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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The council–manager government form of government is one of the two predominant forms of municipal government in the United States; the other most common form of local government is the mayor–council government) form. [1] The council-manager form is also used for municipal government in Canada and in Ireland, among other countries, both for city councils and county councils.

Under the council–manager form of government, the elected governing body (commonly called city council, city commission, or board of selectmen) is responsible for the legislative function of the municipality such as establishing policy, passing local ordinances, voting appropriations, and developing an overall vision for the city, town, or county. [2] The elected body appoints a professional manager to oversee the administrative operations, implement its policies, and advise it. If a position of mayor is present, his/her duties are primarily ceremonial, and he/she is often drawn from and is the presiding officer of the governing body.[3]

The city manager position can be seen as similar to that of corporate chief executive officer (CEO) in providing professional management to the board of directors. Council–manager government is much like a publicly-traded corporation.[4] In a corporation, the board of directors appoints a CEO, makes major decisions and wields 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.

This system of government is used in 48.9% of American cities with populations of 2,500 or more, according to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), a professional organization for city managers and other top appointed local government administrators/CAOs.


History of the council–manager government in the United States

Two types of municipal government

The concept of the council–manager form of government was a product of a confluence of the prevailing modes of thought during the late 1800s and early 1900s.[5] Probably the foremost influence was the Progressive Movement; following along the thought lines of the movement, the municipal reformers of that time wanted to rid municipalities of the pervasive “Machine” form of government and the abuses of the Spoils system. The thought was to have a politically impartial administrator/manager to carry out the administrative function. Another influence was the “Scientific Management” movement, often associated with Frederick Winslow Taylor. The focus of this movement was to run organizations in an objective, scientific fashion to maximize efficiency, among other things. Finally, another influence behind the council-manager idea was that of the organizational structure of the for-profit corporation, with its board of directors, which hires a professional CEO to run its operations.[5]

Sumter, South Carolina has the distinction of being the first city in the United States to successfully implement council–manager government, though Staunton, Virginia is credited as the first American city with a city manager (in 1908).[6] However,some have traced the first actual occurrence of the position to as early as 1904 in Ukiah, California, but it seems clear that all experts in the field credit the Staunton position as the one that began to focus the light on the fledgling profession and caught the eye of Richard S. Childs, who would become known somewhat as the “father” of the Council-Manager form of government and the Model City Charter [7] [5] The first large city to adopt the council–manager form was Dayton, Ohio, in 1913.

Currently, 38 of Virginia's 39 cities have a council–manager form of government, with the capital, Richmond, being the only exception. Richmond switched to a strong-mayor–council plan in 2004, after having had a council–manager system since 1948.

The council–manager system has grown considerably in popularity since the start of the twentieth century. In 1935, ICMA recognized 418 U.S. cities and seven counties using the system; by 2001, 3,302 cities with a population over 2,500 and 371 counties used it. Phoenix, Arizona is the largest city in the United States to retain council–manager government.[8]

While the popularity of council–manager government has endured into the 21st century, the system as practiced has changed over time, particularly in medium-sized communities that have grown into more heterogeneous and politically contentious large cities.[9] As their elected officials increasingly see themselves as political activists responding to a constituency rather than trustees performing a public service, they take a greater interest in administration on a day-to-day basis—in resolving civic issues rather than simply identifying them— than in the traditional model.[9]

The model has grown in structural diversity as well. In a 1996 study, 62 percent of responding council-manager communities indicated that they elected their mayors directly, or granted the office additional powers such as appointing officials or vetoing legislation.[10]

Indeed, much has been written over the last decade regarding the variety of hybrid forms of local governments that have evolved from the two pure forms (Council-Manager and Mayor-Council). The cities that have modified their organizational structure from one of the pure forms are now commonly termed “adaptive” communities.[11]

These variations necessitate a delineation of the distinguishing features of the council-manager form of government. ICMA has listed at least three defining characteristics that distinguish a truly council-manager government:

  • All governmental authority rests with the council, or other sovereign elected body, except for certain duties that are assigned by charter or other law to the manager. However, the manager is always employed at the pleasure of the council/elected body.
  • The appointed executive, manager, is officially allocated the executive or administrative functions in codified form; his/her minimum functions are not at the whim of a mayor, for example.
  • The manager must be responsible, and is hired by and can be dismissed by, to the entire council, not to one individual, such as a mayor or chairperson.[12]

The Model City Charter (MCC), published by the National Civic League, formerly the National Municipal League, is closely associated to the council-manager form of government. The MCC is in its 8th edition, adopted in 2003, and since its 2nd edition, adopted in 1915, has recommended the Council-Manager form of government. [13] [14]

History of the council–manager government in the Republic of Ireland

Following the turmoil of World War I 1914–1918, the 1916 rising, the Irish War of Independence 1919–1921, and the Irish Civil War 1921–1923, the Irish government found it necessary to remove the members of several local authorities and replace them temporarily by paid commissioners.

Both Dublin and Cork city councils were so removed. In both cities, there was a body of opinion that the services provided by the councils were delivered more efficiently and fairly under the commissioners that under the previous system, where the executive function had been in effect vested in the councils and their committees.

In 1926, a committee of commercial and industrial interests in Cork came together to consider a scheme of city government and having regard to the city's experience of commissioners and recent experience in the United States a council–manager plan of city government was proposed. After discussion between the Minister for Local Government and local representatives, the Minister, Richard Mulcahy, introduced as a Government measure The Cork City Management Bill, 1929 and it became law despite opposition. The Minister proposed and the Oireachtas enacted similar provision for Dublin City in 1930. Similar laws were passed for Limerick in 1934 and Waterford in 1939 under the Fianna Fáil Government.

Under the County (Management) Act, 1940, which was brought into operation in August 1942, a County Manager is the manager of every borough or town in that county but, since the 1990s, has the power to delegate these functions to any other officer of that borough or town council.

The system was modified also in subsequent legislation, particularly the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, which made some adjustments to give greater power to the council members, and the Local Government Act 1985, which provided for the council–manager system in Galway City once detached for local government purposes from Galway County.

The above acts have since been replaced (in substantially the same form) by the Local Government Act 2001.

See also

Further reading

  • Managing Urban America, David R. Morgan & Robert E. England (1999)
  • Managing America's Cities: A Handbook for Local Government Productivity, McFarland and Co., Inc., by Roger L. Kemp (2007).
  • How American Governments Work: A Handbook of City, County, Regional, State, and Federal Operations, McFarland and Co., Inc., by Roger L. Kemp (2007).
  • Forms of Local Government: A Handbook on City, County and Regional Options, McFarland and Co., Inc., by Roger L. Kemp (2007).
  • Model Government Charters: A City, County, Regional, State, and Federal Handbook, McFarland and Co., Inc., by Roger L. Kemp (2007).

External links


  1. ^ Svara, James H. (2008). Strengthening Local Government Leadership and Performance: Reexamining and Updating the Winter Commission Goals. Public Administration Review, December 2008, Special Issue, vol 68, pp S37-S49.
  2. ^ ICMA information brochure
  3. ^ ICMA forms of government
  4. ^ Local Government Management, ICMA
  5. ^ a b c Stillman, Richard J. (1974). The Rise of the City Manager: A Public Professional in Local Government. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  6. ^ "Staunton, Virginia: Birthplace of the Council Manager Form of Government". City of Staunton. Retrieved 2008-11-11. 
  7. ^ Ammons, David N. and Charldean Newell. (1989). City Executives: Leadership Roles, Work Characteristics, and Time Management. State University of NY Press.
  8. ^ "From the Mayor's Office". City of Phoenix. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  9. ^ a b Watson, Douglas J.; Hassett, Wendy L. (2003), Local Government Management: Current Issues and Best Practices, New York: M.E. Sharpe  ISBN 0-7656-1127-9
  10. ^ Hansell, Jr., William H. (2001), "Council-Manager Government: Alive and Leading Today's Best-Managed Communities", National Civic Review: pp. 41,43,, retrieved 2009-10-02 
  11. ^ Carr, Jered B. and Shanthi Karuppusamy. "The Adapted Cities Framework: On Enhancing Its Use in Empirical Research" Urban Affairs Review, 2008, pgs.875-886.
  12. ^ Svara, James H. and Kimberly L. Nelson. "Taking Stock of the Council-Manager Form at 100." Public Management Magazine,August 2008. ICMA Publications
  13. ^ Svara, James, on National Civic League Website
  14. ^ Public Management Magazine, ICMA, February 2003, Vol 85, Number 3.

Simple English

The council-manager government is one of two main variations of representative municipal government in the United States that began in Staunton, Virginia in 1908. This system of government is used in the majority of American cities with populations over 12,000.


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