III. Board Powers and Duties

Parenthetical numbers in the text refer to sections of the current Revised Statutes of Missouri, abbreviated as RSMo.
Member qualifications

Aldermen must be 21 years old, city residents for at least one year before election day, and live in the ward from which they file, at the time they file. When ward lines are redrawn, they must have lived in the territory making up the new ward even if it was previously in a different ward. One case that went to the Supreme Court concerned a recently annexed resident who had lived at his residence for more than the required year but had been inside city limits less than a year. The court held that he was eligible to run for office and serve.

Acting president (mayor pro-tem)

At the first meeting following an election, the board should elect an "acting president of the board of aldermen" (79.090). This person is referred to as mayor pro-tem and presides in the absence of the mayor. The mayor pro-tem doesn't forfeit his or her seat on the board of aldermen. When presiding and calling for a vote, the pro-tem still votes on the issue as an alderman. In rare circumstances when the pro-tem is presiding and the vote is tied, he or she breaks the tie. The board president term is one year.

Actions by the board of aldermen

The board of aldermen may take two primary actions: It adopts or rejects resolutions and adopts or rejects ordinances. Both require that aldermen make a motion to adopt, second the motion, discuss the issue, call the question and then vote.

However, resolutions and ordinances are adopted differently. For a resolution, favorable votes by a majority of the quorum pass the question. For an ordinance, favorable votes by a majority of the elected board members are necessary. Why is there a difference? An ordinance becomes a permanent part of the city's law book, whereas a resolution is less permanent.

A reminder: Only the board of aldermen can make decisions for the city. The mayor can propose, suggest and encourage adoption of a proposal, but the mayor only votes to break a tie vote. Only an alderman can make a motion and second a motion.

But this doesn't mean that the mayor doesn't exercise considerable control as presiding officer of the board. The mayor chooses who is recognized, who is ruled out of order and which motions are given priority. But in the end, only aldermen vote except when the board splits evenly.

Ordinance adoption procedures

"No ordinance shall be passed except by bill, and no bill shall become an ordinance unless on its final passage a majority of the members elected to the board of aldermen shall vote for it, and the ayes and nays be entered on the journal" (79.130). This section also specifies that the introduced ordinance must be in writing and must be read in full or by title twice before passage. Both readings may take place during the same meeting. If it's read by title only, copies must be made available for public inspection before the vote. When introduced by alderman motion, the ordinance is a bill. When adopted by a favorable vote after two readings, it remains a bill. When signed by the mayor or the mayor pro-tem or passed by the board over the mayor's veto, it becomes an ordinance.

All ordinances must begin: "Be it ordained by the board of aldermen of the city of ______ as follows" (79.130). Ordinances should be numbered consecutively and reviewed from time to time. Repealing obsolete ordinances cleans up the city's law book, making it easier to enforce existing and relevant laws.

Procedure following veto

If the mayor opposes an ordinance passed by the board, he or she may return it to the board immediately upon passage and state his or her objections. The board should direct the clerk to enter the mayor's objections in the minutes and then vote on the ordinance again. The motion is: "Shall the bill pass, the objections of the mayor thereto notwithstanding?" If two-thirds of the elected aldermen agree, the bill becomes an ordinance without the mayor's signature (79.140).

The mayor may also choose to return the passed ordinance and state his or her objections at the next regular meeting. At that time, it becomes an ordinance without the mayor's signature or another vote.

The board's journal

By statute, the board of aldermen must keep a journal of its proceedings. Most cities simply use the clerk's minutes as their journal (79.150). The journal needs to include the name of each alderman and how he or she voted on questions before the board, especially on ordinances. (Further explanation in XI: Meetings, Records and Votes.)

Power as a collective

The board of aldermen is empowered by voters to collectively make decisions that are in the best interest of the city. However, sometimes this goal is overlooked as each alderman is elected individually. As individuals, each alderman should strive to best represent his or her ward — proposing ideas, debating issues and even objecting to others' ideas. But once a vote is held (even if it's a close vote or tied), it becomes the whole board's decision and the city's position.

Only the board, not an alderman, may give instructions or orders to a city employee. Only the board, not an alderman, may adopt a certain city policy. Only the board, not an alderman, may allow an employee to go home early without docked pay. It's only collectively that an alderman has power to make decisions.