Appointing City Officials

Appointing city officials and key personnel to help carry out municipal services is an important duty for city council members. While there are nu­merous methods and styles of staffing within municipal government, council members, mayors and city employees must have a clear understanding how appointments are done.

Appointed City Officers and Employees

It can sometimes be difficult for many cities to draw a clear distinction between an appointed city officer and a city employee. Code of Iowa Section 362.2(15) defines a city officer as “a natu­ral person elected or appointed to a fixed term and exercising some portion of the power of a city.” In addition, Code Section 372.13(4) states, “Except as otherwise provided by state or city law, the council may appoint city officers and employees, and prescribe their powers, duties, compensation and terms.” With these two provisions in mind, cities have some discretion over the appointment process, although there are additional requirements to keep in mind.

While there is a variety of ways to staff a city government with different appointed officials and employees, each city council is required in Section 372.13(3) to appoint a city clerk. Other posi­tions will depend on the city and what is needed for daily opera­tions. Some cities employ a city administrator or manager with the position created through an ordinance or by having a specific form of government (such as the Council-Manager form). This position is typically appointed through council action. Cities with police departments will need to appoint a police chief. For those operating under the Mayor-Council form of government as detailed in Section 372.4 (which the vast majority of cities in Iowa use), the mayor is required to make this appointment, but it is sub­ject to council approval. In addition to these common appointed positions, some cities appoint other personnel, such as a finance officer, city engineer, building official, city attorney, fire chief or others.

Appointment Process for City Officials

The Code describes appointment requirements for cer­tain positions while others will be dependent upon city policy. As previously mentioned, the city clerk is appointed by the city coun­cil as is the city administrator in most cases. Under the Mayor-Council form of government, the police chief is appointed by the mayor and the council must approve the appointment. For other positions the city council can determine how an appointment is completed and what is required for final approval.

Another part to the process is deciding how to fill an open position. As with any open job at a city, appointed positions must follow the veterans preference provisions of Chapter 35C of the Code, which requires cities to post notice of the application dead­line at least 10 days prior to the deadline. City hiring policies and practices must also be followed, which often include placing ads in newspapers and online, accepting and reviewing applications, interviewing finalists, background checks and pre-employment physical exams before making an appointment.

Terms of Appointed Officials

Under the Code definition found in Section 362.2(15), elected or appointed officers of the city are to have a “fixed term”. However, the law does not stipulate any term lengths which allows cities to develop terms that best fit their needs. Some cities prefer to put term lengths on appointments, such as one or two years, and then either re-appoint the person once the term expires or allow the term to end and appoint another individual. Other cities do not place any term lengths on appoin­tees and consider the appointment to be ongoing until the council makes a change or the individual leaves employment with the city.

It is recommended that mayors and council members make appointments as scheduled to help ensure the city is operating as effectively as possible. However, there might be instances where an appointment is not completed. In such a scenario, Code Section 69.1A states “every officer elected or appointed for a fixed term shall hold office until a successor is elected and qualified, unless the officer resigns, or is removed or suspended, as provided by law.” This holdover provision may allow the council and mayor some additional time to consider an appointment.

Removing Appointed Officials

When the mayor and council decide to remove an appointed official from their position they must follow the requirements in Section 372.15, which states, “Except as otherwise provided by state or city law, all persons appointed to city office may be re­moved by the officer or body making the appointment, but every such removal shall be by written order.”

The written order must give the reasons for the removal and be filed in the office of the city clerk. A copy of the order must be sent by certified mail to the person removed. Additionally, the council must grant a request for a public hearing if the appointee files one within 30 days of the mailing date of the order. The hearing must be held within 30 days of when the request is filed unless the appointee requests a later date.

The purpose of this post-termination hearing is only to give the person removed an opportunity to give their side of the story, and is for that reason often referred to as a “name-clearing hear­ing”. Neither the mayor nor the city council is under any obliga­tion to review or reconsider their decision to remove the person based on information or testimony provided at the hearing.

Civil Service Considerations

Cities with employees under Chapter 400 of the Code will have some additional rules and laws to consider in the appoint­ment or removal of city employees. However, Section 400.6 provides several exceptions to Chapter 400 for certain types of employees, including city clerks, city administrators, city attorneys, city treasurers and more. It is best to consult the city attorney to gain a clear understanding of the civil service laws and how they relate to the city’s workforce.

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