How the City of Columbus is governed, its structure, and the legislative process is best understood by knowing the basic responsibilities of elected municipal officials. Like many local governments, the City has independently elected branches of government which have powers and responsibilities assigned to them by the City Charter or Columbus City Codes, or both.
The City Charter, originally adopted by the citizens of Columbus in 1914 and amended 61 times since, represents the fundamental rights, powers and responsibilities of the citizens and elected municipal officials that are not otherwise restricted by the Constitutions of the United States or the State of Ohio. The City Codes represent the powers of the city that are left to the City Council to decide which are not otherwise defined, restricted or limited by the City Charter. The Charter can be changed only by a vote of the citizens of Columbus; the City Codes can be changed only by ordinance of City Council.
The Structure of City Government
In Columbus there are seven members of City Council, a Mayor, a City Auditor, and a City Attorney. All officeholders are independently elected citywide and have four-year terms. Municipal elections are held on odd-numbered years. The City Attorney, City Auditor and three Councilmember seats are elected at one election. The Mayor and four Councilmember seats are elected at the next election.
The Mayor leads the administrative branch of government. The primary duties of the Mayor are to act as chief conservator of the peace; to supervise the administration of the city; and to ensure the enforcement of the city's ordinances. Departments and divisions are assigned administrative responsibilities to deliver a variety of public services. The Mayor appoints the directors of most of these departments. The directors of the Departments of Recreation and Parks, Health, and Civil Service are appointed by independent commissions as specified within the City Charter.
The Auditor is the city's chief accounting officer. This office maintains the city's financial records, including receipts, disbursements, assets and liabilities of the city. This branch of government also oversees the collection of city income taxes.
The City Attorney serves as the city's chief legal officer and thus directs its legal branch. The City Attorney is the legal adviser and counsel for the city, its elected officials, officers and departments in matters relating to their official duties. The City Attorney also prosecutes or defends all lawsuits for and in behalf of the city.
City Council is the legislative branch of the city with the responsibility of adopting annual operating and capital budgets, city contracts that exceed $20,000 or $100,000 if authorized from a Universal Term Contract, and enacting the Columbus City Codes. In addition to its fiscal control and regulatory authority, City Council establishes land use policy through its zoning powers.