Magazine article Public Management

Year 1949 Leadership Functions of the City Manager: These Comments on Specific Problems Will Help Guide City Managers and Councils in Determining Proper Relationships

Magazine article Public Management

Year 1949 Leadership Functions of the City Manager: These Comments on Specific Problems Will Help Guide City Managers and Councils in Determining Proper Relationships

Article excerpt

2006 Comment: In 1949, a group of managers and others familiar with council-manager government responded to the enduring questions about proper roles and responsibilities of city managers. Their personal views, reprinted here, provide the context for an insightful and candid observation by Donald Price: "I think that the fundamental principles of the council-manager plan permit the city manager to do quite a few things which might get him fired."

--John Nalbandian and Shannon Portillo

To what extent and in what ways should the city manager be a leader in his community? Specific suggestions on this perplexing problem were outlined in the presidential address which C. A. Harrell, city manager of Norfolk, Virginia, delivered at the 34th annual conference of the International City Managers' Association at Mackinac Island, Michigan, in September 1948, and which appeared in Public Management for October 1948.

His address was based in part on the suggestions of several specialists in the field of public administration to whom he had sent a questionnaire in the summer of 1948. The replies of five city managers and of two well-known authorities on the council-manager plan are reproduced with permission. Replies to seven of the 13 questions appear in this issue, and the remaining replies will appear in a future issue.

1. Should the city manager influence policy by offering a positive program for council's approval, or should he merely present alternative solutions?

John H. Ames (city manager, Ames, Iowa, since 1927, and president of the International City Managers' Association): I prefer to present alternative solutions with supporting data to the council rather than make a definite recommendation concerning a matter of policy. In a few instances where no alternative solution seems possible, I have recommended a definite course of action. If requested by the council, I do submit a definite recommendation as to the solution I consider most desirable.

Louis Brownlow (formerly city manager, Petersburg, Virginia, and, Knoxville, Tennessee, and for many years director of the Public Administration Clearing House, Chicago): Certainly, he should submit a policy program. However, he should make his recommendations in such a way as to leave the council free from pressure, and if the council adopts a policy at variance with his recommendations, he should then submit a revised program in accordance with the action taken by the council.

If that action is such that he cannot in good conscience conform to it, he should resign. In any event, his advice to the council should be definite, and he should not put the council on the spot by asking it to choose among alternatives submitted to it by him, without indicating his own preference by positive recommendation.

L. P. Cookingham (city manager, Kansas City, Missouri, since 1940, and formerly city manager of Clawson, Plymouth, and Saginaw, Michigan): The manager should influence policy by offering a positive program for council's approval. In most cases the positive program should be directly related to administration. In cases where the proposed policy affects the conduct of individual citizens, such as regulatory ordinances, perhaps alternate suggestions may be desirable. The individual situation confronting me would be the determining factor in my recommendations, that is, I would decide on either one recommendation or alternate plan on the basis of the problem before me.

Russell E. McClure (city manager, Dayton, Ohio, since 1948, and formerly city manager of Wichita, Kansas): There is no categorical answer. Many times, on a basis of his knowledge and experience, the city manager has strong convictions that certain policies will best meet the needs of the city, and in these instances a positive program should be recommended to the council. In other instances, such as an activity that involves a new field in which authorities differ, the city manager should present alternative solutions with his views as to the probable results. …

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