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Using a Council-Manager Form of Government for Cities

Article By: Ryan Wiseman




Half of all American cities use the 'council-manager' form of city government instead of the 'mayor-council' form of city government. Let's convert more of our cities, particularly our larger cities, to this type of government as well.

Many cities in the United States have converted to a type of government structure that is referred to by political scientists as a ‘council-manager’ form of government. This type of government structure has replaced the more traditional ‘mayor-council’ form of city government in almost half of all American cities as a way to help reduce the amount of politics involved in city government. Although this type of setup is most common among medium-sized cities that have between 25,000 and 250,000 people, it could also work very well for cities that are larger, if the citizens of those larger cities would just stop and think and see the benefits of this type of system of city government.

So, what is the primary benefit of this type of government? The benefit of this approach is that it allows for a city government to be run more like a business, allowing it to be managed in the same way a CEO would manage a large business or corporation. The type of person chosen to be a city manager is usually someone who has a master’s degree in business administration or public administration, and they are chosen not on their political affiliation or ability to publicly speak, but on how competent they are at managing the resources in which they are put in charge. They tend to be people who have had previous experience in either managing a city of a smaller size, or in managing a medium-to-large sized business or corporation.

The city council is the political mechanism that is used to create new laws and policies. After that, the city manager, who is hired by the city council, then takes those laws and creates the necessary framework to put those laws and policies into action. The manager looks at the tax revenues that come in from sales taxes, income taxes, property taxes, and any other type of taxation set up in the city, and makes sure that the departments within the city government work within the confines of those budgets. He/she looks for waste and inefficiency within the city government, and eliminates or reduces those wastes to allow for the city government to be more effective, higher quality, and more efficient, allowing its citizens to benefit from a better government.

If larger-sized cities would use this type of government structure, they would see an improvement in the quality of government, see improvements in public transit, see better police protection with lower crime, see government offices fulfilling their duties in less time, and more. And, on top of all this, the residents of that city would see extra money left over that could be used for more new government services, better education, and lower taxes, all of which benefit those people as well.

So, why not get larger cities – those with between 250,000 and 8 million people – to switch to this type of city government structure? The only thing standing in the way of better government is the politics that make it difficult to change, especially as constituents keep voting for mayors who they think “got their back.” Make a change for the better and switch to the ‘council-manager’ type of city government.

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