In Tallahassee's Council-Manager System, How Much Power Does Gillum Have?

Oct 24, 2018

Credit City of Tallahassee

Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic Gubernatorial Nominee Andrew Gillum has faced harsh criticism for his role in running the capital city. But that role may be overstated.

Republicans from President Trump to gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis have repeatedly characterized Tallahassee as a city with rampant violence and crime. The Gillum campaign has pushed back against such attacks. He touted the city’s low crime rate as evidence in an interview with CBS4.

“I’m the mayor of a city that right now is experiencing a five-year low in our crime rate and we accomplished that by having fewer arrests at the same time,” argued Gillum.

So are these criticisms warranted?

“No because, first of all, he doesn’t have direct authority of the police department," explained Earle Klay, professor at the Askew School of Public Policy at Florida State University. "That comes under the city manager and the council, generally.”

Tallahassee functions under a council-manager system, and Klay said the mayor’s power is quite limited.

"The council-manager form of government, which Tallahassee has had for generations, basically gives the [city manager] administrative responsibilities," continued Klay. "That includes even selecting some top people like the appointment of the police chief. That responsibility is given to the city manager who is supposed to be a professional manager.” 

A strong mayor oversees administrative agencies and appoints department heads. But a leadership mayor, like in Tallahassee, serves primarily as a ceremonial figurehead.

“The difference is a leadership mayor takes lead in developing policy and attracting business, but doesn’t have any role in the day-to-day administration,” explained Klay.

The Republican Party of Florida has also run a series of ads criticizing Gillum’s response to Hurricane Hermine.The ads claim Gillum turned away power workers and after the storm when many residents were out of power.

Though Gillum played no role in deciding which utility companies helped, Florida GOP spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice told PolitiFact "the blame still falls on him for not speaking up. Doing nothing and shifting blame to subordinates is awful leadership."

Klay explained Gillum’s role as mayor isn’t to coordinate recovery efforts; that’s the city manager’s job. Instead, Klay said “the leadership mayor would have more of an active role in trying to bring the different parts of the community together and make things happen. That’s what a leadership mayor is supposed to do." 

"But in terms of coordinating the activities of the utilities department and all that, that’s the city manager’s job.” 

Gillum said in a Facebook post after the storm, the city is “happy to accept any help from any person or organization that is going to accelerate the speed at which we can safely restore power to our residents."