What Does a City Council Member Do? (Overview, Roles, and Responsibilities)

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • August 7, 2023
city council member

Becoming a city council member is an excellent way to make a difference in your community. It allows you to be the voice of the people you serve by advocating for policies and initiatives aligned with their needs in city council meetings

As a city council member, you can contribute to meaningful change in your community as you grow personally and professionally into higher government positions. If you want to become a city council member, here’s everything you need to know to succeed in the role.

What is a City Council Member?

A city council member is an official elected to serve on the city council. A city council is a local legislative body responsible for making decisions and enacting laws and policies at the municipal level. A city council member is also called an alderman, selectman, trustee, freeholder, councilor, or commissioner.

City council members don’t have the authority to act or make decisions alone. They are members of an elected body, so they make decisions together through a formal meeting process in full view of the public.

City Council Member Roles and Responsibilities

The roles and responsibilities of city council members vary by jurisdiction. Common roles and responsibilities include the following:

  • Attending regular meetings to discuss city policies and changes to laws
  • Voting on legislation to decide whether motions become laws
  • Negotiating and approving the city budget
  • Meeting with constituents to discuss their issues and concerns
  • Approving contracts and bids for city projects
  • Establishing standing committees to handle specific areas of responsibility, such as finance and budgeting, public safety, and law enforcement
  • Creating and modifying zoning laws to regulate land use
  • Representing the constituents and community during meetings and hearings with other government officials
  • Issuing licenses for new businesses to regulate business activity in the city
  • Offering incentives, like tax breaks, to new businesses in the community to support them
  • Providing oversight to city departments to ensure they’re working efficiently and effectively
  • Coordinating city events like parades and festivals to ensure they run smoothly
  • Encouraging and facilitating civic engagement (Types of civic engagement include voting, political participation, volunteering, advocacy and activism, etc.)

City Council Member Salary

According to Salary.com, city council members earn $28,052 to $36,220 annually. The average, at the time of publication, is $32,043. However, city council members’ salaries depend on several factors, including the following:

  • Level of education
  • Years of experience
  • Size and location of the city

Inquire with your local city government or look up the average salary per state to know how much to expect for the role.


Steps to Become a City Council Member

The process of becoming a city council member may vary based on the jurisdiction and personal experiences and qualifications. The general process involves the following steps:

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

While not a formal requirement to become a city council member, a solid educational foundation proves beneficial. A degree in a relevant field, such as public administration, political science, or urban planning, can help you understand how to serve your people best.

2. Secure an Internship

Learn the workings of the local government by interning with a local government agency or community organization. The experience can teach you about public policy, community engagement, and constituent services. It will also expose you to the responsibilities of city council members so you can hit the ground running if you get the role.

3. Earn a Graduate Degree

A graduate degree is not a requirement for the city council member role, but it can enhance your skills and knowledge. The skills and knowledge you gain can give you a competitive advantage when vying for the position. Consider a graduate degree in public administration, law, public policy, or other related roles. These fields of study offer specialized coursework in governance, public finance, policy analysis, and leadership.

4. Secure an Assistant City Council Member Position

The role of an assistant city council member can help you understand the role of a city council member through firsthand experience in the local government. It can also increase your chances of becoming a city council member.

As an assistant city council member, you will observe council meetings, engage with constituents, conduct research, and help the city council member with various aspects of their roles and responsibilities. You can gain lots of valuable insights and networking opportunities.

5. Leverage Your Professional Network

As you work toward the city council member role, build professional relationships to leverage when the time is right. You can build relationships with activists, community leaders, and professionals in related fields. You can also network with individuals involved in local politics to expand your network and increase your visibility in the community. Attend local events, engage in community organizations, and participate in civic activities to cultivate connections and support.

eScribe Empowers Effective Municipalities

City council members must hold and attend regular meetings to plan and make decisions. Technology maximizes the effectiveness of these meetings. Some of the ways software for local governments empowers effective municipalities include the following:

  • Streamlines meeting management
  • Facilitates effective collaboration 
  • Enhances accessibility and transparency 
  • Eliminates the need for physical paper-based documentation, which saves costs and promotes sustainability
  • Centralizes data storage, making managing and analyzing information easier
  • Facilitates citizen engagement and participation with features like online comment submission, interactive surveys, and virtual town halls

One such technology is eScribe. eScribe is an end-to-end meeting management platform designed for the public sector. City council members and other city officials can use it to improve the effectiveness of their meetings.

eScribe simplifies holding meetings, reduces administrative workloads, and opens new channels for citizen engagement and transparency. It has powerful tools to help city council members and other city officials create accessible, inclusive, and engaging public forums — without paper or time-consuming manual processes.

Some of the eScribe features most valuable to city council members include:

  • Meeting Manager: Create, share, modify, and collaborate on meeting materials in real-time.  
  • Meeting Minutes: Take minutes directly within the platform and mark motions as the meeting progresses. 
  • Reporting and Workflows: Manage deadlines, track statuses, save time, and handle reports and approvals with ease.
  • Collaboration Tools: Give elected officials the freedom to work from anywhere by providing secure access for searching for and reviewing content, downloading meeting materials, and keeping track of comments, notes, and action items.

eScribe is the right software solution for city councils and other local government agencies. Don’t just take our word for it. Learn how the software streamlined processes for the City of Greensboro


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Qualifications Do You Need to be a City Council Member?

The qualifications to be a city council member may differ by city. Common requirements include:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a United States citizen
  • Be a resident of the city, state, and district you’re running in
  • Be a registered voter
  • Have a clean legal record
  • Have no conflicts of interest

Research your city’s requirements to see if you meet all of them before pursuing the role.

How Do You Address a City Council Member?

Different cities or regions may have different ways of addressing council members, so you should research the customs or guidelines of the jurisdiction you’re vying in.

Common ways to address a city council member include the following:

  • Title + Last name: For example, Councilmember Smith
  • Mr./Ms./Mrs. + Last name: For example, Mr. Smith