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.
- 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.
In the late nineteenth century, cities began experimenting with other types of municipal government. 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.
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.
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.
- International City/Council Management Association, "Professional Local Government Management," accessed on November 26, 2014
- National League of Cities, "Forms of Municipal Government," accessed on November 26, 2014
- 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)
- Kweit, R. & Kweit M.G. (1999) People and Politics in Urban America. London: Routledge (pages 181-185)
- Goldfield, D. (2007) Encyclopedia of American Urban History. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publicans, Inc. (pages 454-456)
- 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)
- ICMA, "Statistics and Data," accessed July 8, 2014