Knowledgebase-Charter Commission Letter


Information Product

Title:Charter Commission Letter
Summary:MTAS was asked whether citizens should be encouraged to contact elected officials or city staff in responding to service requests and problems, whether the council should be increased from 7 to 9 members to allow more contact by council with citizens, and what are the advantages of a popularly elected mayor vs. a mayor elected by the council.
Original Author:Darden, Ron
Co-Author:
Product Create Date:08/11/2003
Last Reviewed on::03/11/2010
Subject:Charters--City--Tennessee; Municipal government--Services; City council; Mayor
Type:General
Original Document: Charter Commission letter.pdf

Reference Documents:

Text of Document: Charter Commission letter.doc


August 11, 2003

Commissioner Robin Biloski
Oak Ridge Charter Commission
Box 1
Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831-0001

Dear Commissioner Biloski:

You have asked the following questions: (1) Should citizens be encouraged to contact elected officials or city staff in responding to service requests and problems? (2) Should the council be increased from 7 to 9 members to allow more contact by council with citizens? And, (3) what are my thoughts on having a popularly elected mayor vs. a mayor elected by the council?

As policy makers the council should be focused on what the city should do as well as how the city should do it. They should define the city’s mission, its goals and objectives. The council should develop a strategic plan for the city, insure that policies and procedures are in place for efficiently and effectively providing services to the citizens, and they should monitor the effectiveness of services provided. They should provide direction to the city manager and monitor his performance. The council should provide the staff that the city manager needs for the operation of the city.

The policy-making role of the council probably needs to be reviewed. What do we mean when we say the council is a policy-making council? Let’s take a look at some of the policy issues that must be addressed by the policy-making council:

Financial policies. How should the city finance municipal services? How much reserve for contingencies and emergencies should the city maintain? What should be the property tax rate? How should the city best invest idle funds? How should the city finance capital improvements and equipment? Are revenue projections for the future projected to be adequate, and if not, what should the city do? Should the city pay as we go or incur debt? How should the city fund operating from July 1 until after the first of the year when property tax revenue begins to come in?

Economic and Community Development. How can the city best provide the infrastructure that encourages and supports commercial and industrial growth? Should the city provide an airport? How much general fund revenue should go for the development of air service? Should the city provide incentives? What incentives? Should the city subsidize growth? How and at what cost?

Growth. How should the city broaden the tax base that supports city services, the growth of business, and the creation of new jobs? Should existing residents subsidize infrastructure for new residents or should new residents pay their way? Should the city encourage growth near existing infrastructure? Should increased density of land use be encouraged? Should the city consolidate services with other governmental units?
What are the advantages and disadvantages? Are zoning and subdivision policies adequate? Should the city encourage infill development? Are zoning setback requirements too rigid?

Utility Extensions. Who should new customers or existing customers pay for the extension of utilities to new areas? Should the city provide cable TV services via the electric system? Should the electric system provide Internet service? What utilities should the city provide and which should the city not provide? How should the city treat low-income families who cannot afford city utilities? What should our policies be on financing utilities? Disconnecting service for non-payment? How should the city finance utility extensions-with cash or long-term debt? What part of long-term debt should be reflected in utility rates? Should the city require customers adjacent to utilities to connect?

Transportation. Should the city develop a transit system in support of light rail service for the future? How should the city expand its street system to meet the needs of the future and how should the system be funded? Should the city continue to subsidize air service and new streets as it addresses the needs of the future or should more be spent on the development of light rail? What can we do to make city streets safer? Should the city participate in a regional transportation authority? What are the benefits?

Public Safety. Does the city have enough police officers, firefighters, and necessary equipment to provide for the safety of its citizens? How should the city pay for what is needed? What should be the city’s policy on high-speed pursuit? What should be the city’s policy on the use of deadly force? Should the fire department provide medical first aid as a first responder? What should be the city’s domestic violence policies? Should the city have mutual aid agreements with other governments?

Education. How important is quality education to the community? How can the city council best support the education needs of the community? How should the city pay for what is needed?

Recreation. Are recreation facilities adequate? What other facilities are needed? Should user fees be used to generate revenues for recreation programs? Should neighborhood parks be provided to communities? How should the city pay for them? Should non-resident users be charged for the use of recreation facilities?

Municipal Operating. Are policies adequate for personnel and compensation, and procurement? At what level should the treasurer be bonded? How should the city fund the municipal operating budget? Capital budget? Does the budget adequately address the needs of the community? Where should the money come from and how should the city spend it? What should the city’s policies on the replacement of equipment be? How should the city pay for operating equipment? Should the city contract for garbage service? Should private enterprise provide water and wastewater service? Other utilities?

Risk Management. What should be the city’s policies on risk management? How much insurance should the city carry (liability and property damage)? Can the city afford to self-insure part of the loss or all of the loss? At what level should the treasurer and chief executive be bonded? Can the city afford the cost? Are worker safety policies adequate?

As you can see the policy- making role involves many complex issues.

Requests for Service:

a. It is difficult for council members to effectively address the many policy issues that confront the city when they are preoccupied with the administrative matters. If a council member is adequately preparing to address the policy issues above outlined, the member probably doesn’t have time to become involved in administrative details.
b. If the council members are spending their time addressing the individual requests and problems of the citizens, then who is addressing these broad policy issues? I am not suggesting that council members not listen to their constituents or that they not respond. I am suggesting that they encourage citizens to call the staff for assistance. It is not necessary that a council member receive all requests to identify that there is a problem that needs his individual attention. You would not expect the city manager to take all incoming calls to the city, and the council should not be expected to receive calls for service and problem resolution at the first step.
c. Council members can be more effective in their policy-making role.
d. Citizens should make routine requests for service and resolution of problems through the staff that the council has provided.
e. If the request or problem does not get resolved at the staff level, the city manager should be contacted.
f. The council member should be contacted if the city manager cannot satisfactorily resolve the problem or request.

Council members should encourage citizens to call the provided staff for routine service requests and problem resolution.

Size of the Governing Board:

a. It is much easier for the citizen to fix responsibility with a small board. In a larger board a member can get lost and not be held accountable for his vote(s).
b. Metro Nashville’s Council has 36 members, and in the recent election people complained that they were confused and they could not figure out who was running for what.
c. A nine-member board governs Memphis and Los Angeles.
d. A three- member board governs TVA.
e. It would appear that a 5-7-member board in Oak Ridge would be ideal.

Popularly Elected Mayor:

A full- time popularly elected mayor is not required to have minimum qualifications, and it is this very weakness that led to the City Manager form of government. While the current mayor may be well qualified, his successor may not be qualified; his successor may not be qualified to deal with complex urban problems. With the mayor providing political leadership, and a city manager heading up administration, the city is less likely to get bogged down in petty politics, with competing factions tying up the board. It would appear to be in the city’s best interest for the mayor to remain focused on the broader issues that affect the city instead of being absorbed by the day-to-day operations of the city that a popularly elected mayor may encourage.

If the city decides to provide for a popularly elected mayor it should carefully define his duties and responsibilities.

Ceremonial Duties of the Mayor:

While some of the duties of the mayor are ceremonial, most of his duties are not. The mayor is responsible for:

a. Along with the council, charting the future of the city and defining its mission.
b. Monitoring the effectiveness of city services.
c. Being the city’s chief advocate.
d. Communicating with other legislators and governmental agents.
e. Monitoring the city’s financial condition and ensuring that financial policies are adequate.
f. Identifying new sources of revenue.
g. Monitoring the performance of the city manager.
h. Providing the leadership needed in setting goals and objectives.
i. Insuring that public safety policies are adequate.
j. Communicating with the citizens about city services, goals, objectives, mission, and policies.

The mayor’s duties and responsibilities involve more than cutting ribbons.


It is in the city’s best interest to separate the policy- making function from the administrative function. I believe that a popularly elected mayor, increasing the size of the council, and encouraging citizens to make requests for service directly to elected officials will tend to consolidate the administrative function with the policy- making function. When that happens the quality of each function will diminish.

Please call me if you have questions or comments?

Respectfully Yours

Ron Darden
Municipal Management Consultant

cc. City Clerk Jacquelyn Bernard