Atlanta City Council


The Atlanta City government is divided into two bodies: the legislative and the executive branches. The Council serves as the legislative branch of city government. City Departments, under the direction of the mayor, constitute the executive branch of city government.

Legislative Branch The legislative body, comprised of the Council, makes the laws that govern the city. It is responsible for the development of polices which serve as operational standards and establishes the parameters for the administration of city government.

Executive Branch The executive body carries out the laws that have been instituted by the Council. It is responsible for the day to day operations of city government.

City CharterA new Charter was enacted in 1996 that reduced the representation of Council to 12 districts and three at- large posts effective January 1998.  The Charter of 1974 resulted in many changes in Atlanta City government. Prior to its adoption, the legislative body was called the Board of Aldermen and each alderman was elected city-wide. The 1974 Charter changed the Board of Aldermen to the City Council; the vice-mayor to the president of the Council; and established 12 Council members to be elected from individual districts; as well as six at-large posts.  The administration of the day-to-day operation of city government was transferred to the executive branch, and legislative authority was vested in the Council. This system allows the Council to maintain a strong system of checks and balances,  which in turn, demands and implements sound fiscal policies

Legislative ProcessLegislation may be introduced on the floor of Council by a Councilmember as a personal paper, or as a committee agenda item.  In either case, legislation is referred to a committee for discussion at some time.

Ordinances and Resolutions

Legislation takes two forms, ordinances and resolutions. An ordinance establishes a permanent rule of government. Every official act of the Council, having the force and effect of law, must be an ordinance. Ordinances must be read before the full Council at two regular meetings. There are exceptions, for example, a Charter Amendment requires three readings. Resolutions usually express intent or support of various projects and enterprises or establish legislative policy of a general nature. Resolutions need be read only once and can be introduced and adopted at the same meeting.

Standing Committees

The standing committees meet to consider legislation and make recommendations on each item. The Committees then report their actions to the full Council. Approximately 150 pieces of legislation is handled per meeting. Citizens have the opportunity to appear before a standing committee or the full Council and to express their views on any piece of legislation. (Comments on matters related to zoning changes are heard by the Zoning Review Board which meets once a month and must give public notice of the hearing.)  In some cases, the Council is required by law to hold a public hearing and must notify the public about the hearing.

Final Action

After a paper has been through the committee process, it is voted on by the full Council. The Council may accept or reject the committee’s recommendations. A majority vote is needed for adoption. When a paper is adopted by the Council, it is transmitted to the mayor for signature. The paper must be approved or vetoed within eight days. If not signed or vetoed within that period, it automatically becomes law.  If vetoed, the Council may override with a two-thirds vote.