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What does a City Manager do?

By R. Anacan
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A city manager is an executive in charge of the administration of a city’s government. He or she is sometimes referred to as the administrative manager or chief operating officer of a city’s government. In most municipalities, managers are not elected to the position, but are specifically hired.

As the administrative officer of a city, the city manager may create the city’s budget, oversee the day-to-day operations of the individual departments, make personnel decisions, and provide advice to and carries out the specific policies of the mayor and city council. In theory, he or she does not typically make or set specific policy initiatives, but rather carries out the policies and directives as set by the council and the mayor. In practice, the idea of a manager who is not involved in creating policy directives does not always occur. In many municipalities, this person serves at the pleasure of the city council and the mayor.

There are two main forms of municipal government that are most popular. The first type is known as a mayor-council form of government, where executive power is vested in an elected mayor, while legislative power resides in an elected city council. In some cities, the power of the mayor eclipses that of the council and the city council is limited to advisory or oversight duties. Other cities have a stronger council, with the position of the mayor relegated largely to ceremonial or figurehead status.

The second main type of municipal government is known as the council-manager form of government. This type of city government generally consists of a city council and a mayor who is also typically a member of the council. The mayor may be elected by the people or by members of the city council. The mayor and the council then hire a professional manager to oversee the operations of the city government and to implement the policy decisions of the mayor and council.

The position of city manager is believed to have originated in Staunton, Virginia, in the early 1900s. The theory behind this form of government was that local government would run more effectively and efficiently if led by a professional manager who implemented the policies set by elected officials. It was also believed that the apolitical nature of the position would remove any undue and inappropriate political influence from the administration of a city’s operations.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon930467 — On Feb 05, 2014

Public positions such as city manager should never pay more than their private counterparts.

By anon350496 — On Oct 05, 2013

I'm an active duty US Marine and I know all about headaches, but I couldn't imagine getting paid over $600k a year in total wages like the city manager in Indian Wells CA. I thought these people were public "servants." Yet at the same time, city managers aren't even always elected for the position, but installed by someone for whatever reason.

By sunshined — On Aug 30, 2011

I have a good friend who is the city manager of a medium sized town. He has some of the most interesting stories to tell and it sounds like there are plenty of headaches that go with his job as well.

When he was the city manager in one town, there were two different times when the city employees who were digging the grave sites for a funeral dug the site in the wrong place in the cemetery.

You can imagine what kind of commotion and upset there was over this. I don't know what a typical city manager pay scale is, but after hearing stories like this, I don't think it would be enough.

By bagley79 — On Aug 30, 2011

One of my good friends has spent much of her career in a city management position. She is very well qualified and very efficient, but whenever there are any city manager job openings, she knows she will be going up against many male applicants.

She usually gets in one of the top three spots, but many times the job goes to one of the male applicants.

Even when she has a job and interacts with the city council members, she still has to deal with people who don't think a woman should be a city manager.

It is very frustrating for her, but she just continues to do her job and always has a lot of other people who support her and back her up.

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