Forms of Municipal Government
- City council oversees the general administration, makes policy, sets budget
- Council appoints a professional city manager to carry out day-to-day administrative operations
- Often the mayor is chosen from among the council on a rotating basis
This is the most common form of government. According to surveys by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), this form of government has grown from 48% usage in 1996 to 55% usage in 2006. It is most popular in cities with populations over 10,000, mainly in the Southeast and Pacific coast areas. Some examples are Phoenix, Arizona; Topeka, Kansas; San Antonio, Texas, and Rockville, Maryland.
- Mayor is elected separately from the council, is often full-time and paid, with significant administrative and budgetary authority
- Depending on the municipal charter, the mayor could have weak or strong powers
- Council is elected and maintains legislative powers
- Some cities appoint a professional manager who maintains limited administrative authority
Occuring in 34% of cities surveyed by International City/County Management Association (ICMA), this is the second most common form of government. It is found mostly (but not exclusively) in older, larger cities, or in very small cities, and is most popular in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. Cities with variations in the mayor-council form of government are New York, New York; Houston, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- Voters elect individual commissioners to a small governing board
- Each commissioner is responsible for one specific aspect, such as fire, police, public works, health, finance
- One commissioner is designated as chairman or mayor, who presides over meetings
- The commission has both legislative and executive functions
The commission form of city government is the oldest form of government in the U.S., but exists today in less than 1% of cities. It typically occurs in cities with populations below 100,000, such as Sunrise, Florida and Fairview, Tennessee.
- All voters meet to decide basic policy and elect officials to carry out those policies
Although the town meeting form of government is generally viewed as the purest form of democracy, because it allows all eligible voters a voice in local policy decisions, it is practiced in only 5% of municipalities.
Town meeting government is found in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Representative Town Meeting
- Voters select a large number of citizens to represent them at town meetings, where only they can vote
- Each town meeting must be announced with a warrant that provides the date, time and location of the meeting and specifies the items to be discussed
- The selectmen are responsible for implementing policy
This form of government is found in fewer than 1% of cities, almost exclusively in small, New England municipalities, such as Bowdoin, Maine and Lexington, Massachusetts.
Recent examinations of government structure indicate that these forms of government are less distinct that they once were. This is due, in part, to the common practice of incorporating structural features from other forms into one's current form. This mixing is also attributed to local responses to socioeconomic, demographic, and political changes. The most common mixing occurs across the two most prevalent forms, mayor-council and the council-manager. Among all cities proposing a change to their structure of government, the most common proposal was to add the position of chief administration officer/city manager. This professionalization of government administration also had the highest percentage of voter approval. Among other proposed changes, 50% or more respondents of ICMA's 2006 survey reported voter approval to increase or decrease the number of council members, to modify the method of electing the mayor and to decrease the power or authority of the mayor.
The Form of Government in the Thirty Most Populous Cities
Listed below is the form of government for the thirty most populous cities in the United States, based on the 2010 U.S. Census figures. The forms of government are informed by the member database at the National League of Cities.
|Rank||City Name||State||Form Of Government|
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Svara, James H. Two Decades of Continuity and Change in American City Councils. Washignton, D.C.: National League of Cities, September 2003.
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