How Does Local Government Work?

This is a common question we receive—and a good one at that. If you’ve never been really exposed to city government… or think it operates in the same way as the federal government, you may be surprised by how things are done on the local level.

Let me first start by sharing why local governments exists. It is the responsibility of the local government to provide the highest quality of services in the most efficient way. These services are provided to maintain, as well as improve the quality of life of those in the community. With that understanding of our mission… that is, our whole purpose for existing… let me explain how we do that.

When I’ve spoken at the Citizens Academy or to other groups interested in learning about local government, I’ve found the best way to describe how our local government operates is to compare it to something most people are familiar with: a corporation in the private sector.

  • In a corporation, there is a CEO. In city government, the CEO is called the Mayor. The Mayor’s job – in this case, my job – is to carry out and manage the day-to-day operations of the business—or, rather the services provided to the residents and businesses of the City of Auburn by the government.
  • A CEO relies on his or her executive staff  — maybe division presidents or plant managers – to lead various business functions. Within the Auburn government, those leaders are called Department Heads. They manage all the services, ranging from the obvious – police, fire, park, and street– to specialty ones, such as AES, Municipal Utilities, and the development of our SmartGRID system.
  • A private company generally also has a board of directors to provide strategic direction. In local government, that board of directors is called the City Council. The City Council is responsible for making the rules or ordinances and appropriating the funds for services and new development.
  • And every company has a chief financial officer to ensure all financial operations are efficient, effective and ethical. In city government, that person is the Clerk Treasurer. Independently elected, the Clerk Treasurer ensures that all checks and balances are in place to ensure compliance with city, state and federal laws.
  • There’s one other important element to local government: the Board of Public Works and Safety. While not a policy or appropriations board, the Board of Public Works and Safety provides a second layer of checks and balances as it approves and signs contracts.

Together, all of these various groups help us ensure we, as governing body, are both accountable and transparent to the people of Auburn. After all, our responsibility is to you.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Auburn functions, consider joining our next Citizen’s Academy next year. We’ll post more information when registration is open.