The question

What is the difference between a city council and a city commission?


The question
What is the difference between a city council and a city commission?

— Anonymous Kansan reader by e-mail

The answer
According to Newton city attorney Bob Myers: “City governing bodies called city councils are typically those in which the mayor is directly elected by the voters (i.e., someone runs for the office of Mayor) with the Mayor then serving as something of the CEO of the city operations.  This is sometimes referred to as a ‘strong Mayor’ form of government, since the Mayor has some particular powers and authority regarding city day-to-day operations, whereas the other city council members have authority only as a group and not individually.
“City governing bodies called city commissions are typically those like in Newton where people just run for a spot on the commission and then the commissioners are the ones who select or rotate the Mayor position.  Mayors under a commission form of government are basically just a presiding officer and do not have any more authority than any other commissioner in relation to the day-to-day operations of the city.
“The most typical city commission form of government in Kansas is one which also has a city manager who is the one in charge of all of the city’s day-to-day operations.
“There are some cities operating under a city council form of government (such as Wichita) which have both a directly-elected Mayor and a City Manager.  Those cities typically have enacted a charter ordinance which spells out the areas of authority between the Mayor and the City Manager.  Some city councils have a hired ‘city administrator’ who basically serves as the person who carries out their directives.”