It takes many highly qualified professionals to make city government run smoothly.   Smaller but still important decisions are made each day by city staffers while the city council makes the big decisions and sets policy direction. Elected officials must trust the professional judgment of the public administrators so it would be impossible for a mayor or city council to micromanage a city’s staff. The city manager is the chief executive officer in cities that operate under the council manager form of government.  All city staffers are under the city manager’s line of supervision with some exceptions that vary by each city’s charter. At times the city attorney and city secretary report directly to the city council. the vast majority of staff are under the manager’s direction, even in these situations. The mayor is the city’s chief executive in the strong mayor form of government. The city manager position does not exist. The closest equivalent is deputy mayor. The mayor is still an elected official even  in this form of government. The mayor may receive a full-time salary, but the mayor is still not really a public administrator in the traditional sense.

Leadership positions in city government


            The city manager is responsible for operationalizing city council decisions more than any other staff member. He or she also has the most influence on these decisions. Council members look to the city manager for guidance and expert opinion on issues facing the city.  The council rarely goes against the manager’s opinion when the manager and council have a good relationship. The manager reports directly to the city council. This is one of the most challenging aspects of the job. If keeping one boss happy is difficult, try having seven … or more. Assistant city managers report to the city manager and supervise department heads. Assistant city manager positions are created when the city has too many department heads for the city manager to supervise directly. Assistant city managers allow the city manager to focus primarily on external issues while the assistant city managers focus primarily on internal issues. Many cities group similar departments under one assistant city manager. For example, an assistant city manager who oversees the fire department will also oversee the police department. That person may be called the deputy city manager when a city has only one assistant city manager.  A deputy city manager position may also exist when the city manager wants to formally identify a number two person from among several assistant city managers. The city attorney is the city’s chief legal advisor. The city attorney gets involved in any city issue that requires legal consultation. The city attorney position looks very different from city to city. The city attorney is not even a city staffer in some cases. Small cities tend to contract with an attorney or law firm to represent the city. Some firms specialize in local government law. These firms employ several attorneys who each represent a handful of cities, counties and school districts.