Duties and Powers: Executive Functions

from MMA's Handbook for Municipal Officers
prepared by Joseph J. Wathen, MMA Staff Attorney, June, 1991

This Maine Municipal Association publication is presented for "Classroom Use Only."  Its intended use is to stimulate and aid in discussion and role playing within a classroom setting.


Executive Function

Under a town meeting form of government, the duty of the municipal officers is to execute the will of the people as that will has been expressed legislatively at a town meeting. In a town meeting town, therefore, the municipal officers and all the other municipal officials (either elected or appointed by the municipal officers) represent the executive branch of the municipal government, of which the municipal officers are the chief executive officers.

The specific executive duties of the municipal officers are so many and varied that this entire handbook is devoted to their description. In an effort to categorize those duties, however, it is helpful to think of the town as a corporation, which is exactly what it is--a municipal corporation. In order to safeguard and advance the interests of a municipal corporation, the municipal officers are ultimately responsible for four broad areas of corporate management:

1) Management of the municipal finances. This responsibility includes assessing, budgeting, money management, payroll and purchasing supervision, record keeping, asset maintenance, and so on.

2) Protecting the health, safety and welfare of the residents, in accordance with federal, state and local laws and regulations. Responsibilities in this area include administering General Assistance, supervising the administration of such public safety systems as the police, fire or rescue departments, managing solid waste disposal, applying environmental and land use regulations, administering or supervising the administration of licensing and permitting procedures, etc.

3) Management of public property and personnel. Duties in this area include both the day-to-day management and long-term management planning for roads, town buildings, parks, equipment, etc., as well as such personnel management duties as payroll and employee benefit planning, performance evaluation, dispute or grievance management, and perhaps labor negotiations.

4) Management of contracts and relations with other State and local agencies and the public. It is the municipal officers, ultimately, who deal on behalf of the town with other municipalities, state agencies, state legislators, members of Congress, area businesses, the press, parties who want to sue the town, and the public.

Quasi-judicial Function

A town's board of municipal officers also performs a local "quasi-judicial" function. The primary distinction between the duties belonging to the actual judicial branch of government (i.e., the state and federal court systems) and the quasi-judicial responsibilities falling to the local municipal officers is that the municipal officers are not empowered to pass judgement concerning a defendant's guilt or innocence, impose sentences on defendants, or incarcerate. The scope of quasi-judicial decisions made at the local level includes the issuance of permits or licenses, some local appeal processes, and personnel grievance and appeal actions. Virtually every quasi-judicial decision made at the local level can be appealed to a court of law.