What is Council-Manager Government?

Definition and meaning of council-manager government: The Council-Manager Government is a form of local government. It combines the democratic leadership of elected officials with the administrative expertise of an appointed manager. This form of municipal governance strives to balance political responsiveness with professional management, aiming to bring the best of both worlds to the service of local communities.

At its core, the Council-Manager system is characterized by two primary components:

  • The Council: This is an elected body, usually composed of a mayor and city council members, chosen directly by the residents of the municipality. This council is responsible for setting policies, crafting local laws, setting budgets, and representing the interests and will of the people. The mayor can have various roles — from being a ceremonial figure to having a more active part in governance.

  • The City Manager: Chosen by the elected council, the city manager is a professional administrator tasked with carrying out the policies set by the council. This individual is not a political appointee in the traditional sense but is selected based on their credentials, experience, and expertise in public administration. The city manager oversees the daily operations of the municipal government, manages municipal staff, and serves as the primary advisor to the council on matters of budget, personnel, and infrastructure. 

The Council-Manager system emerged in the early 20th century, during a time when cities in the United States were experiencing rapid growth and facing challenges in governance. Corruption, inefficiencies, and a perceived lack of professionalism in municipal administrations led reformers to advocate for a system that combined democratic oversight with professional management. The model was inspired, in part, by the corporate structure, where a board of directors (equivalent to the council) sets direction and a CEO (equivalent to the manager) runs daily operations.

The Council-Manager form of government stands as a testament to the ongoing evolution of local governance. This system seeks to offer a balanced, efficient, and responsive model for municipalities, ensuring that the needs of residents are met in a manner that is both effective and accountable.


Explore free resources for civics education

Become a more informed citizen and get involved in your community
Frame 30 (1)