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State AG opines on Mayor’s buying power


According to an opinion recently issued by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge the mayor of a city has sole authority to make purchases for public purposes on behalf of the city.
The legal opinion is in response to a question asked by State Senator Larry Teague on behalf of Mount Ida Mayor Jo Childress regarding the interpretation of Ark. Code Ann. § 14-58-303 (Supp. 2015).
Teague’s question read: “Does Arkansas Code Annotated § 14-58-303, or any other Code section, allow a city council to pass an ordinance limiting a mayor’s ability to make purchases for public purposes in and for the city?”
The question was in response to an incident that occurred during the September 2016 city council meeting. During the meeting Alderwoman Margaret Scurlock questioned the purchase of a zero turn mower by the city without council approval. She cited a standing city ordinance requiring council approval on all purchases over $1,000.
It was also discussed that the city had hired a firm to conduct a helium leak detection test on city water lines without council approval.
During discussion on the topic Alderman Rick Farmer cited  Arkansas Code Annotated § 14-58-303 as proof that the Mayor didn’t need council approval. He further stated that state law superseded city ordinances.
Mayor Childress then asked Senator Teague to request the legal opinion of the state attorney general’s office on the matter.
Attorney General Rutledge stated in her opinion the mayor or his designee has the sole authority to make purchases for public purposes on behalf of the city. She added that a city cannot pass an ordinance that would prevent or restrict the mayor’s exercise of this exclusive authority to make purchases.
She went on to write that the mayor’s authority is conditioned by the fact that the city council must first appropriate the funds, and that the expenditures must be for a public purpose. Additionally, the city council has the general power to revise an appropriation which would limit the mayor’s spending power with respect to that appropriation, so long as doing so does not divert tax revenues levied for specific purposes or prejudice the rights of creditors.
She did opine that although not a strict limitation on the mayor’s authority to spend, a city council may provide by ordinance procedures for making purchases.
In her discussion Attorney General Rutledge explained that municipalities derive their legislative powers from the general laws of the State.
She stated  “Cities have no inherent powers and can exercise only (1) those expressly given them by the state through the constitution or by legislative grant, (2) those necessarily implied for the purposes of, or incident to, these express powers and (3) those indispensable (not merely convenient) to their objects and purposes. Cities are empowered to enact provisions concerning municipal affairs, provided that they do not conflict with state law.”
She reiterated with respect to fiscal affairs, Ark. Code Ann. § 14-58-303 provides that city and town mayors or their duly authorized representatives have exclusive power and responsibility to make purchases of all supplies, apparatus, equipment, materials, and other things requisite for public purposes in and for the city and to make all necessary contracts for work or labor to be done or material or other necessary things to be furnished for the benefit of the city, or in carrying out any work or undertaking of a public nature in the city.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge added that since Mount Ida is a Class 2 municipality the opinion only responded to the question in regards to Class 2 municipalities.

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