Jun 5, 2023 - Politics

City Council wants to make governing less hectic

Illustration of Richmond City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Richmond is 18 years and three mayors deep into its experiment with the strong-mayor form of government.

What's happening: There have been, ahem, some bumps along the way.

Flashback: Up until 2005, the mayor was a member of the council chosen to serve by his or her colleagues in an almost entirely ceremonial role.

  • That changed after city residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of a charter change to directly elect a mayor, a change that was pitched as a way to bring a unifying vision to city government.

Why it matters: A unifying vision has remained elusive amid years of infighting between the mayor, council and school board, which regularly make the city appear disorganized and dysfunctional.

  • Maybe it doesn't have to be this way.

Details: Here's a look at a few of the ideas currently under consideration to make things work better.

๐Ÿงจ At the extreme, tear-it-all-up end of the spectrum, the commission is weighing whether the entire council-mayor relationship needs a revamp.

  • One possibility: Reduce the number of council members from nine to six. Seat the mayor on the council as a seventh voting member โ€” a move that would literally force everyone in a room to work together.

The commission is also weighing smaller tweaks, including:

๐Ÿ’ธ Pay increases: For both the council and mayor in hopes of attracting a stronger field of candidates. Council members currently make $26,00 a year, and the mayor is paid $125,000.

๐ŸฅŠ Increased mayoral authority: Currently the mayor's only direct hire is the city's chief administrative officer. The commission is thinking about suggesting recasting the mayor's role as a chief executive who would also have the authority to hire all department heads, affording more direct oversight.

๐Ÿ‘ Increased council oversight: The commission also thinks it might make sense to give the council a more defined role in hiring the chief administrative officer, with confirmation hearings plus the authority to fire the person later with a super-majority vote.

What they're saying: Any big changes would likely need to go back before city voters in an advisory referendum before any action is taken, says Thad Williamson, a politics professor at University of Richmond who is leading the commission.

  • Williamson stresses that these are all still just ideas.

What's next: The commission is scheduled to make a recommendation to the council by the end of July.


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