Constitution Week & Scottsdale’s City Charter

Jean Howell of Paradise Valley wrote a letter to the editor of the Republic reminding us that this week marks the 224th year of the United States Constitution. This year is the 100th year of Arizona’s statehood, and it is also the 60th year of the City of Scottsdale as a municipality.

Scottsdale’s own version of the U.S. Constitution is the City Charter.  It serves as the foundation of government for the city. The 50th anniversary of the adoption of our first City Charter is next month, November 2011. The City Charter has been amended ten times since it was originally adopted in 1961.

The charter lays out our form of government known as “council-manager,” and more specifically a “weak mayor” government. In this system the elected officials are the mayor and six council members, all elected at-large. The position of mayor is largely ceremonial, though the mayor represents the city for all official functions and is considered to be its highest ranking leader.

The mayor also leads city council meetings and works with the city staff to set the agendas for the meetings. However, the mayor’s vote carries no more weight than any individual council member when considering administrative and legislative acts of the city council.

Administrative officers, or “charter officers” defined by the city charter include the city manager, city clerk, and city treasurer, city attorney, city auditor, and chief judge. The day-to-day administration of the city is accomplished by these officers and their respective staffs working in coordination.

Our charter can only be changed by vote of the residents. A few years ago the residents narrowly rejected a plan to change the charter to divide Scottsdale into districts with council members elected from and by each district and the mayor elected at-large. Discussions of council districts resurface periodically and may be on a ballot in the near future.

Curious about how Scottsdale’s charter has been changed over the past 60 years? There is a helpful matrix summarizing those changes located here.  The most recent changes were made in March 2010, on the topics of “Elections” and “Initiative, Referendum, and Recall”. Details are available on page 14-15 of this document.

While current political events may seem more interesting, understanding our civic history is invaluable to developing our future. I encourage you to review at least a bit of it, so that you better understand the power that we residents have in defining the powers and functions of our fine city.

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