Original Author: Ashburn, Melissa
Date of Material: 09/09/2011
Reviewed Date: 07/20/2021
MTAS was asked whether aldermen have a legal authority to manage town departments and employees in those departments.
September 9, 2011
Re: Authority of Aldermen
Your MTAS Management Consultant requested a legal opinion on your behalf on the issue of whether or not your Aldermen have legal authority to manage Town Departments and employees in those departments. In my opinion, the answer is “no,” based on clear language contained in the Town’s Charter, which preempts and nullifies conflicting ordinances and/or code provisions granting such powers to Aldermen.
Section 11 of the Town Charter states:
SECTION 11. The Aldermen shall act on all matters as a body and no member shall seek individually to influence the official acts of any officer or employee of the Town or to direct or request the appointment of any person to, or the removal from, any office or position of employment, or to interfere in any way with the performance of duties by any officer or employee. Nothing herein contained shall prevent the Board from conducting such inquiries into the operation of the Town government and the conduct of the Town's affairs as it may deem necessary.
It is very clear from the above language that Aldermen have no legal authority to direct, supervise or discipline Town employees. It is also spelled out very clearly that the Aldermen shall only act as a body, not as individual officers with respect to “all matters.” The above language is not vague and it does not create any flexibility with regard to the authority of Aldermen. This language very clearly explains that Aldermen cannot be given any individual duties whatsoever.
Your Municipal Code sections 1-303, “Duties of finance committee,” and 1-304, “Duties of the street committee,” directly conflict with the Town’s Charter, in that these code sections seek to distribute duties to these committees which are held by the governing board pursuant to charter provisions. It is my understanding that Aldermen sit on these committees and that one or more Aldermen refer to themselves as the “street commissioner” or otherwise believe they are commissioners of city departments. Such titles and actions conflict with the Town Charter.
Despite the fact the above-cited charter language clearly states that no Alderman may individually direct city employees, Code Section 1-304 states that the street committee, on which an Alderman sits, “shall have and exercise general supervision over matters, personnel, and property…” Code Section 1-303 states that the “finance committee,” which also has an Alderman, exercises “general supervision” and reviews plans and programs with a budgetary impact. The Charter very clearly requires that “Aldermen shall act on all matters as a body” so an Alderman sitting on such a committee is acting without his fellow Board members, in violation of the Town Charter.
It is a well-settled legal principle that charter provisions always take precedence over conflicting ordinances and code provisions. Ordinances of a city are subordinate to charter provisions. The Supreme Court declared in Marshall & Bruce Co. v. City of Nashville, 71 S.W. 815, 819 (Tenn. 1903), “The provisions of the charter are mandatory, and must be obeyed by the city and its agents; and, if in conflict with an ordinance, the charter must prevail.” (Emphasis added) These are only a few of the numerous Tennessee cases holding that charter provisions control, and any ordinances in conflict are void: State ex rel. Lewis v Bowman, 814 S.W.2d 369 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1991); Nichols v. Tullahoma Open Door, Inc., 640 S.W.2d 13 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1982); City of Bartett v. Hoover, 574 S.W.2d 291 (Tenn. 1978).
Based on such a long-recognized legal principle, it is very clear that Section 11 of the Charter limits duties which may be assigned to Aldermen, and Code Sections 1-303 and 1-304 are therefore null and void. Town Aldermen may only act as a body on “all matters” and may not be assigned, through ordinance or otherwise, any duties beyond those matters taken up in public meetings by the governing body. Town Aldermen cannot be “commissioners” over any city department, and cannot legally exercise any authority over city employees.
I hope this information is helpful.
Melissa A. Ashburn