The mayor–council government system is one of the two most common forms of local government in the United States. It is the one most frequently adopted in large cities, although the other form, council-manager government, is the typical local government form of more municipalities.
Characterized by having a mayor who is elected by the voters, the mayor–council variant may be broken down into two main variations depending on the relationship between the legislative and executive branches, becoming a weak mayor or a strong mayor based upon the powers of the office. These forms are used principally in modern representative municipal governments in the United States, but also are used in some other countries.
In a "weak" mayor-council system, the mayor has no formal authority outside of the council; he/she cannot appoint and/or remove officials, and lacks veto power over council votes. As such, the mayor's influence is solely based on his/her personality in order to accomplish desired goals.
This elected, weak mayor form of government may be found in small towns in the United States that do not use the more popular council–manager form used in most municipalities that are not considered large or major cities.
In the strong-mayor form the elected mayor is given almost total administrative authority and a clear, wide range of political independence, with the power to appoint and dismiss department heads without council approval and little, or no public input. In this system, the strong-mayor prepares and administers the city budget, although that budget often must be approved by the council. Abuses in this form led to the development of the council–manager form of local government and its adoption widely throughout the United States.
In some strong-mayor governments, the mayor will appoint a chief administrative officer who will supervise department heads, prepare the budget, and coordinate departments. This officer is sometimes called a city manager; while the term used in the equally popular council–manager government, the manager is responsible only to the mayor in this variant.