Mayors vs City Managers

If It’s Broke, It’s Time 2 Fix It, Don’t U Think?

A city manager is an official appointed as the administrative manager of a city, in a council-manager form of city government. Local officials serving in this position are sometimes referred to as the chief executive officer (CEO) or chief administrative officer (CAO) in some municipalities. However, in a technical sense, the term “city manager,” as opposed to CAO, implies more discretion and independent authority that is set forth in a charter or some other body of codified law, as opposed to duties being assigned on a varying basis by a single superior such as a mayor.

The city manager, operating under the council-manager government form, was created in part to remove city government from the power of the political parties, and place management of the city into the hands of an outside expert who was usually a business manager or engineer, with the hope that the city manager would remain neutral to city politics.
By the end of the era [ which? ], around forty-five cities in the United States used a city manager form of government.

As the top appointed official in the city, the city manager is typically responsible for most if not all of the day-to-day administrative operations of the municipality, in addition to other expectations.

Some of the basic roles, responsibilities, and powers of a city manager include: Supervision of day-to-day operations of all city departments and staff, directly and through department heads;Oversight of all hiring, firing, disciplining and suspensions;Preparation, monitoring, and execution of the city budget, which includes submitting each year to the council a proposed budget package with options and recommendations for its consideration and possible approval;Main technical advisor to the council on overall governmental operations;Public relations, such as meeting with citizens, citizen groups, businesses, and other stakeholders (the presence of a mayor may alter this function somewhat);Operating the city with a professional understanding of how all city functions operate together to their best effect;Attends all council meetings, but does not have any voting rights;Additional duties that may be assigned by the council. The responsibilities may vary depending upon charter provisions and other local or state laws, rules, and regulations. In addition, many states, such as the states of New Hampshire and Missouri, have codified in law the minimum functions a local “manager” must perform.

Manager members of the ICMA are bound by a rather rigid and strongly enforced code of ethics that was originally established in 1924. Since that time the code had been up-dated/revised on seven occasions, the latest taking place in 1998. The updates have taken into account the evolving duties, responsibilities, and expectations of the profession; however the core dictate of the body of the code–“to integrity;public service;seek no favor;exemplary conduct in both personal and professional matters;respect the role and contributions of elected officials;exercise the independence to do what is right;political neutrality;serve the public equitably and governing body members equally;keep the community informed about local government matters;and support and lead our employees”—have not changed since the first edition.

In the early years of the profession, most managers came from the ranks of the engineering professions. Today the typical and preferred background and education for the beginning municipal manager is a master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA) and at least several years’ experience as a department head in local government or as an assistant city manager. As of 2005 more than 60% of those in the profession had a MPA, MBA, or other related higher-level degree.

The average tenure of a manager is now 7–8 years and has risen gradually over the years. Tenures tend to be less in smaller communities and higher in larger ones, and they tend to vary as well depending on the region of the country.

The mayor-council form consists of an elected mayor (elected at-large), who serves as the city’s chief administrative officer, and a council (elected either at-large or from districts), which serves as the municipality’s legislative body. The council has the authority to formulate and adopt city policies and the mayor is responsible for carrying them out. The mayor attends and presides over council meetings but does not vote, except in the case of a tie.

Mayoral veto authority is specified in the state laws relating to each city classification or is determined by local charter. In first class cities, the mayor’s veto authority is specified in the city charter. In second class cities, the mayor may veto an ordinance, but the mayor’s veto can be overridden by five members of the council. In code cities, the mayor may veto ordinances, but the mayor’s veto can be overridden by a majority plus one of the entire council membership. Town mayors do not have a veto power.

Many mayor-council cities have hired professional city administrators to serve under the mayor and assist with administrative and policy-related duties. By doing so, these cities seek to gain the benefits of professional management, allowing the mayor to focus greater attention on policy development, political leadership roles or their own livelihood.

The council-manager form consists of an elected city council which is responsible for policy making, and a professional city manager, appointed by the council, who is responsible for administration. The city manager provides policy advice, directs the daily operations of city government, handles personnel functions (including the power to appoint and remove employees) and is responsible for preparing the city budget.

Under the council-manager statutes, the city council is prohibited from interfering with the manager’s administration. The city manager, however, is directly accountable to and can be removed by a majority vote of the council at any time.

The mayor in council-manager cities is generally selected by the city council. The person selected must also be a councilmember. The charter of a first class city or the voters of an optional municipal code city, according to the provisions of RCW 35A.13.033, may provide for the mayor to be directly elected by the people. The mayor presides at council meetings and is recognized as the head of the city for ceremonial purposes, but has no regular administrative duties.

Any city may change its form of government and adopt another authorized form of government. In general, the procedure may be initiated either by a resolution adopted by the city council or by a petition process, both of which are then followed by an election on the issue of reorganizing under a different form of government. For more detailed information on procedures for changing forms of government, see Reorganizing/Changing Form of Government.

The way that I see it is this. If the type of government that you currently have isn’t working, then you should at least try the other one. It can’t hurt. I had a younger colleague of mine who first brought the city manager type of government to my attention. Like they say, you live and you learn. The way our government is going in my city, change needs to come. Why not try the city manager? They’ve already dumped an emergency manager in our collective laps. Someone who knows what they are doing needs to do just that. It can’t be any worse than what we are currently going through. But that’s just my thoughts. What’s yours?

kcasrkev
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