Musisi Vs Lukwago, Mayor’s Role Is Ceremonial


KCCA ED Jenifer Musisi and Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago
KCCA ED Jenifer Musisi (L) and Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago

By Rene Ndyomugyenyi

I disagree with the Dr Amin Tamale’s unfortunate and misleading anecdotal assertion that the City Manager Ms Musisi should report to The Lord Mayor Lukwago published in the Observer 11th March 2013. It is further unfortunate that the headline labels him an ‘expert’. His so called expert opinion is based on the sight-seeing tours he has had in ‘cities around the globe’. Mine is a rather empirical approach.

Text Book Description of a Mayor

Textbook descriptions of the role of the mayor in the council-manager form of municipal government invariably describe the mayor’s role in a titular and restrictive fashion. One widely adopted text states: A mayor performs ceremonial functions as head of the local government. He may preside at meetings of the council, represent the city on public occasions, and sign legal documents for the city… “The mayor or president of the city or village normally performs only ceremonial functions and presides over the council.

He has no administrative powers except in the case of an emergency, and no vote.” In a similar appraisal, a third text states “There is often a presiding officer for the city council who is given the title of mayor. He is a regular voting member of the council but usually possesses no more administrative authority than any other council member; he simply presides at meetings. The only other functions of the mayor are ceremonial.”‘ These descriptions of the mayor’s role  in accordance with the role recommended for the mayor by the National Municipal League, the most forceful advocate of the council-manager plan, in its Model City Charter:

“The mayor shall preside at meetings of the council, shall be recognized as head of the city government for all ceremonial purposes and by the governor for purposes of military law but shall have no administrative duties.

Concession is made that such definition of the role of a mayor is rather simplistic albeit the point of departure/foundation in any argument purported to give the mayor more powers of a bigger role. The definition further restricts the need to creating a provision for broad mayoral leadership. Under the idealized version of the council-manager plan, elected officials, both the mayor and council, were to be the primary source of collective leadership, while managers were to be responsible for day-to-day administration.

Some years ago, research effectively refuted this politics-administration dichotomy even for council-manager government where in theory it seemed most appropriate. An abundance of research convincingly depicts the city manager as a principal policy actor, constantly feeding information and advice to elected officials (Ammons and Newell, 1989, pp. 46-52; Nalbandian, 1989).

Thus, any model of policy making in council-manager cities must take account of the policy activism of the appointed executive. The leadership gap in council-manager government also provides an opportunity for mayors to shape community interests (Protasel, 1989; Svara, 1986, 1987). According to Newland (1989, p. 267), mayors frequently help set the agenda, manage council meetings, and influence public policies by voting and exercising their veto power.


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