Council-manager government

The council-manager government is one of 2 main variations of representative municipal government (for contrast, also see Mayor-Council government). In the council-manager form of government, an elected city council (typically between 5 and 11 people) is responsible for making policy, passing ordinances, voting appropriations, and having overall supervisory authority in the city government. In such a government, the mayor (or equivalent executive) will perform strictly ceremonial duties or will act as a member and presiding officer of the council.

The council will hire a manager or administrator who will be responsible for supervising government operations and implementing the policies adopted by the council. The manager serves at the pleasure of the council, usually with a contract that specifies duties and responsibilities. Ideally, the manager is apolitical, but this is often difficult.

Typical roles and responsibilities of a city manager include:

  • Supervising day-to-day operations of all city departments;
  • Supervising the department heads
  • Preparing a draft city budget each year with options the council votes on;
  • Researching and making recommendations about topics of interest to the council;
  • Meeting with citizens and citizen groups to understand their needs better;
  • Providing executive leadership that encourages good performance by city workers;
  • Operating the city with a professional understanding of how all city functions operate together to their best effect.

Typically, city managers have hire-fire authority over all city employees, though these decisions may be required to be approved by the council, and of also typically must comply with locally applicable civil service laws. This authority includes talent searches for "department heads" who are the managers of the city deparments.

Municipal (another word for 'city') governments are usually administratively divided into several departments, depending on the size of the city. Though cities differ in the division of responsibility, the typical arrangement is to have the following departments handle the following roles:

  1. City Planning and zoning:
  2. Public Works: construction and maintenance of all city-owned or operated assets, including the water supply system, sewer, streets, snow removal, street signs, vehicles, buildings, land, etc.
  3. Parks and Recreation: (construction and maintenance of) city parks, common areas, parkways, publically owned lands, etc. Also, operation of various recreation programs and facilities. Note: often this department operates as a regional entity with its own tax authority and governmental structure.
  4. Police
  5. Fire
  6. Accounting / Finance: collects taxes owed by the city, incorporates human resources department for city workers,
  7. Legal: handles all legal matters including writing municpal bonds, verifying the city is in compliance with state and federal mandates, responding to citizen lawsuits like lawsuits allegedly stemming from city actions or inactions. Typical legal actions include someone falling on city-owned sidewalks suing the city for negligence, a city annexing land,
  8. Transportation (varies widely): If the city has a municipal bus or light rail service, this function may be its own department or it may be folded into the another of the above departments.

The council-manager system can be seen to place all power into the hands of the legislative branch. However, a city manager can be seen as a similar role to that of corporate CEO in providing professional management to an organization. Council-manager government is much like a publically traded corporation. In a corporation, the board of directors appoints a CEO, makes major decisions, and weilds representative power on behalf of shareholders. In council-manager government, the city council appoints a city manager, makes major decisions, and wields representative power on behalf of the citizens.

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) (see http://icma.org ) is a professional organization for city managers. It was founded in 1914, and has 8000+ members worldwide.

This system of government is used in the majority of American cities with populations over 25,000.

History of the Council-Manager Government

This form of government was first adopted by Dayton, Ohio in 1913.

See also: mayor-council government, political science

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