The following content was provided courtesy of the International City/Council Management Association (ICMA).
The Council-Manager Form of Government: Answers to Your Questions
What is the council-manager plan, which is used in so many local governments?
The council-manager plan is the system of local government that combines the strong political leadership of elected officials in the form of a council or other governing body, with the strong managerial experience of an appointed local government manager. The plan establishes a representative system where all power is concentrated in the elected council as a whole and where the council hires a professionally trained manager to oversee the delivery of public services.
Is it a responsive form of government?
In council-manager government, council members are the leaders and policy makers in the community elected to represent various segments of the community and to concentrate on policy issues that are responsive to citizens' needs and wishes. The manager is appointed by council to carry out policy and ensure that the entire community is being served. If the manager is not responsive to the council's wishes, the council has authority to terminate the manager at any time. In that sense, a manager's responsiveness is tested daily.
What is the function of the council?
The council is the legislative body; its members are the community's decision makers. Power is centralized in the elected council, which approves the budget and determines the tax rate, for example. 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, rather than the administrative details. It hires a professional manager to carry out the administrative responsibilities and supervises the manager's performance.
The Naperville City Council, circa May 2009
What is the manager's function?
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 governing body. The manager prepares a recommended budget for the council's consideration; recruits, hires, and supervises the government's 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, pros and cons of alternatives, and long-term consequences. Managers formed a professional association, ICMA, in 1914 to help share expertise and experiences in local government management to best serve their communities.
What is the cost impact on the local government of appointing a professional manager?
Local governments have found that overall costs have actually been reduced with competent management. Savings may be in the form of reduced operating costs, increased efficiency and productivity, improved revenue collection, or effective use of technology.
Does the manager participate in policy determinations?
The manager makes policy recommendations to the council, but the council may or may not adopt them and may change or modify them. The manager is bound by whatever action the council takes.
Does the council-manager plan take only one form?
No. One of its most attractive features is that it is adaptable to local conditions and preferences. For example, some communities have councils that are elected at large while other councils are elected by district. Some local governments have mayors who are elected by the voters at large; others are elected by their colleagues on the council.
Is this plan used only in certain kinds of cities?
No. In fact, it is not restricted to cities. It is used by counties too. Over 3,000 local governments operate under this plan. They vary greatly in size and characteristics, including independent cities, center cities, suburbs, and hundreds of counties. In fact, many counties adopt some kind of professional management structure each year, becoming the fastest growth area for some form of council-manager government.
How many Americans live in communities governed by the council-manager plan?
Over 100 million.
How much citizen participation is possible in this system?
Unlimited citizen participation is encouraged by whatever means the citizens decide to utilize, including joining citizen groups, serving on advisory boards and commissions, attending council meetings, participating in hearings, or serving on the council. With political power concentrated in the council instead of in one elected official, more citizens have an opportunity to be elected to a position with significant influence over the future of their community.
What is the history of the council-manager plan?
The plan is an American concept. The first position legally defining, by ordinance, the broad authority and responsibility associated with today's local government manager was in Staunton, Virginia, in 1908. Sumter, South Carolina, was the first city to adopt a charter incorporating the basic principles of council-manager government in 1912. Westmount, Quebec, introduced the plan to Canada in 1913. The first large city to adopt the plan was Dayton, Ohio, in 1914. The first counties to adopt it in the 1930s were Arlington County, Virginia, and Durham County and Robeson County, North Carolina.
Since its establishment, it has become the most popular form of government in the United States in communities of 25,000 or more population. It is popular for local governments in such countries as Canada, Australia, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and West Germany. For more than 80 years, council-manager government has shown durability and flexibility in responding to the changing needs of citizens and their communities.
How can a community adopt this form of government?
Methods vary, but in most cases it can be done through a city or county charter, a local ordinance, or a state enabling law. In many cases adoption must be by vote of the local governing body. For information on how your community can adopt this plan, contact your state municipal league or association of counties. Their addresses can be found in the Municipal Year Book in your local library.
How is the manager selected?
The vacancy is usually announced in the ICMA Newsletter, and managers, assistants, and others who are interested apply directly to the council. The council conducts a search for candidates, often by inviting managers in other places to apply if they are interested. ICMA makes no recommendations regarding candidates. Further information is available in the handbook Recruitment Guidelines for Selecting a Local Government Administrator, published by ICMA.
Douglas A. Krieger is the current City Manager in Naperville.
Does the manager have to be a local resident at the time the appointment is made?
No. Local residence should not be required in the appointment of a manager. Managers are professionals who might serve several communities during their careers, bringing extensive experience coordinating public services and applying management techniques to a community.
What salary does the manager receive?
Earnings of managers depend on their educational background and experience, the size and complexity of the local government employing them and the economic conditions of the region where communities are located. The council sets the manager's salary. Detailed information is compiled annually by ICMA and is available on request.
Can the manager be fired?
Managers serve at the pleasure of the council or governing body. They can be fired by a majority of the council, consistent with local laws, ordinances, or employment agreements they may have with the council. Control is always in the hands of the elected representatives of the people.
Where do managers get their prior experience?
Data compiled by ICMA indicate that 77 percent of those appointed to manager positions in recent years have come directly from other governmental positions, and 63 percent of the managers surveyed have a master's degree.
Do managers participate in local politics?
All managers belonging to ICMA are bound by its Code of Ethics, which states that every member of the Association shall refrain from participation in the election of the members of the employing legislative body, and from all partisan political activities which would impair performance as a professional administrator.
What else does the Code of Ethics cover?
The Code specifies 12 ethical principles of personal and professional conduct, including total dedication to the cause of good government. ICMA members believe in the effectiveness of representative democracy and the value of government services provided to all citizens in a community. They are committed to standards of honesty and integrity more vigorous than those required by the law. Contact ICMA for a copy of the Code of Ethics.
What is ICMA?
Since 1914, ICMA has been the professional organization for appointed chief management executives in local government. Its goals include strengthening the quality of urban government through professional management and development and disseminating new concepts and approaches to management through a wide range of information services, training programs, and publications. For further information on items referenced in this brochure, contact ICMA's Office of Member Services, (202) 289-4262.
Is there another organization that supports council-manager government?
Yes, the National Civic League, a nonpartisan citizens organization founded in 1894. Its purpose is to serve as a clearinghouse for information on methods of improving state and local government; to encourage citizen participation in state and local government; and to provide guides, model charters, and laws on specific subjects. The League's Model City Charter, now in its seventh edition, has endorsed council-manager government since 1915.