What City Councilors Do
Last modified on December 1st, 2020 at 05:00 pm
The purpose of this page is to provide insight into the job of an Elkins city councilor. Read on for a sense of what council members do, what responsibilities they have, and what some council members say are the challenges and rewards of the job. (For more about the elected leadership of Elkins, click here.)
Two Elkins city councilors are elected for four-year terms from each of the city’s five wards, for a total of 10 members. Councilors must live in the wards they represent and only appear on the ballot in their ward of residence.
Acting as a body, city council exercises the executive and corporate authority of the City of Elkins. Through majority votes by a quorum of its members, council passes laws, adopts rules, and sets policy and strategic goals. In 2018, council adopted a five-year strategic plan.
City council is responsible for adopting the annual budget and monitoring the fiscal condition of the city; councilors can be held individually liable if budgets are overspent.
Five administrative officers report to council (the city clerk, the city treasurer, the fire chief, the operations manager, and the police chief). These officers are responsible for day-to-day operating and administrative decisions for their departments.
These officers are hired and may be terminated via a majority vote of a quorum of council. The city’s organization chart may be viewed here.
Councilors have no individual authority over city staff or their activities.
General Job Duties
There is no official job description for Elkins city councilors, and different councilors tend to approach the job in different ways. Here is an overview of the basic tasks and duties in which all council members are generally involved.
Councilors attend all council meetings, which occur at least twice a month and typically last 1-2 hours at a time. Councilors receive information related to agenda items at least 24 hours prior to a council meeting and are expected to review the information in preparation.
All council members sit on at least one of the city’s standing committees and may be asked by the mayor to sit on ad hoc committees from time to time. Each of council’s five standing committees typically meets once a month. Council currently has two ad hoc committees that also usually meet once per month. The establishing legislation of the Elkins Tree Board, the Elkins Planning Commission, and the Elkins Parks and Recreation require that council appoint one of its own members to serve on each.
As standard components of each council meeting, council members review and approve invoices, report on the activities of any committees they chair, and hear reports from each of the city’s administrative officers. Other frequently recurring agenda items include reviewing requests to revise the budget, approving personnel actions (e.g., promotions, conclusion of probationary periods, etc.), and considering new ordinances (laws). (Rules for council meetings are here.)
Council members often hear from residents, business owners, and others with interest in matters before council. Because of the city’s administrative structure, council members are limited in their ability to intervene directly but can play a valuable role by facilitating contact with the appropriate administrative officer.
Salary and Benefits
Elkins councilors are paid $7,200 a year and can enroll in the West Virginia Public Employees Retirement System. Alternatively, they may forego salary and participation in the retirement system and instead join the city’s PEIA health-insurance plan. No other benefits are available to council members.
Elkins city councilors are assisted by the city clerk, who manages the legislative process, provides research and project management services, and supports council’s compliance with the Open Governmental Meetings Act. (Note: Elected officials are accountable for OGMA violations, so it is imperative that councilors familiarize themselves with the requirements of this law.) In her capacity as the city government’s lawyer, the city attorney also works closely with and advises council regarding the exercise of its official powers.
Other staff members are available, through coordination with the relevant administrative officer, to assist with tasks such as official announcements and communications and interpretation of city-adopted codes.
Like all public officials in West Virginia, Elkins councilor are bound by the requirements of the Ethics Act.
Additional information about the duties and authorities of Elkins councilors may be found in the Elkins City Charter and Elkins City Code, or code of ordinances, which may be found here.
What Some Council Members Say About the Job
“Aside from council meetings, I attend the monthly meetings of all seven standing and ad hoc committees and the Elkins Sanitary Board. I also attend Elkins Planning Commission meetings, which are usually at least two hours. That can be more than a dozen hours of meetings in a month, without counting prep time.
“Whenever I get the opportunity, I like to attend trainings and seminars that help me better understand my community and role. I’ve attended seminars put on by public officials, the Vibrant Community workshop, HubCap, Elkins Main Street fund raisers, Chamber of Commerce quarterly meetings and the Chamber annual awards banquet (at my expense).
“I attend Veterans Day celebrations, any grand openings of new city businesses, and functions at the Old Mill, and similar events as they come up.
“I regularly receive a good number of calls from city residents, from both inside and outside my ward. I do everything I can to get callers answers to their questions, and this can be time-consuming.
“One of the big challenges of the job is trying to convince other council members to support actions I want to take. Because councilors don’t have any individual authority, we can only effect change by finding consensus with other council members, and of course that’s not always easy. You have to be able to compromise and work hard on other members’ issues if you want them to work on yours.
“The best part of the job is knowing I am doing all I can for my ward and the City of Elkins. It’s a great feeling when we can solve a problem or implement something that improves life in Elkins.”
Possible Charter Changes
Some of the above may change as a result of the charter-change process currently underway. No charter changes would take effect until April 2021 at the earliest. Learn more here.