Year 1962 Is the Manager a Political Leader?-Yes: The City Manager Is in Politics Because of His Influential Role in Proposing Public Policies to the City Council

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2006 Comment: In 1961, Professor Gladys Kammerer and H. G. Pope, executive director of the Public Administration Service, spoke to the ICMA conference in Miami Beach. They addressed the topic, "Is the Manager a Political Leader?" ICMA published their remarks in PM in 1962; this article and the next reprint their exchange.

On the basis of her 1962 research on city manager tenure and termination in Florida, Professor Kammerer answered the question with an unequivocal "yes." (1) From a classic political science framework, influencing policy in ways city managers commonly do constitutes political action and, in that sense, city managers thus are political leaders. Further, her research showed that with factionalized councils, it does no good for a manager to remain silent on controversial issues because silence will be construed as support for the majority.

This article is a must read for those who find themselves attracted to the opposite argument--that although city managers may influence policy making, they are not political actors.

--John Nalbandian and Shannon Portillo

A definition of terms is essential in debate in order that the frame of reference may be established and discussion may be to the point. It is the term "politics" that must be defined. A number of eminent political scientists, including Charles E. Merriam, George Catlin, Harold Lasswell, V. O. Key, Jr., and many others have defined politics as the process of governance or the process and practice of ruling, thereby applying the term to the workings of governments generally, their impact on the governed, their manner of operation, and the means by which governors attain and retain authority. In much the same view David Easton defines politics as the authoritative allocation of values in a society. (2)

The common conception of politics as merely a "dirty business" is unrealistic and nonoperational. It offers no explanation whatsoever for the process by which governmental improvements are effected in a democracy and only "explains" deviations from our values. Yet there are still many individuals, especially journalists, who choose to warp and twist the definition of politics to describe only the "bad" processes of government. The "good" processes are apparently "civic" activity, not politics. In this vein, a leading Florida newspaper recently stated:

The business of city government is to run a municipality efficiently and serve the people to the best of the establishment's ability. There is no "issue" in this. There is nothing "political" about drainage, sewers, street lights, police and fire protection, and so on. On the contrary, if they are injected into the field of politics, we are bound to lose efficiency and economy down the drain which runs through the pork barrel ....

Certainly we want no "boss" rule, no partisanship in fundamental municipal affairs, no "spoils" system and no political approach to routine affairs.

Yet normal controversy in this very city did make issues out of proposals for financing storm sewers and for urban renewal and defeated both programs. Presumably such defeat was not "politics," according to the local newspaper, because that city had no politics. But one is thereby left without the foggiest notion of how to describe the behavior of this city.

The political process cannot be limited, as some would do, to elections and campaigns. Elections are only a single aspect of political behavior, which also includes discussion of public affairs, writing letters to public officials about policy, and acting in and through groups to influence public policy.


The city manager is a political leader for the following reasons: (1) he is a leader in proposing public policy for his city; (2) the role perceptions councilmen and citizens have of the manager are those of a political leader; and (3) long-term managers, in Florida at least, either have been major members of the political faction in control of the council or have possessed some independent base of political power, and they can be distinguished thereby from short-term managers who either were not included in the dominant political clique or had no base of political power of their own to provide policy support while they were forced to act as political leaders. …