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Municipal government is divided into two branches: legislative and executive. Together, the legislative and executive branches form a team to do those things required by law or necessity and custom to provide governance to a community. The legislative branch or governing body makes the rules through adoption of ordinances and/or policies and procedures, which are then implemented or acted upon by the executive branch. For a city, the governing body is the city council (Alaska Constitution, Article X, Section 8) and for a borough, the governing body is the borough assembly (Alaska Constitution Article X, Section 4). The executive power of a municipality is vested in the mayor (AS 29.20.220). Alaska Statutes 29.20.050 through AS 29.20.280 and AS 29.20.500 explain how the mayor is elected and what the mayor's powers and duties are.
General law municipalities are guided in many activities by the provisions of Title 29 of the Alaska Statutes. Home rule municipalities, unless Title 29 states otherwise, are guided by the provisions of their home rule charter. AS 29.10.200 provides a list of Title 29 chapters that limit the powers of a home rule municipality and prohibit home rule enactments that provide otherwise. If there is a question of whether the home rule charter or Title 29 applies it is important to research both to ensure the correct law is applied. This may sometimes be complicated and require the assistance of Division of Community and Regional Affairs Local Government Assistance staff and/or your municipal attorney.
Depending upon how the municipality is organized, the executive branch of local government may be administered by the municipal clerk, treasurer, bookkeeper, administrator, manager, and/or any other staff the public and governing body determine appropriate for the community. State law provides for appointment of some of these municipal officials and employees (AS 29.20.360 - 500).
See the LOGON chapters on Elections and Municipal Government Structure and the Local Government Handbook Chapters on Municipal Officials and Administration of Municipal Government for additional information.
What are the qualifications for being on a borough assembly or city council?
In order to run for municipal office, a candidate must meet the voter qualifications found in AS 29.26.050. These qualifications are:
A member of the governing body who no longer meets the qualifications for being a voter immediately forfeits office (AS 29.20.140(a))
These same qualifications apply to the office of mayor in a borough or first class city. In addition to the qualifications already listed, the mayor of a second class city must be a member of the city council (AS 29.20.240).
A municipality may by ordinance establish district and residency duration requirements not to exceed three years (AS 29.20.140(b)(c)); however, this has been challenged in court and found to be excessive (Peloza vs. Freas (871 P.2d 687 (Alaska 1994)) (see "FindLaw"). As a result of this court decision, the residency standard is now one year. In the case of a second class city, the mayor must also be a council member. An assembly member may not be elected or appointed by and from a city council within the borough.
How many members are on a city council or borough assembly?
A first class city has six council members, plus a mayor. A second class city has seven council members and the mayor is elected by and from the council (AS 29.20.130 and AS 29.20.230). An assembly determines its method of representation consistent with the equal representation standards of the U.S. Constitution, its incorporation documents, and local ordinances (AS 29.20.060 - 070).
What is the process for electing the governing body?
The public elects the governing body to the assembly or council at a yearly municipal election conducted under the provisions of the municipality's election procedure and state law. The municipal election is usually held in October, unless a different date is provided by ordinance (AS 29.26.040). The mayor, except for the mayor of a second class city, is elected at this time also. The mayor of a second class city is elected by and from the council rather than by the public (AS 29.20.240).
What does the legislative (governing) body do?
The legislative body serves at the pleasure of the public and manages policy and formulates the principles that guide the local government. The legislative body manages money for the public benefit, manages personnel for the public benefit, and provides services and capital improvements deemed appropriate by the public.
How does the governing body do business?
All business of a governmental body is public information and must be conducted in the public forum through the open meetings process, unless the subject matter fits an exception allowed by law (AS 44.62.310). The governing body is required to take action through a set process spelled out in state law (AS 29.20.010, 29.20.020 and 29.20.160) and local ordinances allowing for maximum public input and involvement.
If less than the full governing body is at a meeting called for the purpose of conducting business of the governing body, can they take action on a matter before them?
Yes, but only if the number of members present constitutes a quorum and the vote is equal to or greater than the majority of the total membership. As an example, if five city council members are present, and four vote yes on a motion, the motion can go forward. If only three vote yes, the motion cannot go forward (AS 29.20.160(d)).
What is the quorum requirement for first and second class cities?
A quorum is the majority of the total membership of the governing body. For first and second class cities, the quorum requirement is four (AS 29.20.160(c)).
Can a municipality require that a candidate for municipal office meet certain residency requirements before being elected to office?
Yes. However, the Alaska Supreme Court found that the residency requirement allowed in statute (AS 29.20.140(b)) of up to three years is excessive and that any residency requirement longer than one year is problematic and violates the equal rights clause of the Alaska Constitution (Peloza v. Freas (871 P.2d 687 (Alaska 1994)).
Does a candidate for municipal office have to fill out a financial disclosure form?
Yes. Unless the municipality has exempted itself from the Public Official Financial Disclosure Law (AS 39.50.145), all candidates must fill out the form and file it when they file for office. It is important to note that this only exempts the official from filing the financial disclosure; it does not exempt the official from the provisions of AS 29.20.010 regarding declaration of a conflict of interest. For more information on the Financial Disclosure Law, please see the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC).
For purposes of voting on an issue before the governing body, is the mayor a member of the governing body?
The mayor of a borough or a first class city with a manager form of government may only vote on a matter before the governing body in case of a tie. The mayor of a second class city is a member of the council and may vote on all matters before the council (AS 29.20.250).
In the case of a home rule municipality, unless there is another provision of law that prohibits a home rule municipality from acting otherwise, the process spelled out in the home rule charter applies. As an example, AS 29.20.250(b) states that the mayor of a first class city can only vote in case of a tie; therefore, a mayor would not vote on any issue unless there is a tie. The provisions of AS 29.20.250(b), however, are not made applicable to a home rule municipality and neither is the power to act otherwise limited by AS 29.10.200. Therefore, the mayor’s vote may be determined by home rule charter.
Role of the Borough Assembly/City Council
The purpose of government is to manage public funds and resources and provide services that the public wants provided. The governing body also establishes policy and procedure for the municipality, which may be in the form of ordinances, resolutions, formal manuals, etc. Title 29 identifies the general duties and responsibilities of the governing body. The governing body also has additional administrative responsibility necessary to effectively conduct business. For example, each year the governing body must adopt a budget and ensure that elections are carried out.
Role of Mayor
As Chief Executive Officer, the mayor acts as ceremonial head of government, executes official documents on authorization of the governing body, and has responsibility for various other duties prescribed in Title 29 (AS 29.20.220). In addition, if the municipality has not adopted the manager form of government, the mayor is the chief administrator and has the same powers and duties as a manager (AS 29.20.250). The mayor can delegate some administrative duties; however, the mayor can not delegate responsibility for ensuring these things are done.
The mayor may also act as presiding officer (chair) at meetings. As presiding officer, the mayor, following a set of rules (usually "Robert's Rules of Order/Parliamentary Procedure," or other procedure formally adopted by the council), maintains order and prevents arguments, keeps the business moving, manages testimony, and rules on conflict of interest declarations (AS 29.20.010). This is discussed more fully in the section on Conducting Effective Meetings.
The mayor may take part in discussions of matters before the governing body. The mayor of a second class city may vote on all matters. The mayor of a first class city or a borough with a manager form of government may vote in the case of a tie.
Role of Manager
The city manager is the chief administrator and functions as a member of the city council team, assisting the council by providing professional administrative support and carrying out those duties prescribed by law (AS 29.20.500), necessity, and custom. If the voters approve the manager plan of government following the procedures outlined in state law (AS 29.20.460 - 490), the borough assembly or city council appoints a manager. The city manager is part of the executive branch of government and is responsible for carrying out the duties prescribed by the state and local legislative branches.
Role of Boards and Commissions
The governing body may by ordinance establish advisory, administrative, technical, or quasi-judicial boards and commissions. The boards and commissions usually have a single purpose, such as the school board or the planning commission. These organizations are tasked with handling certain responsibilities, studying and reviewing issues authorized by the governing body, and making recommendations to the governing body. Boards and commissions do not have legislative authority (AS 29.20.300 - 320).