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Feb 18

Modesto Civics 101: The Mayor and City Council

Posted on February 18, 2021 at 3:41 PM by Alyssa Adams

For many of us, the last time we took a civics course was in the 1900’s, and much of that course probably focused on the three branches of the federal government—not the checks and balances within local city government. This four-part series focuses on how Modesto’s government is organized, with this week’s focus on the Mayor and City Council.

Since the City Charter was adopted in 1951, the City of Modesto has had a Council-Manager type of government. The City Council is made up of six Council Members and the Mayor, who collectively appoint a City Manager (this role—and the three other Charter Officers—will be covered in part three).

The governing body of the City is made up of the Council and Mayor. As a whole, their job is to set policy that is in the best interest of the City and its residents. The Council approves various ordinances, approves the annual budget, and reviews the performance of the Charter Officers.

The Council is composed of City residents that are to represent the area in which they live. Accordingly, residents elect an individual from each of the six districts to the City Council as their representative for four years. The district elections are staggered to reduce Council turnover. Districts 2, 4, and 5 are up for election during national general elections (those held to elect a president). Districts 1, 3, and 6 are up for election during national midterm elections (those held two years into a president’s term).

The Mayor is recognized as the head of the City and represents Modesto to other governmental agencies. While sharing the Council’s responsibilities listed above, the Mayor also explains policies, programs, and the needs of the City government to the community. The Mayor may make recommendations on policies and programs to the City Manager and appoint citizen advisory groups to assist in the Council’s work.

The Mayor is elected by a majority vote. If there is no majority vote in the general November election, a runoff election is held between the top two candidates in February. The candidate who wins that majority vote takes office.

The City’s newly elected Mayor Sue Zwhalen will take office on February 23, at the next City Council meeting. She served on the Modesto City School Board for eight years and worked as a registered nurse for 38 years.