Thursday, January 8, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Act it Out (1/8/15)

Question: How does a council pick an “acting mayor” or “mayor pro-tem” and what do they do?

Answer: It’s not theatrics. It’s city government. Even if you have a local Shakespeare expert on council, state law simply requires that city councils designate a council person to step in if the mayor is out of town or unable to attend meetings. 

Let’s go with the statutory term of “acting mayor” found in state law since 1949. At its first meeting each year the council chooses an acting mayor from the council members. The acting mayor must perform the mayor’s duties—like run meetings—if the mayor is unable to do so or off the grid for a family vacation.

Handily, if there’s a vacancy in the office of mayor, the acting mayor steps in, but just until the council appoints a qualified person to the office of mayor. So the acting mayor does not become mayor for the remainder of the term—unless the council chooses to appoint the person to that vacant office.

This is not a high paying temp job. An opinion issued by the Attorney General in 1954 finds that an acting mayor is not entitled to pay for ‘acting as mayor’ because the law does not specify any salary related to this position. Most likely, the council person appointed as acting mayor continues to receive his or her council pay, salary, or other compensation, if any.

Because I’ve always wanted to study Latin I looked it up, and the term ‘pro tem’ means “for the present time but not permanently.” Many cities do use this term to refer to the stand-in for the mayor. But if you’re searching the League website for this topic, go with ‘acting mayor’ for many helpful hits.
Written by Jeanette Behr, research manager with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1228.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information. 

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