Knowledgebase-Appointing a City Administrator

Information Product

Title:Appointing a City Administrator
Summary:MTAS was asked whether the provisions of the general law mayor-aldermanic charter
providing for a city administrator apply to the City and whether the City can appoint a
city administrator.
Original Author:Hemsley, Sid
Product Create Date:09/29/94
Last Reviewed on::04/19/2010
Subject:Charters--City; City administrator; Mayor--Aldermanic government
Type:Legal Opinion
Legal Opinion:

Reference Documents:

Text of Document: September 29, 1994

You have the following questions:

1. Do the provisions of the general law mayor-aldermanic charter
providing for a city administrator apply to the City?

2. Can the City appoint a city administrator?

The answer to the first question is no; the answer to the second question is yes.

None of the general law charters found in Tennessee Code
Annotated, title 6, including the general law mayor-aldermanic charter, have anything
whatever to do with private act charter cities; they apply exclusively to those cities organized
under those charters. The City is not a general law charter city; rather, it is a private act
charter city. Whether or not the city can have a city administrator must be answered with
reference to the city charter.

Under the City Charter virtually all of the legislative and
administrative powers of the city rest in the board of mayor and aldermen. The mayor is the
chief executive officer, the presiding officer of the board, has some judicial powers [Sections
6, 7, 8, 9], has the power to vote in case of a tie, and has veto power over ordinances
Sections 6, 11]. However, his duties in his capacity as chief executive officer are general
rather than specific. He has very limited personnel powers, it being within the authority of the
board of mayor and aldermen to appoint and remove all officers, servants and agents of the
city. [Section 3]

A mayor in Tennessee has only those legislative and administrative
powers expressly granted to him in the charter. [See Weil, Roth and Co. v. Mahr and
Aldermen of Newbern, 126 Tenn. 223, 148 S.W. 680 (1912); Reeder v. Trotter, 142 Tenn.
37, 215 S.W. 400 (1919); and Anderson v. Town of Gainesboro, 17 TAM 12-27 (1992).] In
Reeder and Anderson, the Court said of a mayor in Tennessee:

He is not a member of either branch of the city councils unless expressly made such by law; ...
and when this is the case, it is to the extent of such powers as are specially committed to him,
and no further, that he is a part of the city council ... He is 'not one of its own members in the
sense in which an alderman is'...

With particular respect to a mayor's legislative powers the same
courts said:

In the absence of a statute necessarily implying that he has the same standing n the council
as any other member and particularly when his powers are expressly stated to be to preside
at meetings and to give a casting vote in case of a tie, he is only a member of the council,
sub moto, and to the extent of the powers specially committed to him.

Thus, while the mayor is the chief executive officer of the city,
and has some legislative powers, his power in both those respects is limited to those powers
expressly, and in neither case do those powers stand in the way of the board of mayor and
aldermen appointing a city administrator.

Generally, a municipality's administrative powers are delegable.
In other words, the board could delegate to a city administrator its power to administer personnel
and its other administrative duties under the charter.

It is said in Rhyne, Charles S., The Law of Local Government
Operations, pa. 68 that:

The extent to which a municipal corporation may delegate power in the performance of its
functions is controlled by the same principles that govern delegation of powers by the state.
It has been repeatedly held that a municipality may not delegate legislative or judicial power
unless such delegation is expressly authorized by the state legislature. However, a municipal
governing body may delegate to subordinate officers functions which are ministerial or
administrative. [Also see 56 Am Jur 2d, Municipal Corporations, section 196]

The Tennessee Courts in many old cases but still good cases
have said the same thing about the delegation of municipal legislative and administrative
functions. [See Mayor of Chattanooga v. Geiler, 81 Tenn. (13 Lea) 611 (1884); Whyte v.
Mayor of Nashville, 32 Tenn. (2 Swan) 364 (1852); City of Memphis v. Adams, 56 Tenn.
(9 Heisk.) 518 (1872); Nashville v. Fisher, 1 Tenn. Cas. (Shann.) 345 (1874); Rockwood v. C.,
N.O. & T.P. Ry., 160 Tenn. 32, 22 S.W.2d 237 (1929); Lotspeich v. Morristown, 141 Tenn. 113,
207 S.W. 719 (1918)]

It was said in City of Rockwood, above, citing Geiler, above, that:

It cannot be supposed that the Legislature, in giving the Mayor and Aldermen the power
enumerated in their charter, intended that they should be held to the personal performance of
every duty imposed. From necessity a municipal, as well as other corporations, must
discharge many of its functions and duties by officers and agents,

and that, "The general rule against delegation by municipal bodies does not forbid the
delegation of ministerial, executive, or administrative functions to subordinate officials."
[Citations omitted.]


Sidney D. Hemsley
Senior Law Consultant

Please remember that these legal opinions were written based on the facts of a given city at a certain time. The laws referenced in any opinion may have changed or may not be applicable to your city or circumstances.

Always consult with your city attorney or an MTAS consultant before taking any action based on information contained in this database.