The Council-Manager Form of Government

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Q: What is the council-manager form of government as used by the City of Madison Heights?

A: The council-manager form is the system of local government that combines the strong political leadership of elected officials in the form of a governing body (the city council) with the strong managerial experience of an appointed local government manager. The council-manager form establishes a representative system where all power is concentrated in the elected council and where the council hires a professionally trained manager to oversee the delivery of public services.

Q: Is it a responsive form of government?

A: In council-manager government, the mayor and council members are the leaders and policy makers elected to represent the community and to concentrate on policy issues that are responsive to citizens’ needs and wishes. The manager is appointed by the governing body to carry out policy and ensure that the entire community is being served.

Q: What is the council’s function?

A: The council is the legislative body; its members are the community’s decision makers. The council also focuses on the community’s goals, major projects and such long-term considerations as community growth, land use development, capital improvement plans, capital financing and strategic planning. The council hires a professional manager to carry out the administrative responsibilities and supervises the manager’s performance.

Q: Where does the mayor of the city fit in?

A: In council-manager communities, typically the mayor presides at council meetings, serves as a spokesperson for the community, facilitates communication and understanding between elected and appointed officials, assists the council in setting goals and advocating policy decisions and serves as a promoter and defender of the community. In addition, the mayor serves as a key representative in intergovernmental relations. The mayor, council and manager constitute a policy-development and management team.

Q: What is the manager’s function?

A: The manager is hired to serve the council and the community and to bring to the local government the benefits of training and experience in administering local government projects and programs on behalf of the city council. The manager prepares a budget for the council’s consideration: recruits, hires and supervises the governments’ staff; serves as the council’s chief adviser; and carries out the council’s policies. Council members and citizens count on the manager to provide complete and objective information, the pros and cons of alternatives and longer-term consequences.

Q: What is the cost to the local government of appointing a professional manager?

A: Local governments have found that overall costs actually have been reduced with competent management. Savings come in the form of reduced operating costs, increased efficiency and productivity, improve revenue collection or effective use of technology.

Q: Does the manager participate in policy determination?

A: The manager makes policy recommendations to the council, but the council may or may not adopt them and may modify the recommendations.

Q: Is this form of government used only in certain kinds of cities?

A: No. More than 3,400 cities operate under this form.

Q: How many Americans live in communities that operate under council-manager government?

A: More than 89 million.

Q: Is the form popular in large communities?

A: Yes. Out of 237 cities with greater than 100,000 residents, 141 use this form of government. Major cities using the council-manager system include Charlotte, NC; Dallas, TX; Las Vegas, NV; Oklahoma City; OK; Phoenix, AZ; San Antonio, TX; and San Diego, CA.

Q: What is the history of the council-manager form?

A: Born out of the progressive reform movement at the beginning of the 20th century, the council-manager system of local government is one of the few original American contributions to political theory. In 1908, Staunton, VA instituted the first position legally defining, by ordinance, the board authority and responsibility associated with today’s professional local government manager. Sumter, SC was the first city to adopt a charter incorporating the basic principles of council-manager in 1929. Westmount, Quebec, introduced the form to Canada in 1913. The first large city to adopt the plan was Dayton, OH, in 1914. The first counties to adopt it is in the 1930s were Arlington County,VA and Durham County and Robeson County, NC.

Since its establishment, the council-manager form has become the most popular form of government in the United State in communities with populations of 5,000 or greater. The form is also popular in Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Honduras, Chile and Brazil. For more than 94 years, council-manager government has responded to the changing needs of citizens and their communities.

Q: Where do managers get their experience?

A: Nearly 73 percent of managers surveyed by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) have a master’s or a professional degree. Respondents indicated that they had spent an average of 17 years in the local government management profession.

Q: Do managers participate in local politics?
A: All managers who belong to ICMA are bound by its Code of Ethics, which states that every member of the Association shall refrain from all political activities that undermine public confidence in professional administrators and refrain from participation in the election of members of employing legislative body.

Q: What else does ICMA’s Code of Ethics cover?

A: The Code specifies 12 ethical principles of personal and professional conduct, including dedication to the cause of good government. ICMA members believe in the effectiveness of representative democracy and the value of government services provided equitably to residents within a community. ICMA members also are committed to standards of honesty and integrity more vigorous than those required by the law.

Q: What is ICMA?

A: ICMA has been the professional and education organization for administrators and assistant administrators serving cities, towns, counties other local governments and regional entities around the world. The purpose of ICMA is to create excellence in local governance by developing and fostering professional local government management worldwide.