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City Hall is the heart of city government. This building usually houses some city departments, which are the groups of employees that provide city services. The mayor and the city clerk work at city hall, and most of the city's important historical and legal records are kept there. City residents can pay their taxes there, too.

The mayor and the city council or commission usually have meetings here at least once a month that are open to the public. Business important to the public is discussed at these meetings. For instance, city officials might debate about adding more police officers, paving city streets, increasing the availability of affordable housing, or improving a city park. These meetings must be open to the public, and they usually allow members of the public to speak on issues important to them. Even kids can speak before the mayor and the city council or commission!

Kentucky cities must be organized as one of three different forms of government (see the sidebar for exceptions):

  1. Mayor-Council Plan
  2. Commission Plan
  3. City Manager Plan

The mayor-council plan is similar to the state and federal governments. The city council is the legislative body, where its members vote on what the city should do. They pass local laws, known as ordinances, and approve the budget for the city. The mayor runs the city council meetings, but he or she does not vote (except in the case of most tie votes). The mayor is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the city and its employees, and he or she can veto (or reject) certain proposals that are passed by the city council. Over half of Kentucky's cities (53%) are organized as the mayor-council form.  

In the commission form, the city's commissioners (similar to council members in other cities) and the mayor have both the legislative and executive authority in the city. The mayor runs the meetings of the commission and can fully participate and vote. However, he or she has limited additional powers and responsibilities and may not veto actions of the commission. Each commissioner and the mayor must oversee certain departments or functions of the city government unless the commission hires a city administrator. About 42% of Kentucky cities use the commission form of government.

Nineteen cities in Kentucky are organized under the city manager plan, which requires the employment of a professional city manager to be the chief administrative officer of the city. The city manager reports to the board of commissioners, which has four commissioners and the mayor. Like the commission form, the city manager plan gives both legislative and executive powers to the board of commissioners as a whole. This form of government is most often utilized by larger cities with relatively extensive services and programs. As a result, only 5% of Kentucky cities use the city manager form of government.

All elected officials and departments are ultimately responsible to the voters. Your votes are very important for the future of your city!

Merge Ahead!

Lexington and Louisville aren't just cities, they are also counties! Lexington merged with Fayette County in 1974 to create the state's only urban county government.  Louisville consolidated with Jefferson County in 2003 to became the state's only consolidated local government. Although each plan is different, they both closely resemble a mayor-council form of government.  Charter county and unified local government plans are also in state statutes, but no cities and counties have adopted these plans.

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