Mayors are politicians elected into office to steer a city or town’s government. City and town managers are hired by a city or town council to implement and oversee day-to-day operations. In cities with both a mayor and a manager, the mayor is head of the city or town council and has a say in who is hired as manager. In this form of government, the manager still oversees the day-to-day operations and implements decisions that the mayor and/or council make.
Strong Mayor vs. Council-Manager
Most towns and cities have either a strong-mayor or council-manager form of government. In a town or city with a strong-mayor form of government, a mayor is voted into office and makes decisions on behalf of the general population. In cities and towns with a manager, a manager is hired to fulfill specific managerial and operational job duties.
The primary difference between city or town managers and mayors is how they get their positions. A city or town’s general population votes a mayor into office but has little to no say about hiring a manager. The authority of hiring or firing a manager rests solely with a city or town’s council or with its mayor, if there is one. Giving such authority to a small number of people, rather than the entire city or town, is a downside to this form of government, say some critics.
Mayors and city managers wield similar powers. They direct a city or town’s daily operations, oversee personnel and put forward budgets for approval. Mayors and city or town managers have different roles as well. Mayors, for example, are politicians first and foremost and should be, according to Wes Hare, city manager of Albany, Oregon. City managers are not, and should not aspire to be politicians, Hare says.
An individual can run for the office of mayor as a Democrat, Republican or unaffiliated candidate. Once elected, mayors can put forward policy changes that not only serve their constituents but also their political party. City and town managers do not represent the interests of a political party and cannot, according to guidelines set by the International City-County Management Association Code of Ethics. Instead of representing a political party’s interests, a city or town manager implements the interests of a city or town council or a mayor, if there is one.
Change in the Air
Some mayor-led cities and towns are considering revising their charters to their form of government. For example, residents in Port Orchard, Washington -- including its former mayor -- want to switch to a city manager form of government. They believe that their population has swelled to the point where management makes sense. In 2009, residents of Bainbridge Island, another city in Washington, made the switch. Residents in some Utah cities are making noise about doing the opposite -- going from a council-manager form of government to a strong mayor form of government. Dennis Nordfelt, the former part-time mayor in West Valley City, Utah, urged its City Council to put a full-time mayor into office.
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.