Council-Manager Form of Government

In a special election on October 21, 1980, the citizens of Orem voted to adopt the Council-Manager form of government as authorized by State law for municipalities. Since January 1, 1982, the City Council has consisted of six Councilmembers and the Mayor who are all elected at large. The Mayor and Councilmembers serve staggered four-year terms. Elections in the City of Orem are nonpartisan. The majority of America’s cities with a population above 25,000 have adopted the Council-Manager form of government. The Council-Manager form capitalizes on a basic tenet of American democracy–the separation of legislative and executive powers. The Council assumes the legislative or policy-making role of the community while the manager assumes the executive or administrative role.

Council-Manager FAQ

What is the council-manager form of government?

Council-manager government combines the strong political leadership of elected of officials with the strong managerial experience of an appointed manager or administrator. All power and authority to set policy rests with an elected governing body, which includes a mayor or chairperson and members of the council, commission, or board. The governing body in turn hires a nonpartisan manager who has very broad authority to run the organization.
Born out of the U.S. progressive reform movement at the turn 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.
Since its establishment, the council-manager form has become the most popular structure of local government in the United States. The form is also widely used throughout the world in countries such as Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

How does council-manager government work?

The elected council or board represent their community and develop a long-range vision for its future. They establish policies that affect the overall operation of the community and are responsive to residents’ needs and wishes.

To ensure that these policies are carried out and that the entire community is equitably served, the governing body appoints a highly trained professional manager on the basis of his/her education, experience, skills, and abilities (and not their political allegiances). If the manager is not responsive to the governing body, the governing body has the authority to terminate the manager at any time.

How can council-manager government benefit my community?

A city, town, or county benefits from the council-manager form of government in a number of important ways:
1. Political power is concentrated in the entire governing body. The mayor and council share legislative functions.
2. Policymaking resides with elected officials, while oversight of the day-to-day operations of the community resides with the manager. In this way, the elected offcials are free to devote time to policy planning and development.
3. The manager carries out the policies established by the elected governing body with an emphasis on effective, efficient, and equitable service delivery.
4. Because decisions on policy and the future of the community are made by the entire governing body rather than a single individual, council-manager governments more often engage and involve their residents in decision making. Residents guide their community by serving on boards and commissions, participating in visioning and strategic planning, and designing community-oriented local government services.
5. The form is flexible enough to adapt to local needs and demands. For example, some communities elect their councils at large, while others elect them by district or by a combination of an at-large-and-by-district system. Also, the mayor can be directly elected by voters or selected by and from among the council.

What is the role of the manager under council-manager government?

The manager is hired to serve the council and the community and brings to the local government the benefits of his/her training and experience in administering municipal or county projects and programs. The manager prepares a budget for the council’s consideration; recruits, hires, terminates, and supervises government staff; serves as the council’s chief advisor; and carries out the council’s policies. Council members and residents count on the manager to provide complete and objective information about local operations, discuss the pros and cons of alternatives, and offer an assessment of the long-term consequences of their decisions.

Appointed managers serve at the pleasure of the governing body. They can be removed by a majority of the council, consistent with local laws, or any employment agreements they may enter into with the council. The manager makes policy recommendations to the council for consideration and final decision. The manager is bound by whatever action the council takes, and control is always in the hands of the elected representatives of the people.

What is the role of the council?

The council is the community’s legislative and policy-making body. Power is centralized in the elected council, which, for example, approves the budget and determines the tax rate. The council also focuses on the community’s goals, major projects, and such long-term considerations as community growth, land use development, capital improvement and financing, and strategic planning. The council hires a professional manager to implement the administrative responsibilities related to these goals and supervises the manager’s performance.

What is the role of the mayor?

Mayors in council-manager communities are key political and policy leaders, and their specific duties, responsibilities, and authorities depend on the organization’s charter. In Orem, the mayor is a voting member of the city council who presides at council meetings, represents the city in intergovernmental relationships, appoints members of citizen advisory boards and commissions (with the advice and consent of City Council), assigns agenda items to committees, facilitates communication and understanding between elected and appointed officials, and assists the council in setting goals and advocating policy decisions.

What value does a professional manager contribute to a community?

Professional managers contribute value to a community because they:

  • Work in partnership with elected of cials to develop sound approaches to community challenges by bringing together resources to make the right things happen and produce results that matter
  • Bring a community-wide perspective to policy discussions and strive to connect the past and future while focusing on the present. They help the governing body develop the long-term vision for the community that provides a framework for policy development and goal setting
  • Promote ethical government through commitment to a set of ethical standards that goes beyond those required by law. Managers who are members of ICMA subscribe to the organization’s Code of Ethics, which requires them to “af rm the dignity and worth of the services rendered by government and maintain . . . a deep sense of social responsibility as a trusted public servant”
  • Encourage inclusion and build consensus among diverse interests (including those of elected officials, the business community, and citizens) by focusing on the entire community rather than the centralized interests of one or two individuals
  • Promote equity and fairness by ensuring that services are fairly distributed and that administrative decisions (such as hiring and contracting) are based on merit rather than favoritism
  • Develop and sustain organizational excellence and promote innovation. Professional managers focus relentlessly on efficient and equitable service delivery, policy implementation, and evaluation. They align the local government’s administrative systems with the values, mission, and policy goals determined by the community and elected officials.

Does it cost more for a community to adopt the council- manager form and hire a professional manager?

Many local governments have found that their overall costs are actually reduced under competent management. Savings can come from decreased operating costs, increased efficiency and productivity, improved revenue collection, and effective use of technology. The economic health of the community may also benefit from implementation of improved business development and retention strategies.

What kinds of communities use the council-manager form of government?

In 2007, more than 3,500 (49 percent) of the 7,171 U.S. cities and towns with populations of 2,500 residents or more operated under the council-manager form. This structure is also used by more than 370 counties. More than 92 million people in the U.S. live in communities that operate under this form of government.

What kind of educational and professional experience do professional local government managers possess?

Nearly 67% of managers surveyed by ICMA in 2006 indicated that they had earned a master’s (usually in public administration, business, or public policy), or other advanced degree. Respondents to the same survey said they had spent an average of 19 years in the local government management profession.