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Tips for New Board Members

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Reviewed Date: March 29, 2011

Original Author: 
Darden, Ron
Date of Material: 
Mar 29, 2011

City councilmember
Personnel--Employee orientation

Tips for New Board Members

A brief guide to assist with the orientation of new board members.

Knowledgebase-Tips for New Board Members


The Charter and Board Actions

The city charter outlines the powers given to the city by the state. It covers qualifications of board members, elections, duties of the mayor, municipal court, duties of the city manager, city recorder, and chief of police and other provisions. The city only has the powers granted by the charter or implied.

State law requires that borrowing money be done by resolution. Even though a motion and a resolution may be less formal, if properly done, they have the same power as an ordinance. The law requires that some actions be taken by ordinance, for example, the budget must be approved by ordinance and an ordinance is required to amend an ordinance. A private act is required to amend the city charter.

The clerk should keep minutes of all public meetings of the board. It is not necessary that the recorder keep minutes for an informal work session where no action is taken. The minutes will reflect actions approved by motion of the board, as well as resolutions and ordinances. Resolutions should be kept in a bound binder by number. Ordinances should also be kept in a bound binder by number. MTAS recommends that numbering be done to identify the fiscal year, as in Ordinance 2005-1. The recorder is the official keeper of municipal records.

It is not necessary that every spoken word be included in the minutes. The recorder should include significant motions, resolutions, and ordinances including how each member voted. The recorder may state that the mayor or another member of the board discussed for example playground equipment without recording every spoken word.

Your charter provides that a majority of the council constitutes a quorum. Ordinances must be approved on two readings not less than one week apart and third reading any day thereafter, and shall become effective 20 days after final approval unless its terms provide a later effective date. Resolutions shall be read in full one time and shall become effective when adopted.

When calling for the vote “pass” means, I pass for now, come back to me. The mayor should come back for the vote of the board member, and announce the vote. Abstain means that I am not voting. It is not recorded as a yes or no. It is recorded as an abstention. Roberts Rules of Order states that only those voting in the majority may bring a matter back before the board for reconsideration. There are exceptions.

When two or more board members meet, except by chance, you must give public notice of the meeting and conduct the meeting in public. All records are public records except, medical records, psychological profiles, marriage counseling, current and ongoing police investigations, and employee social security numbers. Pay records are public records.
Unless exempt by law, computer records are public records.

Your form of government is a “Private Act Charter-City Council”It provides that the mayor supervise departments. It is a violation of your charter to appoint council members to supervise departments.

Your charter is amended by actions of the state legislature. Requests for charter changes should be addressed to your area state legislators.

Finance and Budgeting

The budget is the most important document that you will develop and implement. It is the central policy statement of the city stating where the money will come from and how it will be spent. State law requires that it be balanced and that expenditures not exceed revenues, that it be published in the local newspaper 10 days prior to final approval of the budget ordinance. The budget includes both operating and capital revenues and expenditures. It should include a list of all employees along with budgeted salaries.

The city’s fiscal year ends on June 30 of each year. The city is required to provide for an annual audit by an accountant approved by the State Comptroller’s office. It is recommended that the annual audit be presented at a formal board meeting. It tells the community that an audit has been prepared and that it is being reviewed.

The board should maintain an operating reserve of at least 10% minimum. Board members should receive monthly revenue and expenditure statements as well as a monthly balance sheet. Financial control can be better exercised through a review of these statements rather than ascertaining the cash available in the bank. A cash balance will not tell you how much is owed to creditors at that time.

Do not appropriate money to for unlawful purposes. Charitable donations are permitted if the agency is a 501 (3) (C) organization that provides the city with a copy of their annual audit. If a proposed expenditure is not budgeted, the motion should include where the funds are to come from to pay for the expenditure. Accurate records should be kept for employee work time records, vacations, and sick leave. A supervisor should verify the accuracy of an employee’s work time sheet.


Cities must follow the 1983 Purchasing Law unless the city adopts local purchasing regulations that are at least as stringent as the state law. The bid limit is $2,500 or a lesser amount as determined by ordinance. Cities can establish purchasing bid limits of up to $10,000 by ordinance. Professional services for engineering, attorney, auditor, and other professions are prohibited from bid requirements. The city requests proposals of services and selects the professional service on the basis of qualifications. Insurance services are subject to bid requirements.


All cities are authorized by state law to enact a property tax. If the city enacts a local business tax, the state situs report should be verified on at least an annual basis to prevent other political jurisdictions from receiving your city’s revenues. Cities are authorized to enact a 2.75% local sales tax by referendum.

Duties of the Mayor

The mayor presides at council meetings and submits an annual budget. He shall have a tie breaking vote on all matters but no veto power. The mayor is the executive head of the city government, responsible for the efficient and orderly administration of the affairs of the city. He shall be responsible for the enforcement of laws, rules and regulations, ordinances, and franchises of the city and shall direct the city attorney. He may conduct inquiries and investigations into the affairs of the city and shall have such other powers and duties as may be provided by ordinance not inconsistent with the charter.

Duties of the Clerk

The clerk shall keep and preserve the city seal and all official records. Shall attend all meetings of the council and maintain a journal showing the proceedings of all such meetings, the councilmen present and absent, each motion considered, the title of each resolution and ordinance considered, and the vote of each councilman on each question. Prepare and certify copies of official records. Serve as head of the department of finance if appointed to this position by the mayor. Perform such other duties as may be required by the council or by the mayor. The clerk shall have authority to make appointments, promotions and transfers, and to make demotions, suspensions and removals of employees for reasonable cause, and may delegate such authority to department heads.

Aldermanic Duties

Under your form of charter, the mayor, has the responsibility for administration. The clerk, and not the board, has the responsibility for hiring and firing and other administrative duties. Aldermen, as elected board members, should determine broad policies, and leave administration to the city manager. Broad polices that you should be involved in are personnel, purchasing, travel, cash investment, the amount of risk the city should assume, zoning and growth policies, high speed pursuit and use of deadly force policy, economic development policies, budgeting, use of city vehicles and equipment, and other broad policies. You were not elected to hire and fire, supervise or direct employees. Your charter assigns that responsibility to the city clerk and mayor. Your responsibility is a board function. You supervise one employee, the city clerk. If you are concentrated on administrative duties, who is looking out for the broader issues that affect the city? They are probably being neglected. Some city charters state that the board shall take no action outside the board room.


Tennessee is an employment at will state. This means that the city can terminate any employee for cause or no cause; however, your charter requires cause for personnel actions. The city should have approved personnel policies and procedures and strictly follow them. Before any employee terminations, the city attorney should review what is being proposed. He can keep you out of trouble easier than he can get you out of trouble. The city’s liability insurance will not pay for your defense involving personnel actions if the courts find that you were operating outside the scope of your authority or that you were discriminating against a protected class. While I caution you to be careful and review proposed personnel actions, do not retreat and fail to remove an employee whose employment is not in the best interest of the city. Ask your insurance company, the city attorney, and MTAS to review any proposed action that may be questionable.

Police and Fire

The city clerk appoints a fire chief and a police chief and other members of the fire department and police department. You should know what your police operating procedures are. What is your policy on the use of deadly force or high speed pursuit? What is your ISO rating for the fire service and what steps need to be taken to improve?

Planning and Zoning

The municipal planning commission consists of the mayor and one board member approved by the board. The mayor makes all other appointments and all the members appointed by the mayor serve at his pleasure. Once the city has approved a growth plan they may exercise zoning authority. Pre-existing conditions or uses may be grandfathered under zoning laws, however, pre existing conditions that affect the safety and health of citizen’s fall under the city’s police powers and as such are not limited.

Cities appoint a “Board of Zoning Appeals” to hear appeals of the zoning ordinance. Such appeals should only include cases of extreme hardship or physical characteristics which would make application of the zoning ordinance a hardship. The board should come to a finding or findings, and state them in the minutes of their meetings. Based on these very specific findings, the board should arrive at a decision. In many instances citizens are allowed to use the board of zoning appeals to skirt requirements of the city’s zoning ordinance. The “Board of Zoning Appeals” authority should be very structured.

Public Chapter 1101 required cities to develop 20 year growth plans designating urban growth boundaries (UGB). UGB’s are areas adjacent to a city where growth is expected to occur during the next 20 years. Cities may annex into the UGB by ordinance or by referendum. You should consult with MTAS or the State Planning Office in developing a plan of services prior to undertaking any annexation.

Cities annex to spread the cost of local government to residents and nearby residents receiving the benefits provided by cities. Cities often provide recreation programs, better police service, utility service, garbage service, zoning enforcement, building and property maintenance standards, commercial and economic development opportunities. They provide industrial recruitment in an effort to provide jobs for the community. Cities serve as a business center for banks and financial institutions, insurance, medical centers, and other professional services. Most non city residents resist the city’s efforts to annex because they do not want to share the cost of local government.

MTAS Consulting Services

Your city may have between 200 and 800 ordinances that have accumulated over a period of years. Tennessee law allows cities to codify these into an easy reference manual called the City Code. An ordinance codified in this Code Manual is as legal as the original ordinance. MTAS provides the codification service for cities at a nominal fee as provided for by state law.

You may from time to time wonder how other city charters address certain issues or perhaps how other city ordinances deal with certain problems. All city charters for 347 cities, as well as ordinances are available to you by visiting the MTAS Web Site at www.mtas.edu. The web site includes other information that can be searched such as legal opinions, questions about personnel and purchasing laws, etc. The Tennessee Code Annotated which includes all the statutes passed by the legislature are available by Internet at the State of Tennessee Home Page. It is an excellent reference source. MTAS provides a Municipal Handbook that is available on the MTAS web site.

MTAS was created in 1949 as a state agency to provide municipal technical consulting services to Tennessee cities. MTAS is funded by a percentage of the state local sales tax and a direct appropriation of the state legislature. Our organization does charge for some training and codification services. Cities are not charged for financial, management, legal, police, fire, or utility consulting services. I encourage you to use these prepaid consulting services when necessary.


About Our Knowledgebase

Information written by MTAS staff was based on the law at the time and/or a specific sets of facts. The laws referenced may have changed and/or the technical advice provided 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 posted to this website.