Brownwood City Council members received a shortcourse in municipal government — and Brownwood municipal government in particular — at a called meeting Tuesday.
“We’re a very diverse organization, not singular in function at all,” Interim City Manager James Campbell told the council in opening remarks. “The city serves its citizens in numerous ways.”
Three of the council’s five members are new to the body after elections in May, and Campbell is in his first month of that position following his appointment on May 22.
“I think we first ought to thank Pat Chesser for his service to the city,” Campbell said. Chesser, who is the Brownwood city attorney, had held the position of interim city manager since November. Campbell is also executive director of the Brownwood Economic Development Corporation.
Campbell expressed his appreciation to the city’s division and department heads for their response.
“This is not a one-person job,” he said.
The orientation opened with Campbell’s explanation of the role and duties of city council members, including an overview of how federal and state laws can dictate or limit how municipalities function.
“We have very little control over those laws, but we have to live with them,” Campbell said of federal statutes. While the city has somewhat more control over state laws, it must still live with those once adopted.
“At the local level, we have the city charter,” Campbell said. He said most of the code of ordinances require giving the opportunity for public input prior to a vote, but those ordinances and resolutions are how the council takes action.
Meanwhile, the council also has policies which it can change at its discretion. Administrative policies can be changed by the city manager or department heads at any time, Campbell said.
He described the city as a public corporation, functioning much like a business. The council is its board of directors, the mayor is the board chairman and the city manager is its CEO.
Brownwood Mayor Bert Massey explained how the city functions as a home rule city, with the city charter functioning as its constitution. The city operates under a council-manager form of government, in which a professional city manager is hired by the council to oversee the municipal operations. He contrasted that to the mayor-council form more popular in the Northeastern U.S., where the elected mayor serves as the paid manager. Houston is the only large city in Texas with that form of city government, he said.
Massey explained that under the city charter, he votes on issues only in the event of a tie.
“With five members of council, it’s obvious someone would have to be absent for that to happen,” Massey said. “However, I usually offer my opinion on a controversial issue” so citizens will know whether he agrees with the majority or the minority.
“There is a provision in the charter that’s a little unusual,” Massey added. “The mayor can veto a city ordinance or resolution,” by not signing it within three days. “I’ve never had to exercise that power, and I hope I never will.” Any veto can be overridden on a four-fifths vote of council.
He also advised the council does not have the power to direct requests to city employees working under the city manager.
“The council also has the joy and the privilege of setting the budget,” Massey said.
While the council does appoint the city manager, city secretary, city attorney and municipal judge, “the city manager is the only employee you as a council have,” Campbell said. After their appointment, those individuals are supervised by the city manager. Department heads are subject to council confirmation.
The one exception is the police chief, who is elected by citizens as the council members and mayor are.
“You should not interfere with the appointment or removal of any employee,” Campbell said.
The mayor also discussed provisions of civil service law.
Chesser explained the role of the city attorney to the council, which includes prosecuting all Class C misdemeanors filed in municipal court, and prosecuting code enforcement cases. Chesser said council members probably will receive more citizen complaints on code enforcement, because some will consider the city is being too lenient or not acting quickly enough, while others will say the city is being too strict.
Operations of the police and fire departments were provided by Police Chief Virgil Cowin and Fire Chief Del Albright, and other division and department heads also detailed operations within their realms.
“This will help you put faces with the names,” Campbell said.
Council members paused during the meeting to have portraits made to update those hanging in the city hall lobby.