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City Managers

The Job

Have more bus routes been added to provide transportation to a new shopping area? Has the small park near the lake been cleaned up so children can play safely there? Will a new performing arts center be built downtown? These are some of the kinds of questions a city manager faces on the job. Even the smallest community has hundreds of concerns, from quality day care options for its citizens to proper housing for the elderly, from maintaining strong law enforcement in the city to preserving the surrounding environment.

Every day, local newspapers feature all the changes underway in their communities. The mayor introduces these developments, speaking to reporters and appearing on the TV news and at city meetings. But, it's the city manager who works behind the scenes to put these changes into effect. A city manager uses managerial experience and skills to determine what programs are needed in the community, to design the programs, and to implement them. The council-manager form of government is somewhat like a smooth-running business—the executives make the decisions about a company, while the managers see that these decisions are put into practice efficiently and effectively.

A city has many different departments in place to collect and disburse taxes, enforce laws, maintain public health and a ready fire department, construct public works such as parks and other recreational facilities, and purchase supplies and equipment. The city manager prepares budgets of the costs of these services and submits estimates to the elected officials for approval. The manager also provides reports of ongoing and completed work and projects to the representatives of the residents. The city manager keeps in touch with the community in order to understand what is most important to the people of the city. A city manager also needs to stay several steps ahead, in order to plan for growth, population expansion, and public services. To oversee planning for population growth, crime prevention, street repairs, law enforcement, and pollution and traffic management problems, the manager prepares proposals and recommends zoning regulations. The manager then presents these proposals at meetings of the elected authorities as well as at public meetings of citizens.

In addition to developing plans and budgets, city managers meet with private groups and individuals who represent special interests. Managers explain programs, policies, and projects. They may also seek to enlist the aid of citizen groups in a variety of projects that help the public as a whole. They work closely with urban planners to coordinate new and existing programs. In smaller cities that have no planning staff, this work may be done entirely by the manager. Additional staff may be provided for the city manager of a large city, including an assistant city manager, department head assistants, administrative assistants, and management analysts.

The staff members of a city manager have a variety of titles and responsibilities. Changes in administration are studied and recommended by management analysts. Administrative and staff work, such as compiling statistics and planning work procedures, is done by administrative assistants, also called executive assistants. Department head assistants may work in several areas, such as law enforcement, finance, or law, but they are generally responsible for just one area. Assistant city managers are responsible for specific projects, such as developing the annual budget, as well as organizing and coordinating programs. They may supervise city employees and perform other administrative tasks, such as answering correspondence, receiving visitors, preparing reports, and monitoring programs.