How to Become a City Council Member (Step-by-Step)

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • August 9, 2023
how to become a city council member

Becoming a city council member provides a pathway to impact your community and shape its future positively. As a city council member, you become a voice for the residents, advocating for their needs during city council meetings and working toward creating a thriving and inclusive environment. Read on to learn more about this city government role.

What is a City Council Member?

A city council member is an elected official who serves on the city council—a legislative body responsible for making decisions and policies at the local level of government. They are entrusted with serving the best interests of the citizens within their city or municipality. 

City Council Member Roles and Responsibilities

City council members have various municipal roles and responsibilities. While these duties may depend on its governing structure, here are some common responsibilities:

  • Legislation and policymaking: City council members propose, debate, and vote on ordinances and resolutions that impact the city’s governance, public services, and quality of life. 
  • Budgetary oversight: City councils review and approve the city’s annual budget, ensuring financial resources are allocated effectively to meet the community’s needs.
  • Representing constituents: The city government listens to residents’ concerns and opinions, addresses their issues, and works toward implementing solutions that reflect the community’s interests.
  • Community engagement: City council members actively engage with the public, attending meetings, hosting town hall sessions, and participating in community events. 
  • Collaboration and decision-making: Council members collaborate with fellow councilors, city staff, and community stakeholders to develop and implement policies that benefit the city. 
  • Oversight and accountability: City council members oversee the performance of city departments, ensuring services are delivered efficiently and per established policies. 

Civic engagement is at the core of this role, as council members must actively involve residents in decision-making processes. Types of civic engagement include community forums, town hall meetings, public hearings, and outreach initiatives promoting dialogue and gathering input from the community. These civic engagement examples show how residents can engage in the democratic process.

City Council Member Salary

The salary of a city council member depends on the city’s size, region, and specific policies. Local laws, ordinances, or compensation committees determine city council member salaries.

In smaller municipalities, council members may receive a modest stipend or per-meeting payment as compensation. In metropolitan areas, council member salaries tend to be higher to reflect the increased responsibilities and workload. Some cities also provide additional benefits and allowances, such as health insurance, retirement plans, or travel reimbursements.

Steps to Become a City Council Member

Becoming a city council member is a unique opportunity to participate in shaping your community’s direction and progress. However, the path to becoming a city council member requires careful planning and preparation. 

1. Complete a Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree equips you with critical thinking, research, and communication skills. These skills are highly beneficial for effective leadership and decision-making as a city council member. 

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree demonstrates your commitment to continuous learning, professionalism, and personal growth, enhancing your credibility and garnering trust from the community. Common fields of study for individuals who want to become city council members include public administration, urban planning, and finance. 

2. Secure an Internship

An internship provides you with firsthand experience and practical exposure to the inner workings of local government, policy development, and community engagement, such as city planning and public works. Securing an internship displays your willingness to gain real-life experience and develop a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities associated with city council work.

3. Earn a Graduate Degree

Graduate programs often emphasize critical thinking, research, and analytical skills. These skills prove valuable in conducting in-depth policy analysis, assessing community needs, and evaluating the impact of potential initiatives. 

Advanced training allows you to build relationships with people who share your passion for public service. The network gained can also provide support, mentorship, and potential collaboration opportunities in the future.

4. Start as an Assistant City Council Member

Working closely with experienced council members offers an invaluable learning opportunity. You can observe their leadership styles, learn about effective governance practices, and gain mentorship from individuals who have already navigated the intricacies of local government. You can also participate in discussions and witness the decision-making process. This experience provides valuable insights into the day-to-day responsibilities and dynamics of serving on the council.

5. Consider Obtaining a Certification

Certifications in specific fields, like governance, community engagement, or public policy, demonstrate your commitment to professional growth. This recognition can distinguish you as a competent and dedicated candidate for the city council.

Pursuing a certification displays your commitment to staying up-to-date with current practices and trends in local government. It proves your dedication to continuously enhancing your skills and knowledge, which is highly valued in public service roles.

Getting Started With eScribe

Technology improves the effectiveness of city council members by streamlining processes, enhancing communication, and facilitating data-driven decision-making. Among the various software solutions for local governments, eScribe offers a purpose-built platform meant to improve governance, ensure compliance, and streamline day-to-day operations. 

A council member’s job is to serve the people, and eScribe makes connecting elected officials with their citizens easier than ever.  eScribe features allow city officials to enhance civic engagement, giving people a way to participate in public meetings in-person or virtually, to speak and comment on current happenings, and get updated faster than ever.

Key features include:

Meeting Manager: Council members can streamline and automate tasks before, during, and after meetings, with unlimited customizable templates and workflows.

Meeting Minutes: Take minutes directly within the platform with eScribe’s Minutes Builder. Effortlessly make notes, create tasks, track attendance, 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: Provide secure access for searching for and reviewing content, downloading meeting materials, and keeping track of comments, notes, and action items—whether a council member is in the office or working remotely.