Forms of Government

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council-chambers_6223The California State Constitution provides for two forms of municipal government: Charter and General Law. Three principal systems are available under these two forms: equal council, council manager, and strong mayor. The legal distinction between general law and charter cities is that powers of the latter are established by provisions of its charter subject to any limitations imposed by federal or state law. A general law city, on the other hand, may exercise only those powers authorized by state law. However, these powers are sufficiently broad to meet the needs of most municipal entities. In general law cities the equal council system consists of five council members, including the mayor, each with an equal vote. Acting as a body, it is the chief governing authority. In charter cities the size of the council may be greater as it is in the case of San Diego. The council elects one of its members as mayor on an annual basis unless a municipal ordinance approved by the electorate provides for election by popular vote.

The council-manager system has become the most popular one in California. It was developed in an effort to avoid the corruption and inefficiency which began to surface in some eastern cities in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It envisions a professional, nonpolitical public administrator who is responsible to the council for enforcement of city ordinances, direction of administrative operations, and technical advice. The manager is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the council. The council retains sole authority to enact local laws, make policy decisions, approve programs, adopt the budget, and provide general direction to the manager.

Charter cities may employ the strong mayor system in which the mayor is the executive head of all departments in addition to presiding over council meetings. Proponents of this system point to its clearly defined lines of political leadership. Its opponents contend that political skills leading to election are not necessarily accomplished by corresponding qualities of administrative ability and experience. Students of public administration and political science have long debated the pros and cons of each system. To a large degree the most suitable system will depend on a city's size and population density and its social and economic structure. Over the years these characteristics have caused the citizens of El Cajon to eventually adopt the councilmanager form under the general law concept with a popularly elected mayor. However, none of these systems will function effectively without an informed and active citizenry.

Council ChambersThe Council Chamber contains ample seating to accommodate a normal public representation at all council meetings. The City Clerk will be happy to furnish you with a copy of the agenda for any Council meeting that you care to attend. A copy of procedures to permit you to address the Council on any relevant subject is also available. Your City government expends considerable administrative effort to ascertain your needs and desires. Consequently, representative expressions of public opinion facilitate the governing process.

The normally busy citizen will not find it necessary or even feasible to attend every single Council meeting. However, a seating area within the Council Chambers is perpetually reserved for the press. The San Diego Union-Tribune and The Daily Californian are consistently represented at every meeting and report significant developments in their media. Public announcements required by law are published in The Daily Californian.

You may also desire to attend some of the meetings of city boards and commissions. Composition and authority of commissions vary according to the ordinances establishing them. In some routine matters the Council may delegate approval authority to a commission. In most cases, however, the commissions act in an advisory capacity to the Council. In every case a petitioner has the right to appeal a commission or board decision to the Council. The deliberations of these meetings influence decisions and policy that affect the quality of life in El Cajon generally and possibly that of your own directly.