Local Government 101

Hey, everybody! In this video, I’m gonna
talk about the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, the important people
in it, what they do and where they get their authority.All
coming up!
-Construction of Athens city hall on the highest point of downtown
was completed in 1904.
-The government is an important institution in our lives in
so many ways. The government sets taxes, regulates trade, builds infrastructure
and defends our country in times of war. Yeah, it sounds like the government is
pretty important. “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is
the problem.” Wait it is? Well it sure is easy to blame
when things are going wrong and it’s also easy to ignore and just become part
of the background when things are working as they should. So what even is
the government? It’s so abstract. Let’s try to zoom in and really take a look at
what we’re talking about here. The government is composed of three levels:
the federal, state and local level. And there’s also an international level,
including organizations like the UN and the World Bank and so on, but let’s just
talk about the first three for now. Okay, so there’s three levels of government
and each level is also composed of three parts: a legislative, judicial and
executive branch for each. This video will focus on just the legislative and
executive branches of a local government. There’s also the Clarke County School
District which is separate and a different part of our local government.
That’s a worthy topic to cover in another video. Okay, we have these three
branches of the Athens-Clarke County unified government here at the local
level. So how did they get here? And what do they do? And what do you mean “unified?”
Unified from what? Well the city of Athens, Georgia unified with Clarke County
On January 14, 1991. I, Gwen O’Looney, do swear that I will well and truly perform the duties of Chief Elected Officer of the united government of Athens-Clarke County Georgia. Most cities in Georgia have both a city
level of government and a county level. I guess now we’re up to four or five
levels of government now? No, it’s just three, just three! Anyway in Athens the
county and city governments are one thing, united. The unification measure was
approved in a 1990 referendum which was primarily done to consolidate
departments and save taxpayer money as a way to make government more efficient.
This new government was led by Gwen O’Looney as Mayor — a title then called CEO
for some reason — and was based on a document called the Charter. The Charter
is our local government’s founding document. It, in addition to support from
the people, is what gives our local government democratic legitimacy. Every
power our local government has comes from the Charter. It also sets the terms
of office and the salary of elected officials and lots more. The Charter sets
up the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Let’s start with the
legislative branch. In Athens, we have a Mayor and Commission. The Commission
votes yes or no on laws and ordinances brought to their attention by the Mayor.
If the Commission votes YES on an ordinance, it becomes law, and we’ve all
got to obey it or face the consequences. These new laws go into the code of
Athens-Clarke County. “All my life, I’ve lived by a code.” So the mayor assigns
topics and options to the agenda. The Commission can slightly change these
options by making a commission defined option or CDO, but in general they can
only tackle issues if the mayor puts them on the agenda. The mayor is a very
important part of the legislative branch. They’re sort of like the Speaker of the
House at the federal level. It’s not really an executive office here in
Athens. The mayor crafts a first draft of the yearly budget, sets the agenda and
recommends appointments to the other positions mentioned in the Charter. These
are people like the manager, county attorney and internal auditor. In other
words, the mayor recommends people to fill the upper ranks of the executive
branch. The executive branch are the people who do all the things our
government does: they’re the ones who maintain our roads
sidewalks, handle our recycling, put out fires and run the parks and summer camps,
among other things. These people are collectively called “staff.” They’re
organized into departments, such as the Department of Transportation Public
Works, Central Services and many others. Those in a department report to the
department head, who in turn reports to the manager. “Hello,
I’m Blaine Williams and I’m manager the unified government of Athens-Clarke
County. Blaine is our current manager who was promoted from assistant manager in
2016. There are two assistant managers who actually divide up the departments
between them, being responsible for different ones, but they both report to
the manager. The manager is like the president I guess I’d say — he’s the CEO.
The manager is a staff person who directs the efforts of the rest of staff.
When I first started going to Mayor and Commission meetings, I didn’t know who or
what the manager was. He’s always there but he doesn’t normally speak unless a
Commissioner asks him a question. Commissioners kept asking him questions,
and I slowly realized that he was really the most powerful person in the room. He
hires all the department heads and through them and the rest of staff, he’s the one
who runs the city. Now you know what I mean when I talk about “staff,” I’m talking
about the executive branch, from the manager down to the street sweeper. At
this point, we can get into the legislative process and how city
ordinances become law. Step one: staff discovers a situation or an issue
that needs to be solved, for example what we should do about bird scooters or
invisible fences for dogs. Staff does the research and comes up with some options.
Staff presents these options to the mayor who puts them on the Commission’s
agenda. The Commission hears a report from staff about the situation and then they
discuss the options amongst themselves. This normally occurs at a work session
on every second Tuesday of the month. On the third Tuesday of the month, the
Commission has an agenda-setting session. If the Commission is in agreement on the
solution to the issue that started all this, they’ll place the item on what is
called the “consent agenda.” If the Commission is not yet in agreement, the
item will remain on the agenda as placed there by the mayor, but under new
business, not consent. The last step happens on the first Tuesday of the following month
when the Commission has a voting session. All items on the consent agenda are
passed with one vote. Any remaining items are voted on one at a time. That’s it!
After an ordinance is passed, staff will begin to implement it usually pretty
quickly after. This process changes somewhat for items that the mayor
chooses to assign to a committee of the commission, such as government operations
or the legislative review committee. Ssome items might stay brewing in committee
for months until they’re ready to enter the steps I listed before. These items
would start on step four, I suppose, but instead of hearing a report from staff,
the Commission would hear a report from the committee. Okay that’s all I have for
now. I hope I’ve answered your questions about the local government, but if not
please let me know in the comments I’ll make sure to respond. Thanks for watching!
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  1. I made this video a couple months ago and it's already a bit dated!

    Assistant Manager Robert Hiss has moved on to a new position as county administrator of Bedford County, Virginia. Deborah Lonon has been promoted to take his place.

  2. Hello friends in Athens Georgia and people interested in our local politics. Please consider becoming a patron of APN Athens Politics Nerd, and watch the videos brought to you by Chris Dowd.
    This is a really informative way to keep up with city government not to mention the general understanding of local government itself. Chris sums up various sessions and helps us get a great brief overview of what's going on in our community.
    This is really helpful to me because I don't get out much LOL. Keep abreast of your community! Stay involved! You can become a patron for as little as $1 per month. Please subscribe to the Athens Politics Nerd video channel and remember to like each video.
    Much love,
    granny tenderstone

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