The council-manager government is one of two main variations of representative municipal government in the United States. (For contrast, see mayor-council government). The system is also used for municipal government in Canada and in the Republic of Ireland, both for city councils and county councils.
Under the council-manager form of government, the elected governing body (e.g., city council, city commission, board of selectmen, or other body of at least three individuals) is responsible for establishing policy, passing local ordinances, voting appropriations, and developing an overall vision for a city, town, or county. Under such a government, the mayor (or equivalent executive) performs primarily ceremonial duties, and is often drawn from and the presiding officer of the governing body.
The elected officials then appoint a professional city manager or administrator to oversee the daily operations of the government and implement the policies they establish. This individual serves the governing body, often with an employment agreement or contract that specifies his or her duties and responsibilities. Ideally, the manager is apolitical.
The council-manager system can be seen to place all power into the hands of the legislative branch. However, a city manager can be seen as a similar role to that of corporate chief executive officer (CEO) in providing professional management to an organization. Council-manager government is much like a publicly-traded corporation. In a corporation, the board of directors appoints a CEO, makes major decisions and wields representative power on behalf of shareholders. In council-manager government, the city council appoints a city manager, makes major decisions, and wields representative power on behalf of the citizens.
This system of government is used in 48.9% of American cities with populations of 2,500 or more, according to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), a professional organization for city managers.
The Progressive-inspired council-manager system of government was designed to insulate municipal administration from political corruption.
Sumter, South Carolina has the distinction of being the first city in the United States to successfully implement council-manager government, though Staunton, Va. is credited as the first American city with a city manager (in 1908). Currently, 38 of Virginia's 39 cities have a council-manager form of government, with the capital, Richmond, being the only exception. Richmond switched to a strong-mayor-council plan in 2004, after having had a council-manager system since 1948.
The Council-Manager system has grown considerably in popularity since the start of the twentieth century. In 1935, ICMA recognized 418 U.S. cities and 7 counties using the system; by 2001, 3,302 cities with a population over 2,500 and 371 counties used it. Phoenix, Arizona is the largest city in the United States to retain council-manager government.
While the popularity of council-manager government has endured into the 21st century, the system as practiced has changed over time, particularly in medium-sized communities that have grown into more heterogeneous and politically contentious large cities. As their elected officials increasingly see themselves as political activists responding to a constituency rather than trustees performing a public service, they take a greater interest in administration on a day-to-day basis— in resolving civic issues rather than simply identifying them— than in the traditional model.
The model has grown in structural diversity as well. In a 1996 study, 62 percent of responding council-manager communities indicated that they elected their mayors directly, or granted the office additional powers such as appointing officials or vetoing legislation.
Following the turmoil of World War I 1914-1918, the 1916 rising, Irish War of Independence 1919-1921 and Irish Civil War 1921-1923, the Irish government found it necessary to remove the members of several local authorities and replace them temporarily by paid commissioners.
Both Dublin and Cork city councils were so removed. In both cities there was a body of opinion that the services provided by the councils were delivered more efficiently and fairly under the commissioners that under the previous system where the executive function was in effect vested in the councils and their committees.
In 1926 a committee of commercial and industrial interests in Cork came together to consider a scheme of city government and having regard to the city's experience of commissioners and recent experience in the United States a council-manager plan of city government was proposed. After discussion between the Minister for Local Government and local representatives, the Minister, Richard Mulcahy, introduced as a Government measure The Cork City Management Bill, 1929 and it became law despite opposition. The Minister proposed and the Oireachtas enacted similar provision for Dublin City in 1930. Similar laws were passed for Limerick in 1934 and Waterford in 1939 under the Fianna Fáil Government
Under the County (Management) Act, 1940, which was brought into operation in August 1942 A County Manager is manager of every borough or town in that county but has since the 1990s has power to delegate these functions to any officer of that borough or town council
The system was also modified in subsequent legislation particularly The City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, which made some adjustments to give greater power to the council members and the Local Government Act 1985 which provided for the council-manager system in Galway City on its being detached for local government purposes from Galway County.
The above acts have since been replaced (in substantially the same form) by the Local Government Act 2001.
de:Stadtvertretung es:Concejo municipal fr:Gouvernement à gérance municipale ja:シティー・マネージャー制 simple:Council-manager zh:議會-經理制政府