City Manager Bob Baer
The following information is provided by the International City Manager’s Association (ICMA)
What is the council-manager form of government, which is used today by so many cities, towns and counties?
Council-manager government combines the strong political leadership of elected officials with the strong managerial experience of an appointed manager. All power and authority to set policy rests with an elected governing body, which includes a mayor or chairperson and members of the council, commission or board. The governing body in turn hires a nonpartisan manager who has very broad authority to run the organization.
Born out of the U.S. progressive reform movement at the turn of the 20th century, the council-manager system was designed to combat corruption and unethical activity in local government by promoting effective management within a transparent, responsive and accountable structure.
Since its establishment, the council-manager form has become the most popular structure of local government in the United States. The form is also widely used throughout the world in countries such as Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
How does council-manager government work?
The elected council or board represents their community and develops a long-range vision for its future. They establish policies that affect the overall operation of the community and are responsive to residents’ needs and wishes.
To ensure that these policies are carried out and that the entire community is equitably served, the governing body appoints a highly trained professional manager on the basis of his/her education, experience, skills and abilities (and not their political allegiances). If the manager is not responsive to the governing body, it has the authority to terminate the manager at any time.
What is the role of the manager under council-manager government?
The manager is hired to serve the council and the community and brings to the local government the benefits of his/her training and experience in administering municipal or county projects and programs. The manager prepares a budget for the council’s consideration; recruits, hires, terminates, and supervises government staff; serves as the council’s chief advisor; and carries out the council’s policies. Councilmembers and residents count on the manager to provide complete and objective information about local operations, discuss the pros and cons of alternatives, and offer an assessment of the long-term consequences of their decisions.
Appointed managers serve at the pleasure of the governing body. They can be fired by a majority of the council, consistent with local laws, or any employment agreements they may enter into with the council. The manager makes policy recommendations to the council for consideration and final decision. The manager is bound by whatever action the council takes, and control is always in the hands of the elected representatives of the people.
What value does a professional manager contribute to a community?
Professional managers contribute value to a community because they:
Work in partnership with elected officials to develop sound approaches to community challenges by bringing together resources to make the right things happen and produce results that matter.
Bring a community-wide perspective to policy discussions and strive to connect the past and future while focusing on the present. They help the governing body develop a long term vision for the community that provides a framework for policy development and goal setting. Promote ethical government through commitment to a set of ethical standards that goes beyond those required by law. Encourage inclusion and build consensus among diverse interests by focusing on the entire community rather than the centralized interests of one or two individuals.
Promote equity and fairness by ensuring that services are fairly distributed and that administrative decisions are based on merit rather than favoritism. Develop and sustain organizational excellence and promote innovation. They align the local government’s administrative systems with the values; mission and policy goals defined by the community and elected officials.