City Councils vs. Board of Directors

How do Cities with Board of Directors Differ from Those with City Councils?

by Curtis Lanning


(NWA Politics) — Most cities in Arkansas operate with a city council and mayor as their form of government, but a handful instead have a board of directors and city administrator/manager, and they are run differently.

Some of these cities include Fort Smith, Little Rock and Siloam Springs.

Carol Smiley has served on the Siloam Springs Board of Directors for 13 years and currently serves as vice mayor, which fills in when the mayor is unavailable. That’s something she said she’s only had to do a couple times in her two years of being vice mayor.

While cities that operate under a board of directors and city administrator still typically have a mayor, the position is more ceremonial than legislative, Smiley said.

In Siloam Springs, the directors are elected (as is the mayor), and they hire a city administrator to handle the day-to-day operations of the city. If they don’t approve of the job their city manager is doing, the directors may fire him or her. Though Smiley said the Siloam Springs Board of Directors is happy with City Administrator Phillip Patterson.

“He makes sure it’s all running smoothly,” she said.

Smiley said the city administrator handles all of the hiring for city employees, and there’s no limit on the length of time one may serve. If the board is happy with the way things are going, hypothetically, a director may serve for as long as the board will have them.

The mayor, meanwhile, chairs board of directors meetings but doesn’t vote on most items, according to Smiley. He or she has some veto power, but that can be overridden with enough directors. The mayor also attends events like ribbon cuttings as a figurehead of the city.

As for what advantage this form of government holds, Smiley said the city is run more like a business, and it takes a little bit of politics out.

“It does provide more efficiency in our city government,” she said.

Smiley also said cities are more likely to get a leader with experience in a city administrator because they typically come from backgrounds with city management. But a mayor? Those can change with every election cycle, and there’s no guarantee the person elected is going to have city leadership experience.

As for the residents of Siloam Springs, Smiley said she hasn’t heard negative comments from anyone about the city’s form of government.

A citizen or two in the past may have talked about changing things to a city council and mayor, but it has never come to a vote, she said.

“It appears our citizens are happy with our type of government,” Smiley said.

She said Siloam Springs has had a board of directors and city administrator for at least 25 years.

For more information on this form of city government, click here.

(This article was originally featured on NWA Politics.)

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