In many municipal systems the mayor serves as chief executive officer and/or ceremonial official of many types of municipalities. Worldwide, there is a wide variance in local laws and customs regarding the powers and responsibilities of a mayor, as well as the means by which a mayor is elected or otherwise mandated.
In modern England and Wales, the mayor is the later descendant of the feudal lord's bailiff or reeve (see borough). The chief magistrate of London bore the title of portreeve for considerably more than a century after the Norman Conquest. This official was elected by popular choice, a privilege secured from King John. By the beginning of the 12th century, the title of portreeve gave way to that of mayor as the designation of the chief officer of London. The adoption of the title by other boroughs followed at various intervals. In the 19th century, in the United Kingdom, the Municipal Corporations Act 1882, Section 15, regulated the election of mayors. He was to be a fit person elected annually on 9 November by the council of the borough from among the aldermen or councillors or persons qualified to be such. His term of office was one year, but he is eligible for re-election. He may appoint a deputy to act during illness or absence, and such deputy must be either an alderman or councillor. A mayor who was absent from the borough for more than two months becomes disqualified and vacates his office. A mayor was ex officio a justice of the peace for the borough during his year of office and the next year. He received such remuneration as the council thought reasonable. These provisions have now been repealed.
In medieval Wales, the Laws of Hywel Dda codified the mayor (Latin: maior; Welsh: maer) as a position at the royal courts charged with administering the serfs of the king's lands. To maintain its dependence on and loyalty to the crown, the position was forbidden to the leaders of the clan groups. A separate mayor, known as the "cow-shit mayor" (maer biswail), was charged with overseeing the royal cattle. Similar offices were present at the Scottish and Irish courts.
The office of mayor in most modern English and Welsh boroughs and towns did not in the 20th century entail any important administrative duties, and was generally regarded as an honour conferred for local distinction, long service on the Council, or for past services. The mayor was expected to devote much of his (or her) time to civic, ceremonial, and representational functions, and to preside over meetings for the advancement of the public welfare. His or her administrative duties are to act as returning officer at parliamentary elections, and as chairman of the meetings of the council. However, since reforms introduced in 2000, 14 English local authorities have directly-elected mayors who combine the 'civic' mayor role with that of Leader of the Council and have significantly greater powers than either. The mayor of a town council is officially known as town mayor (although in popular parlance, the word "town" is often dropped). Women mayors are also known as "Mayor"; the wife of a mayor is known as the "Mayoress". Mayors are not appointed to District Councils which do not have borough status. Their place is taken by the Chairman of Council, who undertakes exactly the same functions and is, like a Mayor, the civic head of the district concerned.
In Ireland mayors are appointed in the same manner as their English counterparts at Town, Borough, County and City Council levels. Dublin, Cork & Belfast each have a Lord Mayor, which today, like in England, fulfil mainly ceremonial roles.
In Scotland the post holders are known as Convenors, Provosts, or Lord Provosts depending on the Local Authority in question.
The original Frankish mayors or majordomos were – like the Welsh maers – lords commanding the king's lands around the Merovingian courts in Austrasia, Burgundy, and Neustria. The mayorship of Paris eventually became hereditary in the Pippinids who later established the Carolingian dynasty.
In modern France, since the Revolution, a mayor (maire) and a number of unpaid mayoral adjuncts (adjoints au maire) have been selected by the municipal council from among their own number. Most of the administrative work is left in their hands, with the full council meeting comparatively seldom. The model was subsequently copied throughout Europe in Britain's mayors, Italy's sindacos, most of the German states' burgomasters (Bürgermeister), and Portugal's municipal presidents (presidentes da Câmara Municipal).
In Denmark all municipalities are led by a political official called borgmester, "mayor". The mayor of Copenhagen is however called overborgmester "superior mayor". In that city other mayors, borgmestre (plural), are subordinate to him with different undertakings, like ministers to a prime minister. In other municipalities in Denmark there is only a single mayor.
In Norway and Sweden the mayor title borgermester/borgmästare is now abolished. Norway abolished it in 1937 as a title of the non-political top manager of (city) municipalities and replaced it with the title rådmann ("alderman" or "magistrate"), which is still in use when referring to the top managers of the municipalities of Norway. The top elected official of the municipalities of Norway on the other hand has the title ordfører, which actually means "he/she who leads/carries the word", i.e. "chairman" or "president", an equivalent to the Swedish word ordförande.
In Sweden borgmästare was a title of the senior judge of the courts of the cities, courts which were called rådhusrätt, literally "town hall court", somewhat of an equivalent to a magistrates' court. These courts were abolished in 1971. Until 1965 these mayor judges on historical grounds also performed administrative undertakings in the "board of magistrates", in Swedish known collegially as magistrat. Until 1965 there were also municipal mayors (kommunalborgmästare), who had these non-political administrative tasks in smaller cities without a magistrates' court or "magistrat". This office was an invention of the 20th century as the smaller cities in Sweden during the first half of the 20th century subsequently lost their own courts and magistrates.
In the 16th century in Sweden king Gustav Vasa considerably centralised government and appointed the mayors directly. In 1693 king Charles XI accepted a compromise after repeated petitions from the Estate of the Burgesses through decades against the royal mayor appointments. The compromise was that the burgesses in a city normally could nominate a mayor under the supervision of the local governor. The nominee was then to be presented to and appointed by the king, but still the king could appoint mayors directly in exceptional cases. This was codified in the Instrument of Government of 1720 and on 8 July the same year Riksrådet ("the Council of the Realm") decided, after a petition from the said Estate, that only the city could present nominees, not the king or anyone else. The supervision of the local governor and directly appointed mayors by the king disappeared thus after 1720 (the so-called Age of Liberty). On 16 October 1723, it was decided after a petition that the city should present three nominees of whom the king (or the Council of the Realm) appointed one. This was kept as a rule from then on in all later regulations and was also kept as a tradition in the 1809 Instrument of Government (§ 31) until 1965.
In Finland, there are two mayors, in Tampere and Pirkkala. Usually in Finland the highest executive official is not democratically elected, but appointed to a public office by the city council, and is called simply kaupunginjohtaja "city manager" or kunnanjohtaja "municipal manager", depending on whether the municipality defines itself as a city. The term pormestari "mayor", from Swedish borgmästare confusingly on historical grounds has referred to the highest official in the registry office and in the city courts (abolished in 1993) as in Sweden, not the city manager. In addition, pormestari is also an honorary title, which may be given for distinguished service in the post of the city manager. The city manager of Helsinki is called ylipormestari, which translates to "Chief Mayor", for historical reasons. Furthermore, the term "city manager" may be seen translated as "mayor".
Mayors by country
On Australian councils, the mayor is generally the member of the council who acts as ceremonial figurehead at official functions, as well as carrying the authority of council between meetings. Mayoral decisions made between meetings are subject to Council and may be confirmed or repealed if necessary. Mayors in Australia may be elected either directly through a ballot for the position of mayor at a local-government election, or alternatively may be elected from within the council at a meeting in September.
The civic regalia and insignia of local government have basically remained unaltered for centuries. The robes, the mayoral chain and the mace are not intended to glorify the individual, but rather they are a uniform of office and are used to respect and honour the people whom the users serve.
The mayoral robe is crimson with lapels and sleeves trimmed in ermine. The mayor may also wear a lace fall (neck piece) and cuffs.
The deputy-mayoral robe is crimson with lapels and sleeves trimmed with black velvet and bordered with lapin.
Mayors have the title of 'His/Her Worship' whilst holding the position.
In councils where Councillors are elected representing political parties, the Mayor is normally the leader of the party receiving the most seats on council. In Queensland the Lord Mayor and Mayors are elected by popular vote at the general council election.
The mayor is the leader in most Canadian municipalities. However, some Canadian provinces (e.g. Ontario) still use the term reeve for the elected head of a small village, a township or a rural municipality, performing a similar role to the mayor of a town or city. The term reeve was common in district municipalities in British Columbia until the 1970s. The heads of county governments in Ontario and Nova Scotia are often called warden, though several counties have started to use the term mayor instead. The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario is the only municipality in Canada whose elected head holds the traditionally British title of Lord Mayor. Mayors are styled 'His/Her Worship' while in office. Regional governments in Ontario stylized their leader as Regional Chair (formerly Regional Chairman). Metro Toronto's head was referred to as Metro Chair or Metro Chairman.
The chief executives of boroughs (arrondissements) in Quebec are termed mayors (maires/mairesses in French). A borough mayor simultaneously serves as head of the borough council and as a regular councillor on the main city council.
The scheduling of municipal elections in Canada varies by jurisdiction, as each province and territory has its own laws regarding municipal governance. See also municipal elections in Canada.
The mayor of a municipality in the Dominican Republic is called indistinctly alcalde or síndico. The latter name is preferred as to avoid confusing the title with the similarly sounding alcaide (lit. prison warden). Such person is the governor of the municipality whose township elected him (or her) by direct vote for a term of four years. The mayor's office daily duties are restricted to the local governance, and as such, it is responsible for the coordination of waste collection, upkeep of public spaces (parks, undeveloped urban parcels, streets, city ornate, traffic light control, sewage and most public utilities). In practice most of it duties are centered in light street repairing (new or big road projects, like overpasses, bridges, pedestrian crossings, etc. are handled by the Public Works Ministry (Ministerio de Obras Públicas in Spanish) office), under the direct control of the Central Government. Subcontracting garbage collection and management, overseeing the use of public spaces and arbitring neighborhood land use disputes which is managed by the National Property office (Oficina de Bienes Nacionales in Spanish) is also controlled by the mayor's office. Water, electrical supply and public transportation coordination are handled by several Central Government's offices, and as such, are not under control of the mayor.
Mayors (maires) in France are elected every six years in local elections.
In Germany local government is regulated by state statutes. Nowadays only the mayors of the three city-states (Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen) are still elected by the respective city-state parliaments. In all the other states the mayors are now elected directly by the EU citizens living in that area. The post of mayor may be said to be a professional one, the mayor being the head of the local government, and requiring, in order to be eligible, a training in administration. In big cities (details are regulated by state statutes) the official title is Oberbürgermeister (Lord Mayor). In these cities a "simple" mayor is just a deputy responsible for a distinct task (e.g., welfare or construction works). Big cities are usually kreisfrei ("free of district"). That means that the city council also has the powers and duties of a rural district council. The leader of a rural district council is called Landrat ("land counsellor"). In that case the chief mayor has also the duties and powers of a Landrat. The term Oberbürgermeister is not used in the three city-states, where the mayors are simultaneously head of state governments, but Regierender Bürgermeister (Governing Mayor of Berlin), Erster Bürgermeister (First Mayor of the city-state of Hamburg) an Präsident des Senats und Bürgermeister (President of the Senate and Mayor of Bremen) are used.
Mayors in Greece were elected every four years in local elections and are the head of various municipal governments in which the state is divided. Starting from 2014, mayors are elected for a 5-year term. Local administration elections for the new, consolidated municipalities and peripheries will henceforth be held together with the elections for the European Parliament.
Local administration in Greece recently underwent extensive reform in two phases: the first phase, implemented in 1997 and commonly called the "Kapodistrias Project", consolidated the country's numerous municipalities and communities down to approximately 1000. The second phase, initially called "Kapodistrias II" but eventually called the "Callicrates Project", was implemented in 2010, further consolidated municipalities down to 370, and merged the country's 54 prefectures into 13 peripheries. The Callicratean municipalities were designed according to several guidelines; for example each island (except Crete) was incorporated into a single municipality, while the majority of small towns were consolidated so as to have an average municipal population of 25,000.
The Mayor in the Municipal Corporation is usually chosen through direct vote for a term of five years. The Mayoincipal Executive Officer subject to the power and administration of the Mayor as the Chief Executive Officer.
In Iran, Mayor is executive manager of city and elected by The Islamic City Council. The Mayor is elected for a four-year term.
In Italy the mayor is called sindaco, or informally primo cittadino ("first citizen"). Every municipality (Italian: Comune) has its mayor who represents the local government. The mayor is elected every 5 years by the inhabitants of the municipality.
Japan's Local-Autonomy Law of 1947 defines the structure of Japanese local governments, which were strengthened after World War II. It gives strong executive power to the mayor in the local politics like strong mayors in large cities in the United States of America. The titles that are translated as "mayor" by the governments are those of the heads of cities shichō (市長), towns chōchō (町長), villages sonchō (村長), and Tokyo's special wards kuchō (区長). (The head of the Tokyo prefecture is the Governor (知事 Chiji ).) A mayor is elected every four years by direct popular votes held separately from the assembly. A mayor can be recalled by a popular initiative but the prefectural and the national governments cannot remove a mayor from office. Towards the assembly the mayor prepares budgets, proposes local acts and has vetoes on local acts just approved by the assembly which can be overridden by two-thirds assembly support. A mayor can resolve the assembly if the assembly passes a motion of no confidence or if the mayor thinks the assembly has no confidence in fact.
The Mayor of the municipality in Moldova is elected for four years. In Chişinău, the last mayor elections had to be repeated three times, because of the low rate of participation.
In the Netherlands, the mayor (in Dutch: burgemeester) is the leader of the municipal executives ('College van Burgemeester en Wethouders'). In the Netherlands, burgermeesters are de facto appointed by the national cabinet, de jure by the monarch. They preside both the municipal executive and the legislative ('gemeenteraad'). The title is sometimes translated as burgomaster, to emphasize the appointed, rather than elected, nature of the office. The appointment procedure was brought for discussion in the early 2000s (decade), as some of the political parties represented in parliament regarded the procedure as undemocratic. Generally, mayors in the Netherlands are selected from the established political parties. Alternatives proposed were direct election of the mayor by the people or appointment by the city council (gemeenteraad). A constitutional change to allow for this failed to pass the Senate in March 2005.
Mayors in New Zealand are elected every three years in the local body elections.
In Pakistan, a city is headed by the District Nazim (the word means "supervisor" in Urdu, but is sometimes translated as Mayor) and assisted by Naib Nazim who is also speaker of District Council. District Nazim is elected by the nazims of union councils, union councillors and by tehsil nazims, who themselves are elected directly by the votes of the local public. Council elections are held every four years.
Mayors in Poland are directly elected by inhabitants of municipality. Mayor is the sole chief of executive branch of the municipality and he cannot be a member of a municipal council (city council) or the parliament. Mayor may appoint a deputy mayor if needed. In Poland a mayor is called burmistrz or, in towns with more than 100,000 inhabitants or others which traditionally use the title: prezydent (that is "president", for example "President of Warsaw" instead of "Mayor of Warsaw"). The equivalent title in a rural commune ("gmina") is "wójt". Mayor is elected for 4-year term accordingly with the 4-year term of municipal council and his service is terminated when municipal council ends its cadence. Mayor cannot be dismissed by municipal council, however he can be removed from his position by municipality inhabitants in referendum. The mayor can also be dismissed by the Prime Minister in case of persistent transgression of law. Citizens that have criminal record cannot apply for the position of mayor but only if sentenced for intentional offense prosecuted ex officio. Mayor manages the municipal estate, issues minor regulations, incures liabilities within limits set by municipal council. He presents to the municipal council a project of budget which may be amended by the council. After passing the budget by the municipal council in a form of resolution, the mayor is responsible for its realisation. Mayor is the head of town hall and the register office (may appoint deputies for these specific tasks). Legally acts as an employer to all of the officials of the town hall. Mayor in Poland has wide administrative authority, the only official that he cannot appoint or dismiss is a city treasurer who is appointed by a city council. Although mayor in Poland does not have a veto power over city council votes, his position is relatively strong and should be classified as a mayor-council government.
In Serbia, the Mayor is the head of the city or a town. He acts on behalf of the city, and performs an executive function. The position of the Mayor of Belgrade is important as the capital city is the most important hub of economics, culture and science in Serbia. Furthermore the post of the mayor of Belgrade is the third most important position in the government after the Prime Minister and President.
Spain and Spanish America
Alcalde is the most common Spanish term for the mayor of a town or city. It is derived from the Arabic al-qaḍi ( قاضي ), i.e., "the (Sharia) judge," who often had administrative, as well as judicial, functions. Although the Castilian alcalde and the Andalusian qaḍi had slightly different attributes (the qaḍi oversaw an entire province, the alcalde only a municipality; the former was appointed by the ruler of the state but the latter was elected by the municipal council), the adoption of this term reflects how much Muslim society in the Iberian Peninsula influenced the Christian one in the early phases of the Reconquista. As Spanish Christians took over an increasing part of the Peninsula, they adapted the Muslim systems and terminology for their own use.
Today, it refers to the executive head of a municipal or local government, who usually does not have judicial functions. The word intendente is used in Argentina and Paraguay for the office that is analogous to a mayor.
The Swedish title borgmästare (burgomaster) was abolished in the court reform of 1971. Since the middle of the 20th centuary, the municipal commissioner – the highest ranking politician in each municipality – is informally titled "mayor" in English.
In the Republic of China in Taiwan the mayor is the head of city's government and its city's council, which is in charge of legislative affairs. The mayor and city council are elected separately by the city's residents.
Mayors in Turkey are elected by the inhabitants of the settlement. As a rule, there are municipalities in all province centers and district centers as well as towns (Turkish: belde) which are actually villages with a population in excess of 2000. However beginning by 1983, a new level of municipality is introduced in Turkish administrative system. In big cities Metropolitan minicipalities (Turkish: Büyükşehir belediyesi) are established. (See Metropolitan municipalities in Turkey) In a Metropalitan municipality there may be several district municipalites (hence mayors).
In Ukraine the title Mer was introduced for the position of the head of the municipal state administration in the federal cities of Kiev and Sevastopol. In the rest of the urban and rural settlements the position is unofficial and simply refers to the head of a local council who at the moment of such assignment cannot be affiliated with any party of the council.
United States of America
The mayor is the leader in most United States municipalities (such as cities, townships, etc.). In the United States, there are several distinct types of mayors, depending on the system of local government. Under council-manager government, the mayor is a first among equals on the city council, which acts as a legislative body while executive functions are performed by the appointed manager. The mayor may chair the city council, but lacks any special legislative powers. The mayor and city council serve part-time, with day-to-day administration in the hands of a professional city manager. The system is most common among medium sized cities from around 25,000 to several hundred thousand, usually rural and suburban municipalities.
In the second form, known as mayor-council government, the mayoralty and city council are separate offices. Under a strong mayor system, the mayor acts as an elected executive with the city council exercising legislative powers. He or she may select a chief administrative officer to oversee the different departments. This is the system used in most of the United States' large cities, primarily because mayors serve full-time and have a wide range of services that they oversee. In a weak mayor or ceremonial mayor system, the mayor has appointing power for department heads but is subject to checks by the city council, sharing both executive and legislative duties with the council. This is common for smaller cities, especially in New England. Charlotte, North Carolina and Minneapolis, Minnesota are two notable large cities with a ceremonial mayor.
Many American mayors are styled “His/Her Honor” while in office.
Multi-tier local government
In several countries, where there is not local autonomy, mayors are often appointed by some branch of the federal or regional government. In some cities, subdivisions such as boroughs may have their own mayors; this is the case, for example, with the arrondissements of Paris, Montreal, and Mexico City. In Belgium, the capital, Brussels, is administratively one of the federation's three regions, and is the only city subdivided, without the other regions' provincial level, into 19 rather small municipalities, which each have an elected—formally appointed—Burgomaster (i.e., Mayor, responsible to his / her elected council); while Antwerp, the other major metropolitan area, has one large city (where the boroughs, former municipalities merged into it, elect a lower level, albeit with very limited competence) and several smaller surrounding municipalities, each under a normal Burgomaster as in Brussels.
In the People's Republic of China, the Mayor (市長) may be the administrative head of any municipality, provincial, prefecture-level, or county-level. The Mayor is usually the most recognized official in cities, although the position is the second-highest-ranking official in charge after the local Communist Party Secretary. In principle, the Mayor (who also serves as the Deputy Communist Party Secretary of the city) is responsible for managing the city administration while the Communist Party Secretary is responsible for general policy and managing the party bureaucracy, but in practice the roles blur, frequently causing conflict.
Acting mayor is a temporary office created by the charter of some municipal governments.
In many cities and towns, the charter or some similar fundamental document provides that in the event of the death, resignation, or removal from office of the mayor, another official will lead the municipality for a temporary period, which, depending on the jurisdiction, may be for a stated period of days or months until a special election can be held, or until the original end of the term to which the vacating mayor was elected. The charter may also provide for an acting mayor to serve in the event that the incumbent mayor is determined to be too disabled to continue to perform the duties of the office, either for a temporary period or permanently.
The position of acting mayor is usually of considerably more importance in a mayor-council form of municipal government, where the mayor performs functions of day-to-day leadership, than it is in a council-manager form of government, where the city manager provides day-to-day leadership and the position of mayor is either a largely or entirely ceremonial one. In some jurisdictions, the mayor's successor is not considered to be an acting mayor but rather fully mayor in his or her own right, much in the manner that the Vice President of the United States is not styled or considered to be Acting President following the death or resignation of the President, but rather President in every sense.
- Wade-Evans, Arthur. Welsh Medieval Law. Oxford Univ., 1909. Accessed 1 Feb 2013.
- The article Borgmästare (in Swedish) in Nordisk Familjebok.
- Kim Severson (November 5, 2011). "Term No. 10? Why Not, a Mayor Asks". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-11-06. "As far as people who keep track of these things can tell, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, S.C., has been in office longer than any other sitting American city mayor."
- A. Shaw, Municipal Government in Continental Europe
- J – A. Fairlie, Municipal Administration
- S. and B. Webb, English Local Government
- Redlich and Hirst, Local Government in England
- A. L. Lowell, The Government of England.