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.[1]

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.[2]

Generally, cities that use council-manager forms of government employ city managers.[2] However, some mayor-council government cities, such as Fresno, California and Houston, Texas also utilize city managers.[3][4]


Some of the basic features and responsibilities of city managers in cities throughout the United States include the following:[5][6][7]

  • 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.[8]

In the late nineteenth century, cities began experimenting with other types of municipal government.[9] 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.[9][10]

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.[5]


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.[11]

See also

Ballotpedia:Index of Terms