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Demystifying the Role: What Is a Mayor Pro Tem?

In the dynamics of local governance, a term that frequently comes up is ‘mayor pro tem’. But what is a mayor pro tem? This article aims to unravel this concept in the terminology of the United States, its duties, powers, and significance in the administrative machinery.

Understanding the Mayor Pro Tem

A term with Latin roots, ‘pro tempore’, translates to ‘for the time being’. A mayor pro tem or deputy mayor, as sometimes referred to, is a temporary placeholder, stepping into the shoes of the mayor during their absence or inability to discharge duties. The tenure of a mayor pro tem is temporary, contingent on the mayor’s availability.

Election of a Mayor Pro Tem

As per local governance laws, the mayor pro tem is elected from amongst the city council member persons. The election process may vary, but it generally involves a majority vote by the elected officials. The term of the mayor pro tem can differ based on the jurisdiction. For instance, in certain regions, the mayor pro tem holds office for a two-year term at the pleasure of the city council.

Duties and Powers of a Mayor Pro Tem

The mayor pro tem assumes the responsibilities of the mayor during their absence. These duties typically include presiding over council meetings. However, the mayor pro tem retains their voting rights, even when presiding over these meetings.

The role of a mayor pro tem extends beyond conducting meetings. They may also be tasked with representing the city at various events and functions in the mayor’s stead. In certain scenarios, the mayor pro tem might also need to step into the role of the emergency management director, overseeing emergency management powers at a local level.

Mayor Pro Tem in Different Jurisdictions

The role of a mayor pro tem varies across different jurisdictions, defined either by state statutes or home-rule charters. In general law cities, the mayor does not get a vote on city matters unless there is a tie. However, a mayor pro tem retains their voting rights in all scenarios.

Home-rule cities offer more flexibility, with the mayor’s duties explicitly set forth in the home-rule charter rather than in state statutes. Regardless of the type of city, the mayor pro tem plays a vital role in maintaining the smooth functioning of city governance during the absence of the mayor.

Mayor Pro Tem and Absence of The Mayor

A mayor’s absence could be due to various reasons – travel, illness, or personal emergencies. During such times, the mayor pro tem steps in to ensure that the city’s administrative functions do not come to a standstill.

In situations where the mayor is absent for extended periods due to incapacity, the council may declare the mayor’s powers and duties to be conferred upon the mayor pro tem. This arrangement can persist for as long as the mayor continues to be incapacitated.

Scope of Powers of a Mayor Pro Tem

The powers of a mayor pro tem are not limited to presiding over meetings. In certain jurisdictions, the council can confer upon the mayor pro tem any of the powers and duties of the mayor. This might include the authority to sign contracts, participate in agenda preparation, sign ordinances, and conduct various ceremonial functions.

Scenario of Extended Absence of The Mayor

In cases where the mayor is unable to perform their duties due to continued incapacity, and it appears they will not be able to return to the office, several scenarios can play out. One option is for the mayor to resign. However, if the mayor is unable or unwilling to make that decision, the board might consider invoking a common law mechanism known as ‘amotion’ to remove the mayor from office.

Mayor Pro Tem and Vacancy in Mayor’s Office

When a vacancy arises in the mayor’s office, the mayor pro tem does not automatically assume the role of the mayor. Instead, the city council has the authority to fill the vacancy as per local governance laws. The council can appoint any eligible person to the position, including the mayor pro tem.

Mayor Pro Tem in Times of Emergency

In times of emergency, the mayor pro tem may be called upon to exercise emergency management powers. Such situations might arise when the mayor is unable to perform their duties due to physical unavailability or incapacitation.


In essence, the role of a mayor pro tem is crucial in ensuring the seamless functioning of local governance. By stepping in during the absence of the mayor, the mayor pro tem ensures that the city’s administrative machinery does not come to a grinding halt. Whether it is presiding over council meetings or exercising emergency powers, the mayor pro tem plays a vital role in sustaining the city’s public administration during challenging times.



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