Alexandria is an independent city (Virginia cities have no county affiliation), which derives its governing authority from a charter granted by the Virginia General Assembly. Changes in the structure and powers of the City government are made by amending the Charter. This requires action by the General Assembly, usually upon the request of the City Council, following public hearings. The present City Charter was granted in 1950; it was amended extensively in 1968, 1971, 1976, and 1982.
By referendum in 1921, an overwhelming majority of the voters approved the adoption of the council-manager form of city government, which went into effect in September 1922. This form of government centralizes legislative authority and responsibility in the elected City Council. Administrative authority and responsibility are held by the City Manager, who is appointed by the City Council.
The City of Alexandria is a member of the Virginia Municipal League.
The City Council is composed of a Mayor and six Council members who are elected at-large for three-year terms. Any in-term vacancy is filled by a special election unless the vacancy occurs within six months of the end of the term, at which time a judicial appointment is made. The Mayor, who is chosen on a separate ballot, presides over meetings of the Council and serves as the ceremonial head of government. The Mayor does not have the power to veto Council action. Council members traditionally choose the person receiving the most votes in the election to serve as Vice Mayor. In the absence or disability of the Mayor, the Vice Mayor performs the mayoral duties. The Mayor receives $30,500, and other Council members receive $27,500 per year.
Council determines the needs to be addressed and the degree of service to be provided by the administrative branch of the City government. Under Alexandria' s Charter, the Council has power to:
- Determine policy in the fields of planning, traffic, law and order, public works, finance, social services, and recreation;
- Appoint and remove the City Manager;
- Adopt the budget, levy taxes, collect revenues, and make appropriations;
- Appoint and remove the City Attorney;
- Authorize the issuance of bonds by a bond ordinance;
- Appoint and remove the City Clerk;
- Establish administrative departments, offices, and agencies;
- Appoint members of the Planning Commission, and other City authorities, boards, commissions, and committees;
- Inquire into the conduct of any office, department, or agency of the City and make investigations into municipal affairs;
- Provide for an independent audit; and
- Provide for the number, titles, qualifications, powers, duties, and compensation of all officers and employees of the City.
Legislative meetings of City Council are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 7:00 p.m. in Council Chambers, located on the second floor in City Hall. Public hearings are generally held on the Saturday following the second Tuesday in each month at 9:30 a.m. During July and August, City Council is in recess; however, special meetings may be held if the Council finds them necessary. The City Council operates under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which bars closed executive sessions of the Council, except for discussions on matters relating to personnel, pending litigation, and land acquisition.
Rules of procedures and speaker forms for those who wish to appear before the Council can be obtained from the Office of the City Clerk and in Council Chambers immediately before the convening of any public hearing. In addition, persons wishing to speak may telephone the City Clerk's Office during business hours and ask staff to prepare a speaker's form for them in advance of the Council meeting. Speaker's forms may also be submitted electronically by using the form posted on the City's website. Electronic forms must be transmitted by 5:00 p.m. on the day preceding the public hearing.
Each Council member has one administrative assistant to help with secretarial and administrative tasks as required. Administrative assistants may assist any Council member in any election campaign in Virginia except the member for whom the assistant works.
The City Manager (703.746.4300) is appointed by City Council, and serves as the chief executive officer of the City. The manager plans, organizes, directs, and coordinates all activities of City government; is responsible for developing the docket and related materials; attends all meetings of City Council; and advises Council on the financial condition and future needs of the City. The manager has the right to introduce ordinances and speak, but not to vote.
The manager prepares and submits the annual operating budget and capital improvement program and is responsible for their administration after adoption; prepares monthly and annual fiscal and activity reports; and appoints all City department heads and employees, except court and school personnel.
The City Clerk (703.746.4550) is appointed by Council and serves as its secretary. The Clerk prepares and distributes the docket for Council meetings and keeps minutes. Citizens may listen to or purchase an audio tape of any City Council meeting from the City Clerk. The Clerk is responsible for the custody and use of the Corporate Seal of the City and maintains, as a matter of record, all documents considered by the City Council. Copies of the docket may be obtained prior to Council meetings from the Clerk' s Office via U.S. Mail, e-mail, fax or electronically via the City's website. Copies of the City Code and the Zoning Ordinance are available on the City's website or may be purchased from the Clerk's Office.
The City Attorney (703.746.3750) is appointed by the City Council and is the legal advisor to the City Council, City Manager, and all departments, boards, commissions, and agencies of the City. The City Attorney renders opinions, on request; is responsible for drafting ordinances, deeds, affidavits, bonds, leases, and other legal papers; represents the City as counsel in civil cases; and institutes and prosecutes legal proceedings on behalf of the City.
Procedures for Enacting Legislation
Any member of the City Council or the City Manager can introduce an ordinance at any regular or special Council meeting, if prior public notice has been given in the docket, or without prior public notice if all the City Council members approve its introduction. If the legislation passes once (first reading), it goes to a public hearing after proper public notice. Following public hearing, it either passes or fails on the second reading.
The City Council frequently considers specific issues less formally at "work sessions." Appropriate City staff attend these sessions to provide information to the Council. Rules regarding public participation at each work session vary according to Council decision. Since a work session is not an official meeting of City Council, no votes are taken.
The Budget Process
The budget is prepared by the City Manager and is usually submitted to City Council at a regularly scheduled meeting in the middle of March. It includes the operating budget, capital improvement program, and an explanatory budget message. Since the City Charter requires the City Manager to submit a balanced budget, the Manager may propose altering or adding taxes as needed to comply with this requirement. Council sets a time and place for public hearings (one of which must be at least 60 days before the beginning of the next fiscal year) and publishes notices of these hearings. The school budget, which is included in the City Manager' s proposed budget, is initiated by the School Board, forwarded to the City Manager for recommendations or changes, and submitted to the City Council for approval.
In addition to real estate, the City may tax personal property, cigarettes, hotel and motel rooms, restaurant meals, business gross receipts, utilities, admissions, and sales. Personal income and certain public service franchises are taxed only by the State.
Individual cities are restricted by the State from borrowing money through bond issues in excess of 10 percent of the total assessed valuation of real estate subject to taxation. Bonded indebtedness in Alexandria has been incurred for major capital improvement projects such as schools, parks, flood control, public buildings, streets, and rapid transit. Debt service charges are included in the operating budget. The City' s AAA/Aaa credit rating and sound fiscal policies result in a favorable interest rate on the sale of its bonds. An annual independent audit is required by the City Charter.