Inside the City: Explaining the role of the City Manager

Many of you may recall that I did a column for the Verde Independent called COP TALK when I was the police chief.

I am now the city manager and I have been asked to provide a new column responding to some of the more interesting issues or projects facing the city. Such a column is also a good opportunity to maybe provide a little more perspective and information about issues facing the City of Cottonwood. Each week I will respond to a question provided to me from the newspaper staff or from a citizen or citizens that may relay questions through the newspaper.

For this week, I want to explain the role of a city manager. When I was applying for the position and even after I was hired, I received many questions about what a city manager does in the city. I think having an understanding of the city manager's role is not only a good City Government - 101 lesson but also will help you to understand my responsibilities related to the operation of the city and my potential knowledge about the projects or issues I will be addressing in my column.

There are essentially two forms of municipal government, a strong mayor form or a council/manager form. The strong mayor form is more traditional and is usually found in older cities and it seems to be more prevalent in the eastern part of our nation. For example, Mayor Bloomberg in New York City represents a strong mayor form of government in that he manages the city. He would be responsible for hiring, firing and directing staff in the City of New York. Many times when there is a change of mayor in this form of government there tends to be a general replacement of department heads and other key managers.

The council/manager form of government was introduced around 1945 and has spread rapidly across the nation since its introduction. This form of government relies on a professionally trained city manager to manage the day-to-day operations of the city. The city manager is hired by and is responsible to the city council that is responsible for setting policy that provides the city manager and the city staff with the direction to run the city.

The city council also approves the budget and acts as the conduit between the citizens and city staff. The council members are voted into office by our citizens where the city manager is appointed by the city council and serves at their pleasure.

The council/manager form of government was primarily implemented in most cities in an effort to remove politics and cronyism from the day-to-day operations of the city. This form of government was also intended to provide more consistency in management of the city for both citizens and city staff by providing for a manager that could remain in place even if the city council was voted out of office or chose not to seek another term.

The city manager is the person responsible for hiring and firing of city staff so the staff does not turn over based on who is in political office.

This is a very quick summary of the two forms of city government and there are books written about these two forms. But, my time as well as yours is limited so I will end the government lesson here.

So my job as the city manager is to take direction from the city council and manage the city in compliance with that policy. This policy direction can be small such as changing our hours of operation, to directing the building of a recreation center to better meet the needs of our citizens.

My responsibility is then to direct staff to perform their duties consistently with the direction from the city council. All the city staff reports to the city manager and I have the responsibility for directing and managing staff and the other resources needed to run the city.

The city manager, the city attorney and the city magistrate are the only people in the city that report to the city council.

This could be tough having seven different bosses but we have a history of good, productive city councils in Cottonwood that have directed the city very well.

The role of a city manager, as I am quickly finding out, is challenging but it can be very rewarding. I have also found this new challenge exciting in that Cottonwood has much opportunity to truly be a remarkable city. We have challenges, no doubt.

But working together with our citizens, the city council and our city staff, we can make Cottonwood a better place for our kids and grandkids.

Send your questions to City Manager Doug Bartosh.


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