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The Milwaukee Common Council exercises all policy-making and legislative powers of the city, including the adoption of ordinances and resolutions, the approval of the city's annual budget, and the enactment of appropriation and tax levy ordinances. The council also has approval over the mayor's appointments of cabinet heads to direct day-to-day operations of city departments. In addition to their powers as legislators, council members serve as district administrators, responsible to the citizens in their districts for city services.

Milwaukee residents are encouraged to communicate with their elected officials in a variety of ways. The public is allowed to participate in the discussion of matters on the agenda at committee meetings of the council. Council members frequently host public Town Hall meetings in their districts and prepare and mail informative newsletters to constituents.

The president of the Common Council is elected by the council members at the beginning of the councils term and serves for four years. The president makes all appointments to the councils seven standing committees and many special committees, and presides over all meetings of the full council. He or she becomes acting mayor when the mayor is out of the city.

The seven standing committees of the Common Council are Community and Economic Development, Finance & Personnel, Judiciary & Legislation, Licenses, Public Safety, Public Works, and Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development. In addition, there is a Steering & Rules Committee comprised of the Common Council President, who is the chair, and the standing committee chairs. This committee has jurisdiction over extraordinary matters not covered by the responsibility of any standing committee.