Council-Manager Form of Government

What is the Council-Manager Form of Government?

The council-manager form of government is the system of local government that combines the political leadership of elected officials in the form of a council or other governing body, with the managerial experience of an appointed local government manager. This form of government 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. In a council-manager form of government, 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 council to carry out these policies and ensure that the entire community is being served. 

What is the City Council’s Role?

The city council is the legislative body; its members are the community’s decision makers. The council focuses on approving budgets, the community’s goals and strategies, major projects, and long-term considerations such 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. 

What is the City Manager’s Function?

The city 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 budget for the council’s consideration; recruits, hires, and supervises the government’s staff; serves as the council’s chief advisor; 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. 

What is the Role of the Mayor?

Mayors in council-manager communities are key political leaders and policy developers. The mayor presides at council meetings, serves as a spokesperson for the community, facilitates communication and understanding between elected and appointed officials, and assists the council in setting goals and advocating policy decisions. The Mayor is selected by a majority vote of the City Council and shall hold office for one year. In addition, the mayor serves as a key representative in intergovernmental relations. The mayor, council, and manager constitute a policy-development and management team. 

Does the City Manager Participate in Determining City Policy?

The city manager makes policy recommendations to the council, but the council may or may not adopt them and may modify the recommendations. The manager is bound by whatever action the council takes. 

Are all Council-Manager Governments Structured the Same Way?

No. One of its most attractive features is that the council-manager form 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 Form of Government Used Only in Certain Kinds of Cities?

No. In fact, it is not restricted to cities. It is used by counties too. Currently, 3,625 cities operate under this form. Additionally, 529 counties indicate that they operate under the county administrator form. They vary greatly in size and characteristics, including independent cities, center cities, suburbs, and counties.  

*The content in this webpage is based on information obtained from the International City/County Management Association.