The leadership roles in local government are largely based on the needs of the community. Some of the departments in smaller communities may be combined into one. Certain leadership roles, such as those in police departments, fire departments, school districts and conservation departments, may be shared between several local governments, township governments or county governments.
Following is a brief outline of key leadership roles in local government, along with a brief description of how they serve their communities.
The administration offices house several of the local government offices. You’ll commonly find offices for the municipal clerk, mayor or village administrator, human resources departments and others. The council chambers are also often located here, although they may be located in another government facility.
Depending on the type of government structure, the key leader that oversees all departments within the local government is the mayor, administrator or similar community leader.
The right-hand individual to the administrator is the municipal clerk. Municipal clerks manage a wide variety of duties, including handling local government elections, maintaining records, recording the history of the community, issuing licenses and permits, and keeping the local government’s official seal. Citizens who wish to serve on a village board or commission typically get their applications from the clerk’s office. Clerks also take council meeting minutes and are responsible for transparency in government for local citizens.
Elected officials are usually called trustees or council members. They serve in a leadership role as the legislative body of the local government. Council members represent the people who elect them and make decisions according to the best interests of the community and its residents.
The human resources department was created to manage many of the administrative processes for hiring and firing employees. Human resources professionals administer health and retirement plans for local government workers and keep track of attendance, just as human resources departments do in other industries.
Public Works Department
The public works department manages utilities such as water, sewer, electric and gas. Public works employees maintain local roads and municipal vehicles. Employees in this department mow and maintain public lands, maintain public sidewalks and remove snow in certain geographical areas. The public works department is also responsible for maintaining public street and traffic signs.
Public Safety Department
Most communities have public safety departments that manage law enforcement, fire safety and emergency services.
The police department enforces residential and traffic laws. Police officers respond to accidents, emergencies and crimes. Local police often assist the community with school and community education.
Fire departments respond to fire and electrical emergencies. Smaller communities may only have a volunteer fire department, or they may share fire services with a neighboring community. Firefighters also offer safety programs, educate communities about smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, and offer fire safety training. Fire departments sometimes also participate in controlled land burning and practice controlled burns of dilapidated structures.
Community Development Department
The community development department exists to help citizens gain access to the government programs they need. Community development departments offer programs for health care, child care, senior assistance, social services, women and infant care, food banks and the public library.
Citizens may also get assistance for such issues as housing, building permits, housing rehabilitation grants, home buying and demolition.
Economic Development Department
Economic development departments focus on helping local businesses thrive and grow. In the U.S., the Chamber of Commerce may be part of the economic development department. The departments for inspection, planning and zoning may also be part of this department or can be a separate entity.
Parks and Recreation Department
Each community has different offerings for nature, enrichment and recreation. The parks and recreation department presides over such community amenities as bike paths, swimming pools, athletic programs, hiking trails, educational or art classes, fitness classes, youth and senior programs, and facility rentals.
Office of the Comptroller
The leader who handles the local government’s money is the comptroller. The comptroller handles all of the financial reporting for the government, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, auditing, budgeting, cash receipts, investments, payroll, purchasing and billing for utilities.
Municipal Government Attorney
Every municipality, regardless of its size, needs an attorney to advise village officials as needed, review resolutions and ordinances, and respond to violations of municipal ordinances. A municipal government attorney prosecutes and defends various court and administrative proceedings for which the municipality is a party.
Department of Local Schools
Municipalities that have schools in their districts tackle such issues as compliance with federal and state laws. School departments tackle such issues as truancy and accreditation. Schools from several different small towns may join together by forming a consolidated school district.
Municipal transportation departments manage issues related to public and private transportation. This may include public buses, trains and sometimes local airports. Municipalities also have laws and rules for private transportation entities such as taxis, limousines, funeral services vehicles, and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.
Water Treatment Department
The goal of the water treatment department is to provide safe drinking water for all citizens in the community. The water treatment department ensures that the drinking water supply complies with all state, provincial and federal standards for safe drinking water. The water treatment department employs local government workers to manage the operation of the water treatment plant where there is one.
The water treatment department either tests residential water or informs residents about where they can send samples for testing. Water treatment departments typically also maintain the community’s fire hydrants or work in conjunction with the local fire department to ensure water supply in hydrants.
Communication Between Local Governments and Citizens
The local government’s website is the best place for local citizens to go for the latest information about all of the government’s departments, what they do and how to contact them.
iCompass, a Diligent brand, offers a convenient Transparency Portal that attaches to local government websites seamlessly. Within seconds, citizens can retrieve online copies of board agendas and minutes or view video recordings of local council meetings from the iCompass board portal. These intuitive digital programs save municipal clerks the time from having to retrieve FOIA requests for citizens while providing those documents right to citizens’ fingertips.
Various governmental departments combine to serve the citizens and the communities in which they live and work. Transparency in government documents and processes are important to the safety, well-being and happiness of all citizens.