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City manager

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A city manager is an appointed municipal official who carries out the administrative and executive duties of a city government. In some municipalities, the position is also known as a chief administrative officer.

The city manager is not an elected position. Rather, the holder of this office serves at the pleasure of the mayor and/or city council, which retains the legal right to dismiss and replace him or her.

Generally, cities that use council-manager forms of government employ city managers. However, some mayor-council government cities, such as Fresno, California and Houston, Texas also utilize city managers.


Some of the basic features and responsibilities of city managers in cities throughout the United States include the following:[1][2][3]

  • Appointed and dismissed by city council.
  • Responsible for drafting and proposing a balanced city budget.
  • Responsible for amending the city budget as dictated by city council.
  • Responsible for appointing departmental heads and directors (sometimes with the approval of city council).
  • Responsible for implementing and enforcing council policies and legislative initiatives.


The city manager position originated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Then, most cities utilized a weak mayor-council form of municipal government in which all executive, legislative and administrative powers were invested in city councils. Though most of these governments also featured a mayor, the role was primarily a ceremonial one with duties that included ribbon-cutting events and presiding over official city events such as festivals and parades.[4]

In the late nineteenth century, cities began experimenting with other types of municipal government.[5] In fact, a reform movement took hold in cities all throughout the United States in response to what many saw as the inefficiency of early weak mayor-council governments and their failure to break the power of the political bosses and machines that, at the time, dominated American politics. A major development that emerged out of this reform movement was the council-manager government in which city councils were required to hire a professional administrator, who would be responsible for municipal finances, the implementation and enforcement of law and basic city administration. This professional administrator gradually became known as a city manager.[5][6]

Hiring process

The hiring process for a city manager is comparable to that of a corporate CEO. It begins with general discussions amongst city council members, often in consultation with voters and professional consultants. After an a hiring notice is drafted and distributed to professional organizations, the process then moves to a multistage interview process that includes a review of applications and onsite interviews with qualified candidates. The process ends with a vote taken by city council.[1]


Typically, modern city managers have specific qualifications. Most have a Master's in Public Administration or Business Administration. A 2012 survey found that the average city manager is male, Caucasian, aged 51-60, has a Master's degree, serves for slightly longer than seven years and makes approcimately $111,000 per year.[7]

See also

Ballotpedia:Index of Terms


  1. 1.0 1.1 International City/Council Management Association, "Professional Local Government Management," accessed on November 26, 2014
  2. National League of Cities, "Forms of Municipal Government," accessed on November 26, 2014
  3. DeSantis, V.S. & Renner, T. "City Government Structures: An Attempt at Clarification," in State & Local Government Review, Vol. 34, No. 2, Spring, 2002 (pages 96-97)
  4. Kweit, R. & Kweit M.G. (1999) People and Politics in Urban America. London: Routledge (pages 181-185)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Goldfield, D. (2007) Encyclopedia of American Urban History. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publicans, Inc. (pages 454-456)
  6. Frederickson, G.H, Logan, B. & Wood, C., "Municipal Reform in Mayor-Council Cities: A Well Kept Secret," in State and Local Government Review, Vol. 35, No. 1, Winter, 2003 (pages 7-9)
  7. ICMA, "Statistics and Data," accessed July 8, 2014