Not every commissioner is mayoral quality
The old saying is that reality is a bitch. We're here to tell you there's a lot of truth to that. And in the future, some Birmingham city commissioners may find out the validity of that proverb.
To explain. For many years, the seven elected city commissioners in Birmingham have rotated choosing among themselves for the one-year honorific of serving as mayor and mayor pro tem for a one-year term. Unlike in some municipalities, like New York City or Detroit, where the mayor is elected and is the manager of the government, in Birmingham, it is a city manager run government. On top of attending and leading meetings – the latter the most important duty – typically the mayor’s responsibilities includes some administrative work, such as working with the city manager – also a critical duty – and helping to set the meeting agenda, attending events, hosting visitors, going to ribbon cuttings, giving speeches, officiating weddings and attending conferences.
The mayor does not set policy, which the entire commission does, nor carry out the policy, which the manager and administration does. The mayor is not a first amongst equals, but one of the seven commissioners, and their vote carries the same weight as all other commissioners who sit at the commission table.
The mayor, though, is often the official face of Birmingham, a representative of the city and the liaison between the administrative government, the commission and its residents and businesses. In that capacity, a certain skill set and finesse, as well as a willingness to read and familiarize oneself with all of the workings of the government, keeping up to date, is imperative. Not all city commissioners choose to read and comprehend the commission packets provided – nor are they in sync with both the administration or their fellow commissioners. And that is a problem.
While largely titular, whoever sits in the center chair at the commission table represents all the viewpoints falling at their feet – and they must judiciously synthesize them and present them to the public not as their own, but as the city's. And not everyone has the skill set to do that graciously while simultaneously leading their peers.
Currently, the city commission has been considering whether everyone at the table really has to get a chance to roll the city's dice, or if some are more qualified and should remain at the helm for two, three or even more years. While they continue to debate, as observers of city government, we believe the latter is the more appropriate response. Life isn't always fair. Some people are cut from sturdier cloth, and deserve to remain mayor for longer terms.
It's not just for their benefit. It's for the city's as well.