themselves in disagreement over policy. This means that the city councilman needs to work with other members in order to accomplish goals.

A city councilman is responsible for a large variety of duties necessary for the continued function of the municipality. The most prevalent of these responsibilities is urban planning and zoning. This means that the councilman must work to determine the continued economic development of the community, how public works projects are handled and where parks on publicly-owned lands will go. A city councilman also must perform necessary functions in terms of establishing a budget, accounting for tax collections and how to hire the required staff for city functions, most notably fire and police services. He is also responsible, with the mayor, to ultimately enforce municipal, state and federal laws when they impact the city and its residents.

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backdraft
Post 4

My dad was a city councilman in Kansas City in the 70s. He only served one term. He ran again but was voted out.

I don't think he regretted losing that much. It was a really intense job and it took an obvious toll on him. The hours were long, the pay was relatively low and the burden of some of the decisions he had to make really weighed on him. We were all glad when he went back to private practice.

tigers88
Post 3
In some major cities the city council elections are as aggressive and nasty as any presidential campaign. I have seen city council campaigns devolve into vicious personal attacks and all kinds of unlawful and unethical behavior.

The reason is that the city council is really a consequential body. They have authority over certain things that no other body can claim. The decisions they make affect a lot of people and there is often a ton of money involved. This makes for some nasty campaigning.

chivebasil
Post 2

Becoming a city councilman or woman is one of the best ways to affect politics on a local level. You actually see and work with the people who your decisions will effect.

Working on the local level is also a great way to introduce new ideas and alternative opinions. The politics are not as entrenched as they are on the state and national level. If you run as a third party candidate you actually have a shot of being elected. There are green party city councilman in cities across the country.

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