Post #3 – Roles in a ‘Weak Mayor’ System

Here’s Post #3 of a longer thread on the role of a Mayor & Council (legally, practically and perceived) in a Weak Mayor system – plus upcoming posts on Distributed Leadership, Slate Politics at the local level & more. What might be best for local governance?

I’d suggest there are three general roles of a mayor in our governance system with each role requiring differing leadership expertise. These roles are partly legislated, partly arise out of public expectations and are partly practical. Previous posts described a “Weak Mayor” system where the role of a mayor is essentially one-of-equals on council with a few more responsibilities that are, on the whole, not overly significant in day to day or policy on-goings.

One general role is in representing council and the city by supporting and encouraging community organizations, individuals and businesses, by both formally and informally representing the city externally and by establishing effective relationships with other levels of govt.

A second general role is in effectively running meetings through the setting of agendas, chairing of meetings and ensuring that the governance process is running as smoothly and in as coordinated a way as possible. While this aspect might be viewed as mundane by many, it’s a key part of effective governance imo.

The third general role is that of shepherding (for lack of a better word) council discussion, achieving consensus, policy approach and direction on key city files – all within the governance confines of a role of being “one-of-equals”. This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of achieving effective governance.

The first role is obviously the most visible to residents and mainly the basis of public perceptions of presence, availability and effectiveness. It’s an important role that the public needs and expects.

The other two roles are more important in procedurally advancing the key interests of the city. How does a mayor best provide leadership when they are essentially one-of-equals within the structure of a Weak Mayor system? There are very nuanced and demanding role expectations of our system of governance that require specific leadership attributes.

In my take on things, the personality of a mayor, the ability to act as an effective facilitator among council and how close a mayor’s working relationships are with council members are critical factors in providing leadership within the local governance system that we have. Of course, this is a two-way street requiring complementary attributes from council as well.

As we get closer to the local elections this fall, I’ll post more on those varied leadership attributes required. In the meantime, I’d encourage residents to ponder their own frameworks of what leadership could look like given the inherent implications of our local governance system.

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