Type of Government

Council-Manager Form of Government

The Town of Little Elm became a home-ruled municipality in 2001 and adopted a council-manager form of government.

What is the council-manager form of government used in many local governments?

The council-manager form is the system of local government that combines strong political leadership, representative democracy through elected officials, and professional management. The form establishes a usual form of government by concentrating all power in the elected city council. The council hires a professionally trained and educated city manager to oversee the delivery of public services and the city's daily operations. Council members are part-time volunteers who serve as the policy-making board for the city's government.

Is it a responsive form of government?

In a council-manager government, council members are the leaders and the policymakers elected to represent various community segments. The council is the city's governing body. Council members are community service volunteers elected to concentrate on policy issues in response to the community's needs and wishes. The council appoints a manager to carry out policy and ensure that the community is being served with the city services set by the council.

If the manager is not responsive to the council's wishes, the council can remove the manager at any time. In that sense, the manager's responsiveness to citizen needs is tested daily. Additionally, the Town of Little Elm provides numerous opportunities for citizen input via advisory committees and boards. Citizens may also voice any concerns or comments regarding services with the Town Manager's Office.

What is the manager's function?

The manager is hired to serve the council and, thus, the community by bringing the benefits of his or her professional training, education, and experience in administering local government projects and programs on behalf of the governing body, the city council.

The city manager is responsible for:

  • carrying out the council's policies
  • preparing an annual budget for the council's consideration
  • recruiting, hiring, and supervising the city's staff
  • serving as the council's chief adviser

Council members and citizens rely on the manager to provide complete and objective information, evaluate alternatives, and identify the possible impacts of possible policy decisions.

What is the council's function?

The council is the legislative body; its members are the community's decision-makers. Power is centralized in the elected council, which 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:

  • Capital financing
  • Capital improvement plans
  • Community growth
  • Land-use development
  • Strategic planning

The council hires and supervises a professional manager who carries out the administrative responsibilities.

What is the cost of the local government of appointing a professional manager?

Local governments have found that overall costs have been reduced with competent management. Savings come in reduced operating costs, increased efficiency and productivity, improved revenue collection, or effective use of technology.

Does the manager participate in policy development?

The manager makes policy recommendations to the council, but the council may or may not adopt them and may modify the recommendations. The manager is bound by whatever action the council takes.

Where does the mayor fit in?

Mayors in council-manager communities are key political leaders and policy developers. The mayor:

  • Assists the council in setting goals and advocating policy decision
  • Facilitates communication and understanding between elected appointed officials
  • Presides at council meetings
  • Serves as a key representative in intergovernmental relations
  • Serves as a promoter and defender of the community
  • Serves as a spokesperson for the community

Are all council-manager governments structured the same way?

No. One of its most attractive features is that the council-manager form is adaptable to local conditions and preferences. For example, some communities have elected councils at large, while others are elected by district. Some local governments have mayors elected by the voters at large; others are elected by their colleagues on the council.

Is this form of government used only in certain kinds of cities?

No. It is not restricted to cities; counties also use it. Currently, 3,625 cities operate under this form. Additionally, 529 counties indicated that they operate under the county administrator form. They vary significantly in size and characteristics, including independent cities, center cities, suburbs, and counties.

Is the form popular in large communities?

Yes. Out of 199 cities with greater than 100,000 citizens, 112 use this form of government. Some examples are:

  • Cincinnati
  • Dallas
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
  • Phoenix
  • San Antonio
  • San Diego

How much resident participation is possible under a council-manager government?

Successful examples of citizen participation in the local government service delivery decision-making process are widespread among professionally managed U.S. communities. Professional local government management offers government of the people, by the people. For the people, it sets the stage for citizen activism by encouraging open communication between citizens and their government.

Examples range from visioning, in which citizens play a significant role in determining the future of their community, to neighborhood service delivery, which involves residents through resident/government partnerships development, to community-oriented local government services. Because political power is concentrated in the entire governing body rather than one elected official, more residents can be elected to a position in which they have significant influence over the future of their community.

What is the history of the council-manager form?

Born out of the turn-of-the-century progressive reform movement, the council-manager system of local government is one of the few original American contributions to political theory. In 1908, Staunton, Virginia, instituted the first position, legally defining, by ordinance, the broad authority and responsibility associated with today's professional local government manager. Sumter, South Carolina, was the first city to adopt principles of council-manager government in 1912. Westmount, Quebec, introduced the form to Canada in 1913. The first city to adopt the plan was Dayton, Ohio, in 1914. The first counties to adopt it in the 1930s were Arlington County, Virginia, Durham County, and Robeson County, North Carolina.

Since its establishment, the council-manager form has become the most popular form of local government in the United States in communities with populations of 5,000 or greater. For more than 85 years, council-manager governments have responded to the changing needs of citizens and communities.

Can the manager be removed from office?

Managers serve at the pleasure of the council or governing body. They can be determined by a majority of the council, consistent with local laws, ordinances, or employment agreements they may have with the council. Control is always in the hands of the elected representatives of the people. According to the Texas City Managers' Association (TCMA), the average tenure for city managers who are TCMA members is about 6.4 years.