Is a Mayor Elected or Appointed?


By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
September 12, 2014

                  


 

Introduction

Firstly, who or what is a mayor?  

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a “mayor is chief executive (officer) of a city or town”, the most senior manager of the socio-cultural, economic and political affairs of a city or town.

The answer to this question or debate - whether a mayor is elected or appointed, although answered recently by decision of the Liberian nation’s Supreme Court - continues to be the subject of heated, passionate encounters in barber shops, beauty salons, at dinner tables, in offices and political, intellectual discourses, especially, in the light of the rocky, 8-year term of Mrs. Mary Broh as an “appointed, Acting Mayor” of our Capital City of Monrovia, its impact on the cities, towns and villages in urban/rural Liberia and the nation’s 167-year history as a democracy.

Moreover, given our post-conflict transition, the debate is critical and crucial in the interpretation and, therefore, understanding of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Liberty/CDC (political parties) Versus the Executive Branch of Government, “Presidential Powers to Appoint City Mayors”,decided on January 11, 2008.

The Issues

In this legal contest, the President of Liberia sought lawful powers to appoint Mayors of Cities, but the political parties disagreed and went to court, on the grounds that granting (by a Court of law) and exercising appointment powers (by a sitting President) would be a serious violation of Liberian Law and tradition upon which mayors of urban towns/cities and town chiefs of rural villages/towns had been and are being elected throughout the history of the Republic.

However, the Supreme Court was not persuaded by this argument and ruled in favor of the President, on the grounds that Article 54(d) of the Liberian Constitution (of 1986) grants the President such appointment powers.That article provides that “The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the senate, appoint and commission, superintendents, other county officials and officials of other political sub-divisions”.  Since, the Court argued, Mayors, chief Executive officials of towns/cities of urban areas, are “other county officials and officials of other political sub-divisions”, therefore, city mayors are or may be appointed by the President, by implication.

The Political Parties disagreed and responded by the arguments that:

1.  Although “the Constitution is . . . silent on the issue of ‘city mayors’ or mayors of cities - whether they are elected or appointed officials - a Constitution, by definition, sets out broad principles, leaving the details to be brought out by the Legislature, in some instances by enabling legislation”. Moreover, “The drafters (of the 1986 Constitution), realizing that every pre-existing statute could not be embodied in the Constitution, opted for Article 95(a) of the (1986) Constitution which provides for the continuous validity of every law (of the abrogated, 1847 constitution which, in this case, provided that city mayors be elected) that is not inconsistent with any provision of the (1986) Constitution. The (this) maxim”, the Political Parties argued, “is used as an aid to constitutional and statutory interpretation”.

2. “The Constitution (of 1986) lists the officials that are to be appointed by the President; no where does it say that the President may appoint a city mayor. Therefore, pursuant to the maxim, the power to appoint city mayors is clearly withheld from the President. What the Majority opinion (decision of the Supreme Court) has done is”:

3. “Inverse application of the maxim. But application of the maxim does not create a presidential, appointment power because it is not mentioned; it excludes the power to appoint city mayors because the power to appoint others is mentioned; but, it is not (in the case of city mayors)”.

4. “The Majority (decision of the Supreme Court) has allowed the President power which the Constitution clearly does not grant. Therefore, decision of the Majority is contrary to the settled principle of constitutional law that a grant of enlarged power by a constitutional provision should not be rested upon doubtful implication arising from the omission of a previous expressed limitation.”

Now, continuing this argument, but in terms of reason or logic supported by direct constitutional provision, let us look at Article 56(b) of the same, Liberian Constitution (of 1986) which provides that “There shall be elections of Paramount, Clan and Town Chiefs by the registered voters in their respective localities, to serve for a term of six years . . .”
 
Town Chiefs are Chief Executive (officials) of a ruraltowns or villages, and are “other county officials and officials of other political sub-divisions”.

Mayors are Chief Executive (officials) of an urbantowns or cities, and are “other county officials and officials of other political sub-division”.

The position of Mayor and the position of Town Chief are identical positions and perform identical functions in communities located in different parts (urban and rural) of the nation with different nomenclatures or appellations of “Mayor” and “Town Chief”, consistent local usage and understanding. Both positions are “other county officials and officials of other political sub-divisions”.

Therefore, a mayor who, in fact, is a “town chief”, should be and is an elected official, as provided and directed explicitly, by Article 56(b) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.

May we have your thoughts - argument and conclusion?



Reneas
Isn’t the same chief justice that ruled on this the same individual elected at the behest of the President? That alone should answer the argument. Why bite the hand that feeds you, especially if it is happy to overfeed you?
Reneas at 08:10AM, 2014/09/12.
Anthony Cofrancesco
According to Wikipedia,"A town is a human settlement larger than a village but smaller than a city."

In normal circumstances, the City Mayor has more responsibilities than the Town Chief due to a larger human settlement under it's jurisdiction. In the minds of most Liberians,is the Town chief considered a Mayor of a city? Is it due to the kind of responsibilities a Mayor should have? I mentioned this, because the Mayor duties may be the same as the Town Chief but the difference in human settlement makes it compelling to consider the mayor as having more responsibilities than the town chief.With that being said, a person with a larger responsibility should be mentioned over the smaller;instead the smaller was mentioned in Article 56(B) without respect of the larger.Therefore one would conclude that Article 56(b)did not intend to include the Mayor position.I believe the Supreme Court was right in it's interpretation of Article 56(b).

The analogy to the topic is:Two people are doing similar jobs,but one has a larger responsibility than the other.You mentioned in policy the person with a lesser responsibility and left out the person with the greater responsibility.What is the message? Therefore the Supreme Court interpreted Article 56(b)as was written in the constitution of 1986, that “There shall be elections of Paramount, Clan and Town Chiefs by the registered voters in their respective localities, to serve for a term of six years . . .” The Mayor position was not mentioned excluding it from the rest of the elected positions.

I am not a lawyer,nor an authority on interpreting the constitution;but expressing an opinion as i understand Article 56(B)to mean.
Anthony Cofrancesco at 12:02PM, 2014/09/12.
Teah Jardia
The judicial system of our country is a joke given the clowns that are serving and misinterpreting the law . People that serve on the Highest court should be individuals with virtues, not rogues with blood on their hands. Example, the so-called associate justice is a renowned LURD rebel and so is Philip Banks who is sooooo corrupt from Sawyer's days when he was justice minister. This little midget thinks government is never wrong even if it means the killing of poor citizen as was the case with the West point saga. Beside the city Mayor issue, there are countless number of constitutional violations by this president that should have warrant her removal but she is still president irrespective of her glaring incompetency. The country is in a mess period! We are paying a dear price for our stupidity and callousness...exhibiting benign positions toward a dangerous situation as having this woman as president. Ellen should have been in jail with Taylor instead of masquerading as president. Clearly, those the bullet didn't killed during the course of the war will now meet their fate from the deadly virus and that bag the answer to the question for those who are asking for constitutional fairness when the president and her coterie of friends are criminals and presiding over the affairs of the country.
Teah Jardia at 02:43PM, 2014/09/12.
Theodore Hodge


I think the gentleman (Mr. Gbala) raises a very important issue for discourse. We do ourselves a disservice by venting anger and frustration over other issues that are not pertinent to the discussion... Attacking the character of the Chief Justice or other associates is not helpful.

The question is: "Should mayors be appointed by the president or elected by the people?" The question is clear and opens up a debate. I believe all statements should address this one question for now.

To give my opinion, I think the position should be an elective one. The position has traditionally been elective. The original reason the president gave for going the appointment route was the cost associated with the exercise: It was too expensive to conduct mayoral elections. If that is the case, instead of going to the courts, that issue (of Elections Finance) should have been addressed...

But now that the Supreme Court has already ruled on the matter, our opinions are moot. You cannot take an appeal beyond the Supreme Court, it being the highest court of the land. But I guess that does not stop the Court of Public Opinion from considering the case before us...
Theodore Hodge at 06:23AM, 2014/09/13.
Jerome Gayman
Again, the learned Professor, Dr. Sawyer has failed where he could have made a difference. Notwithstanding, the Supreme Court exploited an ambiguous Article. The issue(s) can be remedied by the Liberia Legislators,through the amendment process if not,through a REAL National Referendum, where the people can settle the dispute once and for all.In a Western Democracy, at least in these United States, the Governor (Superintendent-Liberia)is elected on the State Level and City Mayor is elected to run city or local government.If we had a competent Legislature, they could have or can bring clarity to the issues. But, I will not hold my breath!
Jerome Gayman at 09:50PM, 2014/09/13.
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