All seven members of the Columbia City Council serve three-year terms and volunteer their time and efforts.
Voters in each of the city’s six wards elect one council member each, and the mayor is elected by voters citywide to serve as an at-large council representative with no more real power than any other member.
The mayor, however, traditionally performs many ceremonial roles in the community, such as issuing proclamations and helping emcee public events.
To be eligible for election to the council, candidates must be registered voters in Columbia and reside in the ward they seek to represent.
Ward candidates must collect signatures from 50 registered voters within their ward to be placed on the ballot; mayoral candidates must collect 75 signatures from registered voters citywide. Council members are prohibited from holding jobs in city government or from holding any public office for which they are paid.
The City Council holds regular meetings, preceded by dinner and discussions, on the first and third Monday of each month.
The meetings can vary in length from a couple of hours to several hours.
The council also holds frequent work sessions throughout the year, particularly during budget deliberations in August and September. Council members also attend an annual retreat in the spring, during which they work with the city manager to determine budget priorities and shape goals for the coming fiscal year.
Established and empowered by Columbia’s city charter, the City Council is charged with holding public hearings; reviewing requests for annexation and rezonings; approving, amending or rejecting proposed or existing city ordinances; approving an annual budget submitted by the city manager; appointing representatives to advisory boards and commissions; and dealing with other details of city business, such as real estate purchases. It also hires and oversees the positions of city manager, city clerk and municipal judge.
Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash said the daily grind of a council representative varies and that he is busiest around meeting times.
“I describe my job as a councilman like I do with my job at the restaurant,” said Ash, owner of Bambino’s Italian Café. “It’s either feast or famine, either chaotic or fairly quiet.”
Ash said he communicates regularly with constituents. He finds e-mail communication particularly efficient because he can forward messages to multiple people rather than call each person individually.