Is Rockville’s Mayor the Chief Executive?

At Mayor and Council meeting of June 7, 2010, the Gazette claimed that Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio stated she was “the city leader and de facto chief executive” of the City of Rockville.  I didn’t hear that on the broadcast, but confusion over the roles of board and staff isn’t unusual.  I’ve served on boards, for boards, and with boards and one of the most common areas of friction and frustration is the role of the board and staff in an organization.  It’s made even more confusing because of the various interchangeable titles used by those at the top (e.g., president, chair, chief executive, mayor). Rockville’s Mayor was initially called a President.

Firstly, every organization is different so it’s crucial to understand the rules under which they operate.  For the City of Rockville, it’s the City Charter and the City Code.  You can’t assume that what happens in New York or Baltimore or Kensington is the same as Rockville. In Rockville, the primary powers of the Council are to pass and enforce ordinances; appoint the City Manager, City Clerk, and City Attorney; and adopt a budget, levy taxes, and borrow money.  The primary powers of the City Manager are to hire staff; prepare and manage the budget; purchase equipment and supplies; and lead the administrative branch of the City.  Indeed, Chapter 2, Article 2 of the City Code states that, “The City Manager shall be the executive officer and head of the administrative branch of the City.”

Secondly, don’t make assumptions about titles.  Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Elizabeth II share the same titles and names, but boy, they have very different powers.  QE I could raise an army and declare war on Spain.  QE II must leave that decision to Parliament.  Likewise, the Mayor of New York and the Mayor of Rockville have vastly different powers and responsibilities.  Although the Mayor is elected separately in Rockville, he or she has exactly the same powers as other members of Council.  The only distinctions provided by law is that the Mayor presides over the Council meeting, receives more pay than the Council, and appoints board and commission members—that’s it.  Over the years, the City has provided a reserved parking spot, an office, and other benefits for the Mayor, but they’re optional.  The Rockville Mayor doesn’t have his or her own budget, can’t hire and fire staff, can’t purchase equipment and supplies, and can’t veto Council decisions.

So, Rockville’s Mayor is not the chief executive and she’s not the city leader.  The current Charter identifies every member of Council as a city leader and that the City Manager is the chief executive.

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3 responses

  1. Brigitta Mullican

    My experience of having served on the Rockville Planning Commission for seven years, dealing with the sister city program since 1982 and the Twinbrook Citizens Association relationships with the City of Rockville, I have seen common areas of friction and frustration with city staff, the council and the city manager. One only needs to listen to all the City Council meetings to see that there is a communication gap and that the mayor is not always satisfied with the information provided the council.

    The relationships with the City staff and our Mayor and Councils might have improved from the last Council, but there is still concerns. There is a lot of discussion, but substance is missing. There is a lack of hard decisions.

    Titles should not be the focus rather how management works and how we citizens believe we are represented. There should be respect for the position people hold and cooperation is necessary by all parties in order to produce satisfactory accomplishment.
    Not all rules and regulations are always followed by people. How far one stretches the authority is another discussion.

    One can cite laws, policies and procedures, but how one interprets them and how the administration implements them is a different matter. Many of us can site laws which are not being enforced. Life is not perfect.

    I voted for a Council who is to oversee our City Manager and his management of the city’s operations and if they are not satisfied with the performance, there needs to be discussion and improvement.

    The City Manager serves at the pleasure of the Mayor and Council, and as such, each councilmember has the right to be heard on anything relative to his performance and management ability.

    Yes, it takes at least three votes for the Council to make a decision. It also requires documentation if there are concerns and reason for the dissatisfaction. We heard the Mayor ask for a closed session for the purpose of discussing the city manager’s contract because they are the approving authority for expending city funds. There should be a discussion and because it involves personnel, it should be private.

    It is an obligation of the Mayor and Council to be fiscally responsible. That is their job.

    The City Charter is the guiding code for managing of our City government. Everything is not clearly written or understood. However, having good communication to handle the misunderstandings is most important.

    In my understanding the Mayor is the Leader of the Council and City. That position should be respected.

    Brigitta Mullican (Twinbrook)

  2. If you’d like to read other comments, Rockville Central has crossposted this story on their Web site on June 18, 2010 at http://rockvillecentral.com/2010/06/contributor-opinion-by-max-van-balgooy-is-rockvilles-mayor-the-chief-executive.html/.

  3. Max has stated it correctly. They Mayor is the leader of the Council and, when necessary, the titular head of the City. Over time, the leader of the Council role will change depending on the cohesion of the Council. A Mayor needs the skills to know when to push and when to pull back; I see that sorely lacking in the current situation.

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