A city manager is an official appointed as the administrative manager of a city, in a council-manager form of city government. Local officials serving in this position are sometimes referred to as the chief executive officer (CEO) or chief administrative officer (CAO) in some municipalities.
In 1913, the city of Dayton, Ohio suffered a great flood, and responded with the innovation of a paid, non-political city manager, hired by the commissioners to run the bureaucracy; civil engineers were especially preferred. Other small or middle-sized American cities, especially in the west, adopted the idea.
By 1940, there were small American cities with city managers that would grow enormously by the end of the century: Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Dallas, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; Rochester, New York; and San Diego, California.
In a technical sense, the term "city manager," in contrast to "chief administrative officer" (CAO), implies more discretion and independent authority that is set forth in a charter or some other body of codified law, as opposed to duties being assigned on a varying basis by a single superior, such as a mayor.
Most sources trace the first city manager to Staunton, Virginia in 1908. Some of the other cities that were among the first to employ a manager were Sumter, South Carolina (1912) and Dayton, Ohio (1914); Dayton was featured in the national media, and became a national standard. The first "City Manager's Association" meeting of eight city managers was in December 1914. The city manager, operating under the council-manager government form, was created in part to remove city government from the power of the political parties, and place management of the city into the hands of an outside expert who was usually a business manager or engineer, with the expectation that the city manager would remain neutral to city politics. By 1930, two hundred American cities used a city manager form of government.
As the top appointed official in the city, the city manager is typically responsible for most if not all of the day-to-day administrative operations of the municipality, in addition to other expectations.
Some of the basic roles, responsibilities, and powers of a city manager include:
The responsibilities may vary depending upon charter provisions and other local or state laws, rules, and regulations. In addition, many states, such as the states of New Hampshire and Missouri, have codified in law the minimum functions a local "manager" must perform. The City Manager position focuses on efficiency and providing a certain level of service for the lowest possible cost. The competence of a city manager can be assessed using composite indicators.
Manager members of the ICMA are bound by a rather rigid and strongly enforced code of ethics that was originally established in 1924. Since that time the code had been up-dated/revised on seven occasions, the latest taking place in 1998. The updates have taken into account the evolving duties, responsibilities, and expectations of the profession; however the core dictate of the body of the code--"to integrity; public service; seek no favor; exemplary conduct in both personal and professional matters; respect the role and contributions of elected officials; exercise the independence to do what is right; political neutrality; serve the public equitably and governing body members equally; keep the community informed about local government matters; and support and lead our employ-ees"--have not changed since the first edition.
In the early years of the profession, most managers came from the ranks of the engineering professions. Today, the typical and preferred background and education for the beginning municipal manager is a master's degree in Public Administration (MPA), and at least several years' experience as a department head in local government, or as an assistant city manager. As of 2005, more than 60% of those in the profession had a MPA, MBA, or other related higher-level degree.
The average tenure of a manager is now 7-8 years, and has risen gradually over the years. Tenures tend to be less in smaller communities and higher in larger ones, and they tend to vary as well, depending on the region of the country.
Educational Level of Local Government Managers (MYB = Municipal Yearbook; SOP = State of the Profession survey):
|High school or less||42%||14%||6%||2%||4%||2%||4%||1%|
|Some college, no degree||21%||22%||18%||10%||--||9%||11%||6%|
|Other graduate degree||2%||5%||38%||58%||28%||63%||21%||27%|
|Source||1940 MYB||1965 MYB||1990 MYB||1996 MYB||2001 MYB||2006 SOP survey||2012 SOP Survey|
|Sample size||n = 449||n = 1,582||n not reported||n =2 65||n = 3,175||n = 2,752||n = 1,816|