A city manager is an official appointed as the administrative manager of a city, in a council–manager form of city government. Local officials serving in this position are sometimes referred to as the chief executive officer (CEO) or chief administrative officer (CAO) in some municipalities.
Dayton, Ohio suffered a great flood in 1913, and responded with the innovation of a paid, non-political city manager, hired by the commissioners to run the bureaucracy; civil engineers were especially preferred. Other small or middle sized American cities, especially in the West, adopted the idea.
In Europe, smaller cities in the Netherlands were specially attracted by the plan.
By 1940 there were city managers in small cities that grew enormously by the end of the century: Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Dallas, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; Rochester, New York; and San Diego, California.
In a technical sense, the term "city manager," as opposed to CAO, implies more discretion and independent authority that is set forth in a charter or some other body of codified law, as opposed to duties being assigned on a varying basis by a single superior such as a mayor.
Most sources trace the first city manager to Staunton, Virginia in 1908. Some of the other cities that were among the first to employ a manager were Sumter, South Carolina (1912) and Dayton, Ohio (1914); Dayton was featured in the national media, and became a national standard. The first "City Manager's Association" meeting of eight city managers was in December 1914. The city manager, operating under the council-manager government form, was created in part to remove city government from the power of the political parties, and place management of the city into the hands of an outside expert who was usually a business manager or engineer, with the expectation that the city manager would remain neutral to city politics. By 1930 200 American cities used a city manager form of government.
As the top appointed official in the city, the city manager is typically responsible for most if not all of the day-to-day administrative operations of the municipality, in addition to other expectations.
Some of the basic roles, responsibilities, and powers of a city manager include:
- Supervision of day-to-day operations of all city departments and staff, directly and through department heads;
- Oversight of all hiring, firing, disciplining and suspensions;
- Preparation, monitoring, and execution of the city budget, which includes submitting each year to the council a proposed budget package with options and recommendations for its consideration and possible approval;
- Main technical advisor to the council on overall governmental operations;
- Public relations, such as meeting with citizens, citizen groups, businesses, and other stakeholders (the presence of a mayor may alter this function somewhat);
- Operating the city with a professional understanding of how all city functions operate together to their best effect;
- Attends all council meetings, but does not have any voting rights
- Additional duties that may be assigned by the council
The responsibilities may vary depending upon charter provisions and other local or state laws, rules, and regulations. In addition, many states, such as the states of New Hampshire and Missouri, have codified in law the minimum functions a local "manager" must perform. The City Manager position focuses on efficiency and providing a certain level of service for the lowest possible cost. The competence of a city manager can be assessed using composite indicators.
Manager members of the ICMA are bound by a rather rigid and strongly enforced code of ethics that was originally established in 1924. Since that time the code had been up-dated/revised on seven occasions, the latest taking place in 1998. The updates have taken into account the evolving duties, responsibilities, and expectations of the profession; however the core dictate of the body of the code--“to integrity; public service; seek no favor; exemplary conduct in both personal and professional matters; respect the role and contributions of elected officials; exercise the independence to do what is right; political neutrality; serve the public equitably and governing body members equally; keep the community informed about local government matters; and support and lead our employ-ees”—have not changed since the first edition.
In the early years of the profession, most managers came from the ranks of the engineering professions. Today the typical and preferred background and education for the beginning municipal manager is a master's degree in Public Administration (MPA) and at least several years’ experience as a department head in local government or as an assistant city manager. As of 2005 more than 60% of those in the profession had a MPA, MBA, or other related higher-level degree.
The average tenure of a manager is now 7–8 years and has risen gradually over the years. Tenures tend to be less in smaller communities and higher in larger ones, and they tend to vary as well depending on the region of the country.
Educational Level of Local Government Managers
||High school or less||42%||14%||6%||2%||4%||2%||4%||1%|
|Some college, no degree||21%||22%||18%||10%||—||9%||11%||6%|
|Other graduate degree||2%||5%||38%||58%||28%||63%||21%||27%|
|Source||1940 MYB||1965 MYB||1990 MYB||1996 MYB||2001 MYB||2006 SOP survey||2012 SOP Survey|
|Sample size||n = 449||n = 1,582||n not reported||n =2 65||n = 3,175||n = 2,752||n = 1,816|
- Local government
- Local government in the United States
- council-manager government
- Clerk (municipal official)
- City of Naperville
- Stefan Couperus, "The managerial revolution in local government: municipal management and the city manager in the USA and the Netherlands 1900–1940." Management & Organizational History (2014) 9#4 pp: 336-352.
- Harold A. Stone et al., City Manager Government in Nine Cities (1940); Frederick C. Mosher et al., City Manager Government in Seven Cities (1940)
- Svara, James H. and Kimberly L. Nelson. (2008, August). Taking Stock of the Council-Manager Form at 100. Public Management Magazine, pp 6-14, at: 
- "City managing, a new profession". The Independent. Dec 14, 1914. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
- Robert Bruce Fairbanks; Patricia Mooney-Melvin; Zane L. Miller (2001). Making Sense of the City: Local Government, Civic Culture, and Community Life in Urban America. Ohio State University Press. p. 85.
- Council Manager Form of Government, ICMA publication
- Sample Ordinance, ICMA.
- Nelson, Kimberly L.; Svara, James H. (2015-01-01). "The Roles of Local Government Managers in Theory and Practice: A Centennial Perspective". Public Administration Review 75 (1): 49–61. doi:10.1111/puar.12296. ISSN 1540-6210.
- MRS NH RSA
- MacDonald, Lynn. "The Impact Of Government Structure On Local Public Expenditures." Public Choice 136.3/4 (2008): 457-473. Political Science Complete. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.
- Marozzi, Marco; Bolzan, Mario (2015). "Skills and training requirements of municipal directors: A statistical assessment". Quality and Quantity. doi:10.1007/s11135-015-0192-2.
- ICMA Code of Ethics page
- Stillman, Richard J. (1974). The Rise of the City Manager: A Public Professional in Local Government. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
- ICMA statistics
- Ammons, David M and Matthew J. Bosse. (2005). “Tenure of City Managers: Examining the Dual Meanings of ‘Average Tenure’.” State & Local Government Review, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 61-71. at: 
- Kemp, Roger L. Managing America's Cities: A Handbook for Local Government Productivity, McFarland and Co., Jefferson, NC, USA, and London, Eng., UK 1998(ISBN 0-7864-0408-6).
- _______, Model Government Charters: A City, County, Regional, State, and Federal Handbook, McFarland and Co., Jefferson, NC, USA, and London, Eng., UK, 2003 (ISBN 978-0-7864-3154-0)
- _______, Forms of Local Government: A Handbook on City, County and Regional Options, McFarland and Co., Jefferson, NC, USA, and London, Eng., UK, 2007 (ISBN 978-0-7864-3100-7).
- Stillman, Richard Joseph. The rise of the city manager: A public professional in local government. (University of New Mexico Press, 1974)
- Weinstein, James. "Organized business and the city commission and manager movements." Journal of Southern History (1962): 166-182. in JSTOR
- White, Leonard D. The city manager (1927)
- International City/County Management Association, ICMA is the professional and educational organization for chief appointed managers, administrators, and assistants in cities, towns, counties, and regional entities throughout the world.
- Staunton, Virginia: Birthplace Of City Manager Form Of Government, a history on the city manager system of government.