Donald D. Monty, Mayor
State of the City Address - December 16, 2014
Audio Recordings of Council Meetings and State of the City Address
From the Mayor
What Is Expected of City Council Member or the Mayor in Carbondale?
I have had the opportunity to observe Carbondale City Council Members and Mayors carrying out their duties for over 40 years. But there is nothing like actually filling one of those positions to fully grasp what all is involved with the position. I was elected to the City Council in April 2011, and was selected to serve as Acting Mayor in February of this year when our previous Mayor resigned. This has given me direct experience as both a City Council Member and Mayor. Soon there will be an election of three City Council members and a new Mayor. Here are some thoughts on what it takes to serve as a City Council Member or as the Mayor or Carbondale:
Carbondale has a City Council/City Manager form of government. Basically the City Council as a whole (including the Mayor who has a vote on the City Council) sets policy for the City, and the City Manager is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the City. The City Manager is hired by the City Council and can be let go by the City Council. The City Manager in turn hires all other City employees and provides supervision for them, including discipline. The City is legally a municipal corporation. The role of the City Council is like that of a Board of Directors for the Corporation with the Mayor serving as Chairman of the Board and the City Manager serves as the Chief Executive Officer.
The formal role of the City Council involves passing ordinances (local laws), levying (imposing) taxes, approving the annual City budget, approving the payment of City bills, awarding contracts (for over certain amounts), authorizing the purchase and sale of real estate and establishing policies for the operation of the City. Ordinances considered by the City Council can be as simple as prohibiting littering to as complex as a Zoning Ordinance which regulates land use in the City and area within 1 and ½ miles of the city limits. Zoning issues are often the most difficult to decide.
Approving the City budget is a complex issue that requires balancing many interests. The City must have a balanced budget. That means making sure that there is as much in revenue as there will be in authorized expenditures. Thus, the City Council has to weigh imposing fees and taxes to raise the revenue, and the City Council also has to decide what services the City will provide at what levels based on the available revenues. This is always a difficult decision for City Council members. Services include basics such as police and fire protection, providing water and sewer services, and providing good streets. But there are many other services provided by the City that residents want and expect the City to provide. In reality, the demands for services always exceed the funds available to provide the services. This requires that the City staff and City Council set priorities for expenditures. Sometimes the City is mandated by the State to make certain expenses but the State leaves it up to the local government to raise the money to pay the expenses. In the end the City Council has the ultimate responsibility to adopt a balanced budget.
By State law, the City regulates liquor sales in the city limits. This includes deciding where liquor will be sold, issuing liquor licenses, establishing regulations for the possession and sale of liquor, etc. In Carbondale, the City Council members constitute the membership of the Local Liquor Control Commission. Liquor issues can be controversial.
Obviously, dealing with all the issues described above, and many more, takes lots of time. The City Council meets about 22 times per year. Each meeting usually takes at least two hours, often three or more hours. A few days prior to each meeting City Council members receive a “Council packet” which contains the written background on each item and recommended actions. Depending on the complexity of the agenda items, it can take a few to many hours to read all the material and prepare for the City Council meeting.
But attending and preparing for City Council meetings is only part of the responsibility for a City Council Member. Members are often approached by citizens in stores or other venues with questions or comments. Council Members receive letters, e-mail messages and telephone calls from residents. Responding to them takes time. City Council Members are often invited to local organizations’ events. Although not required to do so, Council Members often attend these events. Sometimes issues of concern to a Council Member or resident result in Council Members doing substantial research on the issues. Training is important for any “job.” City Council members have the opportunity to attend training sessions such as the annual three-day Illinois Municipal League meeting. All City-Council Members must take training on the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act. Some City Council members also serve on City boards or commissions or represent the City Council on other organization’s boards.
The Mayor is a full member of the City Council. The Mayor can vote on every item before the City Council. The Mayor chairs the City Council meetings. The Mayor cannot veto legislation passed by the City Council. The state and federal governments recognize the Mayor as the “Chief Elected Official” of the community. Although this is a legal formality, many residents also look to the Mayor as the leader of the City government. Under Illinois law, the Mayor is vested with certain powers during times of natural disaster or civil disorder. The Mayor can declare a “state of emergency” and take emergency actions (such as imposing a curfew, banning the sale of alcohol, requisitioning supplies, etc.). Those actions must be reported to the City Council. In Carbondale, the Mayor serves at the Chairperson of the Local Liquor Control Commission. In exceptional situations, the Chairperson can suspend liquor licenses for up to seven days without the action of the Local Liquor Control Commission.
The Mayor is the designated City official who signs deeds when the City sells real estate. The Mayor also is responsible for signing all ordinances and resolutions passed by the City Council and also signs the “warrant” approved by the City Council to pay the City’s bills. The Mayor can issue proclamations recognizing individuals, organizations or events. The City Manager often confers with the Mayor in the Mayor’s role as “leader” or the City Council. Sometimes this is just to give the Mayor a “heads up” about something happening or upcoming with City government. Other times, the City Manager is seeking the Mayor’s opinion about issues. One thing that is very important is for the Mayor and City Manager to both remember their respective roles under the Council/Manager form of government. No individual City Council member or the Mayor can give direction to the City Manager. But once the City Council as a whole has given direction, it is up to the Mayor to make sure that the City Manager follows the City Council’s direction.
The Mayor is “expected” to be at more meetings and events than City Council members. For example, I try to make every ribbon cutting for a new business. When economic development prospects are visiting Carbondale, the presence of the Mayor is more than just symbolic of the City’s interest in a project. There is an expectation that the Mayor will be at events such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day breakfast or the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet. The Mayor is often asked to give a formal “welcome” message at local meetings or events. As Mayor, I have been asked to judge the Great Pumpkin Race. One role of Carbondale’s Mayor is to be the sole judge of who will receive a scholarship provided from contributions to the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce for a Carbondale Community High School student to attend SIUC. It takes many hours to pour over all the applications and make this very important decision.
The Mayor is often called upon to write items. For example several times a year the Mayor writes this column for The Carbondale Communique and messages to be placed on the City’s website. Sometimes it is necessary to write letters of support for various grant applications or permits. Other times a staff member may have drafted a letter for the Mayor’s signature, but the Mayor needs to go over them carefully (and, if necessary, make changes) before signing them. The Mayor is his or her own “speech writer” whether for a simple welcome greeting at an event or making presentations at forums or meetings.
Just as City Council members are approached by citizens when out in public and receive e-mail messages and phone calls from members of the public, the Mayor has the same interaction with the public, but more so. Unlike City Council Members, the Mayor has an official office at City Hall. The Mayor is expected to be in the office for at least part of the day or evening most weekdays. Sometimes the Mayor goes to the office on weekends to catch up on things. Residents “drop in” to talk to the Mayor, or they make appointments to discuss matters. The Mayor receives many items of mail. Some are from residents expressing an opinion or seekikng assistance. Others are official correspondence. The Mayor receives many e-mails every day at the office computer. Some are just informational, but others require a response. Residents are more likely to call the Mayor’s office about an issue than to call a City Council Member.
The Mayor also serves as the City’s official representative to the Southern Illinois Mayor’s Association and is the City’s voting member for the Illinois Municipal League. The Mayor is the City’s representative on the Policy Board of the Southern Illinois Metropolitan Planning Organization (but this can be delegated to someone, if the Mayor so chooses). The Mayor is an ex-officio, non-voting, member of the Board of Directors of the Carbondale Business Development Corporation and the Carbondale Tourism Bureau Board. On the other side of the coin, the Mayor is the one who appoints persons to serve on City boards, commissions and committees. This is done with the advice and consent of the City Council. Finding qualified people to serve on the City’s many boards, commissions and committees is challenging and takes considerable time.
Serving as a City Council Member or Mayor is an act of public service. There is a small amount of pay that goes with these positions, but the amount of time to do them well is far greater than what would be expected for a “part-time” job at that rate of compensation. All too often, elected officials are berated or scorned. Yes, there are some bad apples at all levels of government. We can disagree on policy matters. But in Carbondale, we can be proud of the dedication of those who serve on our City Council.