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.