The Council-Manager Form of Government

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

A: council-manager government combines the strong political leadership of elected officials (the city council) with the strong managerial experience of an appointed local government manager. The authority to set policy rests with the elected governing body. The governing body in turn hires a nonpartisan manager who has very broad authority to run the organization. The council-manager form establishes a representative system where 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 approves the budget and tax levy and also focuses on the community’s goals, major projects and and other areas such as community growth, land use development, capital improvement plans and 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 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, 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: According to the International City-County Management Association (ICMA), 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 and the 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: How popular is the council-manager form of government?
A: It's the most popular type of local government in the United States.  More than 3,500 cities with populations of 2,500 or more residents operate under the council-manager form.  More than 92 million people in the U.S. live in council-manager communities.  Out of 247 cities with greater than 100,000 residents, 144 or 58% 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 Jose, 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 was designed to combat corruption and unethical activity in local government by promoting effective management within a transparent, responsive, and accountable structure.

Q: Where do managers get their experience?
A: Nearly 67 percent of managers surveyed by the ICMA have a master’s or a other advanced degree, and have spent an average of 19 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?ICMAEthics

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 educational 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 to build better communities.