The role of mayor is equivalent to chief executive officer for a city. From directing the administrative structure, to appointing department heads the mayor has the responsibility of overseeing daily operations. The mayor also has veto power over legislation that comes from the city council.
Metro Atlanta is vast, covering five counties — Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Cobb and Gwinnett — with 55 cities fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle. Last November, the folks in 14 cities voted to re-elect their mayor, and 11 cities elected someone new.
Atlanta Civic Circle has put together a Q&A series with metro mayors, starting with the newly re-elected incumbents, to give readers an inside look at who these city leaders are.
We spoke with one veteran mayor, Vince Williams, who just began his third term as the mayor of Union City, for some insight into what it’s like to lead a metro-Atlanta city.
Union City covers 19.7 square miles in Fulton County and is home to nearly 27,000 residents with a $45,324 median household income, according to the latest Census data.
Williams has his ear to the ground regarding the issues confronting the Atlanta metro area and nationally. Since he was first elected in 2013, he’s served in leadership roles for numerous local and national organizations dedicated to effective city leadership.
Williams is currently president of the National League of Cities, vice-chair of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, a state agency that supports community and economic growth, and the immediate past president of the Georgia Municipal Association, a nonprofit that offers legislative advocacy support and educational services for its members.
Except for the mayor of Atlanta, all of these metro mayors serve part-time, which is also the case for most mayors in Georgia. But it’s a demanding job.
Williams said his position was described as part-time, but he knew he would have to be available full-time to get the job done.
“This is 24/7,” he said.
When he’s not helping lead Union City, Williams also serves as the associate pastor at Atlanta’s iTHRIVE Christian Church.
“What I do as a mayor and as a pastor is so similar because what I do is provide opportunity and a listening ear for individuals who feel like they have no one to speak to,” he added. “I’m looking at ways to open opportunities for my entire community or entire congregation.”
What do metro Atlanta mayors actually do? The elected officials work with their city councils to write laws and ordinances, put together an annual budget, hire city department heads and staff, appoint advisory boards, and, most visibly, serve as their city’s official representative for their constituents.
Williams makes around $20,000 a year as mayor.
“If I did this for the salary, I probably wouldn’t be here,” he said.
That sentiment is echoed by other metro-Atlanta mayors, who often maintain a second job.
Salaries vary widely for metro-Atlanta mayors, depending on their city’s size and budget. For the city of Atlanta, where it’s a full-time job, the mayor’s pay is $202,730.
The city of Roswell, which is one of the largest metro-Atlanta cities with about 93,000 residents, pays its mayor $40,000 a year for the part-time job. That’s a stark contrast to Chattahoochee Hills, with a population of about 3,300, where the annual salary is only $1,600.
Williams said that metro mayors often rely on a city manager for the more day-to-day aspects of running their metropolis. Union City’s city manager, Sonja Fillingame, offers him guidance on implementing policy to support the city’s goals, supervises day-to-day tasks for municipal services, and helps enforce policies.
The size of the city manager’s role varies with the size of the city, but Williams said they often receive a bigger paycheck than their elected mayoral counterparts.
The pressing issues
When asked the most pressing issues for mayors in the metro-Atlanta region, Williams identified: public safety, education, affordable housing, and homelessness.
“These issues are big not only for the metro Atlanta area but throughout this nation,” he said.
Because these issues are so widespread, collaboration with neighboring cities is a big part of the job. “You can’t stay in a private silo and solve all of those things,” he said. “You get a better viewpoint by speaking and working with others to hone in on what are some of the best solutions that we can lay out?”
Affordable housing and homelessness are two of Williams’ biggest concerns right now.
“One of the biggest things that I really want to see ended in my lifetime – and I think we could do it if we work together – is this issue around affordable housing, but also homelessness,” he said. “We’ve got to stop putting band-aids on it.”
Williams also highlighted the need, which stretches statewide, to support the youth of our communities, and give them opportunities to prosper.
“When you think about issues that are happening in the local schools with the violence that we’re seeing these days, what is driving that? How can we as a community come together to bring some better opportunities for our young people?” he said. “A number of young people want to excel and move on to amazing careers. Every kid doesn’t want to be in a gang. We have to find out what is driving that mindset.”
Because mayors represent their cities, Williams said, they have to be more intentional about how they present themselves when stepping into the community.
“I see [my constituents] at the grocery store, the dry cleaner, the service station, you name it,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest things that really can weigh heavy. I can’t go to the grocery store, like most people in my community, where I don’t run into somebody who wants to ask me about their water bill or their property taxes. But I certainly enjoy meeting my constituents.”
In Forest Park Mayor Angelyne Butler’s questionnaire, she reflected on a lesson learned in her last term, writing, “I like to say that as mayor, I am as celebrated and condemned as quickly as the next item on the agenda. With that, I learned to always be authentically me, never give in to demands and always stand firm on a decision.”
Meet the Mayors
Now that you’ve gotten a look at what mayors do, check out our Meet Metro’s Mayors series to learn about our newly re-elected mayors’ plans.
We’re starting with the 14 incumbents who’ve been re-elected, with cities ranging in size from Sandy Springs’ 108,080 residents to Rest Haven’s 45. Click here to meet the mayors.