A. COUNCIL-WEAK MAYOR FORM The original form of municipal government in America was the council-weak mayor form, which was near-universal in the nineteenth century. It is still widely used, particularly in small towns. In most weak-mayor systems, the offi ce of mayor is simply rotated among the elected council members on an annual basis. The council retains collective control over administration, including appointment and dismissal of municipal employees and appointments to boards and commissions. Control of some functional areas (e.g., parks, library) may be delegated by charter or ordinance to semi- independent boards and commissions. In general, the mayor’s authority is little, if any, greater than that of the other council members. Department heads – e.g., the clerk, police chief, public works director – report to the council as a whole or to the mayor in his or her capacity as spokesman for the council. Sometimes the municipal clerk functions as a de facto chief administrator.
Under the council-manager form, the manager is the chief administrative offi cer of the city. The manager supervises and coordinates the departments, appoints and removes their directors, prepares the budget for the council’s consideration, and makes reports and recommendations to the council. All department heads report to the manager. The manager is fully responsible for municipal administration. The mayor in a council-manager form is the ceremonial head of the municipality, presides over council meetings, and makes appointments to boards. The mayor may be an important political fi gure, but has little, if any, role in day-to-day municipal administration. In some council-manager cities, the office of mayor is filled by popular election; in others, by council appointment of a council member. 5 l 2013 – Chapter 2 The council-manager plan, first used in 1908 in Staunton, Va., received nationwide attention six years later when Dayton, Ohio, became the fi rst sizable city to adopt it. Thereafter, the plan’s popularity enjoyed steady but not spectacular growth until after World War II. At that time, many municipalities were confronted with long lists of needed services and improvements that had backlogged since the Depression years of the 1930s. Faced with such challenges, many municipalities adopted the council manager form. The plan has been especially attractive to small- and medium-sized localities. It is used in a majority of American municipalities with populations of 25,000 to 250,000. It has been strongly promoted since the 1920s by the National Civic League. The council-manager form is widely viewed as a way to take politics out of municipal administration.
The manager himself is expected to abstain from any and all political involvement. At the same time, the council members and other “political” leaders are expected to refrain from intruding on the manager’s role as chief executive. Of course, the manager, who is hired and fired by the council, is subject to the authority of the council, but council members are expected to abstain from seeking to individually interfere in administrative matters, including actions in personnel matters. Some city charters provide that interference in administrative matters by an elected city official is grounds for removal of the elected official from office.