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Special Feature

Is a Mayor Elected or Appointed?

Firstly, who or what is a mayor?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a “mayor is the chief executive (officer) of a city or town”. Or a mayor is 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 the decision of the nation’s Supreme Court, purely, in legal terms – continues to be the subject of heated, passionate encounters in barber shops, beauty salons, offices and intellectual discourses at dinner tables, 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 166-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, Liberty/CDC (political parties) Versus the Executive Branch of Government, “Presidential Powers to Appoint City Mayors”, decided on January 11, 2008.

In this legal contest, the President of Liberia sought lawful powers to appoint City Mayors, but the political parties disagreed and went to court, on the grounds that granting (by the Court) and exercising appointment powers (by the 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 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 responded by the arguments that:

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a)  Although “the Constitution is . . . Silent on the issue of ‘city mayors’ – 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”.

b)  “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”:

1. “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)”.

2. “The Majority (decision of the Supreme Court) has allowed the President power which the Constitution clearly does not grant. Therefore, the 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.”

Continuing this argument, but in terms of reason or logic, 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 . . .”

Now, Town Chiefs, elected Chief Executive (officials) of a rural town or village, are “other county officials and official of other political sub-divisions”. Mayors, Town Chiefs, Chief Executive (officials) of an urban town or city, are “other county officials and officials of other political sub-division”.

A “Mayor” or “Town Chief” is Chief Executive official of a town; the position of “mayor” or “town chief” is an identical position that performs identical functions in communities which are located in different parts of the nation, with different nomenclature or appellations (of “Mayor” and “Town Chief”) consistent with local understanding and usage. 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?

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