The mayor–council government system is a system of organization of local government that has an executive mayor who is elected by the voters, and a separately elected legislative city council. It is one of the two most common forms of local government in the United States, and is also used in Canada, Italy, and Turkey. It is the one most frequently adopted in large cities, although the other form, council–manager government, is the local government form of more municipalities.
The variant may be broken down into two main variations depending on the relationship between the legislative and executive branches, becoming a weak-mayor government or a strong-mayor government variation based upon the powers of the office. These forms are used principally in modern representative municipal governments in the United States, but also are used in some other countries.
In a weak-mayor system, the mayor has no formal authority outside the council; the mayor cannot directly appoint or remove officials, and lacks veto power over council votes. As such, the mayor's influence is solely based on personality in order to accomplish desired goals.
The weak-mayor form of government may be found in the United States, mostly in small towns that do not use the more popular council–manager form used in most municipalities that are not considered large or major cities, and is frequently seen in small municipalities with few or no full-time municipal employees. By contrast, in Canada the weak-mayor system is popular even in large cities.
The strong-mayor form of mayor–council government usually consists of a mayor elected by voters as the head of the executive branch, and a unicameral council as the legislative branch.
In the strong-mayor form, the elected mayor is given almost total administrative authority and a clear, wide range of political independence, with the power to appoint and dismiss department heads without council approval or public input. In this system, the strong-mayor prepares and administers the city budget, although that budget often must be approved by the council. Abuses of this form[example needed] led to the development of the council–manager form of local government and its adoption widely throughout the United States.
In some strong-mayor governments, the mayor will appoint a chief administrative officer who will supervise department heads, prepare the budget, and coordinate departments. This officer is sometimes called a city manager. While the term city manager is used in the council–manager form of municipal government, the manager in the strong-mayor variant is responsible only to the mayor.
Most major and large American cities use the strong-mayor form of the mayor–council system, whereas middle-sized and small American cities tend to use the council–manager system.