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Jul 17

SCOTT: Differentiating forms of local government

Posted on July 17, 2015 at 11:58 AM by Bridgette Lester

SCOTT: Differentiating forms of local government

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Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2015 8:02 am

Note: This column is the second in a three part series by Danville City Manager Ron Scott on Danville’s form of government, its history and the role of the city manager in it.

In the United States, primarily there are two forms of city government: The mayor-council form and the council-manager form. According to the International City/County Management Association, there are three major features that differentiate the mayor-council and council-manager forms of government.

The first feature is the allocation of authority. The council-manager form places all governmental authority in the hands of the council, with certain functions assigned by law, charter or convention to the manager appointed by the council. Authority is unified in the collective leadership body of the council. To the early reformers citing the practice of English local government, eliminating separation of powers and strengthening the council was as important to the council-manager form as the creation of the manager’s position.

The relationship between the council (or commission) and the manager is based on this allocation of authority. Despite all the words that have been written and spoken about the separation of politics and policy from the administration, the unique feature of the council-manager form is the interaction of council members in both policy and administration. As intended by Richard Child’s model charter, the council-manager form ensures that a professional perspective will be presented to the council by the manager on all policy decisions and that council oversight can be directed to any administration action. Other than the supervisions of departments/employees and administration of the budget once adopted, the key duties of the city manager (preparing and proposing a balanced budget, recommending personnel appointments and discipline, recommending administrative procedures, providing information on policy issues, recommending all contracts for approval, advising on the financial condition of the city) all require the manager to have interaction with and approval from the city commission as a body.

With separation of powers, the mayor can limit the policy advice given to the council and can shield staff from council oversight. In the mayor-council form, mayors can also have a substantial impact on the amount and quality of professional advice they receive and share with the council and on the level of professionalism that is present in the administrative organization. In contrast with the council-manager form, in which the council has authority over the manager, the mayor in the mayor-council form is a separate and independent executive.

The second feature that differentiates forms is how executive responsibilities are performed. In the council-manager form, executive functions are primarily the responsibility of the city manager even if on occasion some functions are shared. For example, the manager has responsibility for overseeing and directing the performance of city employees, but makes recommendations to the city commission for appointment, discharge, or significant discipline of employees, with the full city commission making all final personnel decisions. In the mayor-council form, executive responsibilities are exercised alone under the authority of the mayor.

The third distinguishing feature is whether the city manager is responsible to the entire council or to the mayor. Responsibility to the entire council is an essential characteristic of the council-manager form of government and helps to ensure both transparency and a focus on the public interest (as defined by the council) rather than the political or community interests of a single elected official. This reporting relationship to the council is exemplified by the council having authority to both hire and terminate the manager. This arrangement promotes responsiveness to the entire council, and reduces the possibility the manager may seek to serve primarily the mayor rather than the entire council.

Ron Scott has served as city manager of Danville since 2011. Prior to that he worked for the Kentucky League of Cities for 26 years, including 15 as assistant executive director.



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