I get asked that question a lot. In the grocery store, at work, at church, and yes, even at home. What is a “common council?” I thought I would spend my first column laying out the facts. Hopefully this will help you understand what our role in city government is and how we affect your daily lives.
First, let’s clarify one thing: a “common council” is the same thing as a “city council.” Our founding fathers some 200 years ago simply stated that we would have a “common council.” What they probably did not expect was to have nine very “uncommon” people serving! That’s another column for another day.
The Common Council is the legislative and fiscal body of the city made up of six district representatives and three at-large representatives. Much like Washington has Congress and the State of Indiana has the General Assembly, Noblesville has the Common Council. Our job is to the set the laws of our community. We pass two different types of policy: ordinances and resolutions. Resolutions simply state the “will” of the council. For example, several years ago the Common Council passed a resolution outlying our priority projects. We have little authority to make those projects happen, but we can publically state that we are in favor of them and encourage the Mayor to push ahead towards their completion (ie: Pleasant Street and State Road 37). An ordinance is actual law such as speed limits, zoning changes, budgets and golf cart usage, just to name a few.
One of the biggest and most important duties the Common Council has is to be the fiscal body of the city. Much like the state’s General Assembly, our job is to approve the city’s annual operating budget. We spend hours and hours each summer and fall holding budget hearings with department heads, citizens, and other elected officials. We look for ways to cut spending, and also examine new ways to invest your hard earned tax dollars. All of which will be presented in a budget ordinance in the fall.
So, let’s consider a hypothetical example. If the Mayor wants to build a new park, does the Common Council get a say in that decision? Well, we cannot stop the Mayor from announcing the new park, but we can choose whether or not to fund the new park. Furthermore, we can choose whether to allow the purchase of the land that would be needed in order to construct the park. Finally, we can approve or deny the change in zoning of the land that needs to be purchased in order to build the park.
I hope this helps you better understand the role of the Common Council. In future weeks, we will talk about actual issues impacting our city. I look forward to this dialogue and the opportunity to better communicate with the citizens of my hometown!
Chris Jensen is President of the Noblesville City Council.