In the United States, an alderman is usually a figure elected to a city or town council to represent a division of that municipality's citizens. Together, the elected aldermen form a board that serves as the legislative branch of their city's or town's governmental body, with a mayor typically acting as the local government's executive head. Though the specific duties of the office vary from city to city, the parameters of its power are often set out in the constitution of the state within which the city is located.
American cities and towns are frequently subdivided into wards or districts. The number of these divisions depends upon the size of the municipality; a large city such as Chicago has 50 wards, while a smaller city like North Little Rock, Arkansas, has just four. Aldermen are elected by the residents of a ward to represent the ward's interests for a set term, often four years.
These officials may, at times, work closely with their constituents to address the day-to-day concerns of the ward. Constituents may apply to them, for instance, to seek the placement of a stop sign at a high-traffic intersection, the improvement of a public area that has become dilapidated, or the enforcement of a noise ordinance. Here, an alderman can act as a link between his ward’s citizens and the municipality. Should his constituents seek a legislative measure — the introduction of property upkeep laws, for example — he might bring their appeal to the city council on which he sits. If they contact him with complaints about an issue like inadequate waste collection services, he might speak directly to the appropriate city department to resolve the problem.
At other times, an alderman may act on his constituents’ behalf without this direct level of interaction. He will usually be required to attend regular city council meetings, where he will vote on items such as the allocation of city funds and the introduction of new traffic ordinances. In addition, he might be expected to sit on committees which assess certain programs and issues — property tax reviews, for instance — to examine their appropriateness and efficiency and to determine the most suitable course by which each should proceed. While, in these instances, the official may not be working face-to-face with the citizens of his ward, the effects of his efforts will be felt by them and should have been carried out in their interests.
Due to perceived sexist connotations, use of this term has been called into question by a number of municipal governments. In some cases it has been supplemented with the title "alderwoman" or replaced by the gender-neutral "alderperson." Other municipalities have done away with the title altogether, substituting the term "councilor."