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Home > Leadership > Common Council > History of the Common Council

History of the Common Council

The Buffalo Common Council- Through the Years

For almost one hundred years – from its incorporation on April 20, 1832 until December 31, 1927 – the City of Buffalo operated under a series of charters issued by New York State.  The series of charters facilitated what was known as a Commission for Government, whereby all powers of the city were vested in a single body identified as the Buffalo City of Buffalo Common Council.  The last of these charters was issued in 1914 and established a Council that consisted of five members – a Mayor and four Council Members. 

At that time, the Mayor presided over all Council sessions and could vote on issues, but lacked the power to veto items.  The Council enacted all of the laws and ordinances of the City in addition to exercising all executive and administrative functions of the City’s daily operations.  The Mayor and Council Members essentially served in a dual role as Council Member / Commissioners, whereby each lead a department, established departmental policy and appointed all of the department’s officers and employees.

It was not until the spring of 1924 that New York State authorized its cities to write their own charters.  Two years later, on November 2, 1926, the voters of the City of Buffalo empowered then Mayor Frank X. Schwab to appoint a seven member body to create a new charter for the City of Buffalo which became known as the Kenefick Commission after the last name of the commission’s chairman.  The most significant recommendation that came from this commission was the need to establish a municipal government under which legislative and executive powers would be separated. 

Under the commission’s proposal, the Common Council would be vested with all legislative powers of the City and the power to confirm the Mayor’s major administrative appointments.  The Mayor would be charged with all executive and administrative functions and control the day-to-day affairs of the City.  Under this proposal, the Mayor would largely be divorced from the legislative process of government, but would be given the power to veto actions taken by the Council.  On August 29, 1927 the Kenefick Commission’s proposal were submitted to the voters at a special election, and on January 1, 1928 the City of Buffalo’s new charter officially took effect.  

In 1983 and 2002, significant revisions were made to the Charter that reduced the number of Members serving on the Council.  A 1983 revision eliminated two at-large seats thereby reducing the number of Members on the Council to thirteen; three Members and a Council President to be elected from the City at large, and one Member to be elected from each of the nine Council Districts.  Redistricting associated with the 2000 census led to all remaining at-large seats on the Council being eliminated in 2002, including the separately elected position of Council President.  Despite these changes, the commission’s vision of a municipal government where legislative and executive powers would be vested in separate branches of government has endured, and the Charter remains at its core essentially the same instrument that has guided the operation of the City since 1928.
 
Today, the City of Buffalo Common Council is organized as a representative assembly with one Member being elected from each of the nine Common Council Districts: Delaware, Ellicott, Fillmore, Lovejoy, Masten, Niagara, North, South and University.  At an organizational meeting held on January 2nd of each even-numbered year, the District Council Members vote from among their ranks to designate which Members will serve a two-year term as Council President, President Pro Tempore, Majority Leader and Minority Leader, should the Council be comprised of Members that are registered to different political parties.