Commentary...by Pam Goronkin
Council support key to success of mayor’s agenda

There are plenty of people who will tell you that Tempe Mayor-elect Hugh Hallman has big shoes to fill when he’s sworn in July 15. There were no doubt lots of folks, too, who felt Neil Giuliano wasn’t up to the task of replacing long-time Mayor Harry Mitchell.

Now, 10 years later, Giuliano leaves a legacy of leadership and achievement.

There is no denying that each person puts his or her own imprint on a particular job or elected office. What will Mayor Hallman’s leadership style be like? Will a Mayor Hallman create wholesale change in Tempe?

Some, of course, believe that it is time for a different approach. Others worry that what has worked well in the past might be undone to Tempe’s detriment by a change in direction.

The fact is, no council member, the mayor included, has the power to affect significant change without rallying support for any proposed policy or program.

Here are some things you should know about the relationship between mayor and council, as well as about how business gets done in Tempe’s form of government.

Keep in mind that Tempe, along with the majority of cities and towns in Arizona, utilizes a so-called “weak mayor” approach to municipal management, known widely across the country as the city manager/city council form of government.

By virtue of this approach to local government, which provides the framework for our City Charter, no member of City Council, mayor included, has any administrative function in city business.

Article III, Section 3. 04 of the charter spells it out:

“The city manager shall be the chief administrative officer of the city.” That means that, by charter, neither the mayor nor any member of Council may give direction, in public or private, to employees of the city.

The city manager is given policy direction from the Council. It is the city manager’s role, along with the job of city employees, to implement those policies.

So the mayor doesn’t get to “run” the city, that’s for sure. 

Neil Giuliano would be the first to tell you that the mayor’s power is considerably limited by the ability to gain consensus. He amplified that reality in a recent interview.

“I learned quickly that the magic number is four. The number four became the first thing I thought about in the morning and the last thing I thought about at night.” Want to pass a law? Get four votes. Want to replace the city attorney? Needs four votes. Want to build a lake?  Four votes to get it done.

Having emphasized that the mayor cannot act independently on most issues, there are a few, mostly routine prerogatives not available to other councilmembers.

Among them:

• Acting as the spokesperson and public face of Tempe and the City Council. The mayor is usually the one invited to appear or speak at functions, events, groundbreakings, etc.

• Generally serving as the “go-to” person for the media.

• Following approval by a Council majority (or, to use Giuliano’s phrasing, The Magic Number), affixing an official signature to all legal documents, ordinances, resolutions and contracts.

• Sitting as the presiding officer at all meetings of the Council.

• Keeping order in Council chambers and among the Council. He is duty bound to recognize members of Council requesting to be heard on agendized topics, but certainly in an orderly and prescribed fashion.

In general, Roberts Rules of Order prevails at official meetings, but The Magic Number of councilmembers informally design their own working procedures for staying within the strict framework of all applicable laws.

• Working with the city manager, establishing the agenda for Council meetings. The mayor may even delete any item from the agenda, unless placed there by another member of Council.

By Charter, Tempe City Council must meet regularly at least once each month to conduct city business. By necessity, meetings generally occur more frequently. During quarterly calendaring meetings, those who comprise The Magic Number choose meeting dates.

If deemed necessary, however, the mayor may call for special meetings of the Council. Guess what: The Magic Number may also establish the need for such a meeting.

• Making appointments to the city’s various boards and commissions—but The Magic Number have veto power over such appointments. In addition, it is only by Council majority decision that boards or commissions may be created or abolished.

• Deciding whether or not to utilize subcommittees of the Council. Subcommittees are not required by charter, and other mayors have elected to do without them. With or without the subcommittees, individual councilmembers don’t require permission from the mayor to convene meetings on issues important to them. But only The Magic Number may give policy direction. 

• Accepting invitations to sit on regional boards, most notably the board of the Maricopa Association of Governments. This certainly gives the mayor power to help shape policy beyond Tempe.

All of the aforementioned are among the unofficial prerogatives that supplement the mayor’s official, charter-specified responsibilities.

You might also be interested to know that it is Mayor Giuliano’s voice on the recording you get when you call City Hall—not exactly a mayoral prerogative but one of the ideas he was able to implement without having to obtain the Council’s vote of approval. I’ve always thought it was a nice touch.)

In the Mayor Giuliano’s view, however, perhaps the most important prerogative of the mayor is the opportunity to establish the tone of local government.

“Every week, by what he says, by how he acts, and with whom he communicates, the mayor establishes how the Council will work together as a team.”

Mayor-elect Hallman hopes to set a tone whereby the “team concept” is extended, to the largest degree possible, to the greater community.

Says Hallman: “Engaging the community, through the office of the mayor, will enable me to solicit participation and reasonable input from a much broader spectrum. Even those who are sometimes considered ‘unreasonable’ have a right to be heard.

“And conversations of this nature can produce ideas that neither the Council nor staff might otherwise have considered.”

Sharing information gathered in this manner may, indeed, be helpful in the Council decision-making process. And respected, trusted leaders are often effective in persuading others to a particular point of view.

But make no mistake: the Council is the decision-making body. Neither the mayor nor individual councilmembers can make agreements or negotiate deals without approval of the full Council.

Mayor-elect Hallman knows the tone he wants to set, and many appealing ideas no doubt will be placed before the Council, some as a result of his community engagement and outreach.

Mayor Hallman’s leadership skills and ability to persuade The Magic Number will determine whether substantive change is in Tempe’s future.