Council/Manager Government

Which is how our fair city is managed and this article from Public Sector Inc. notes the problems with that in relation to the recent bankruptcies in California—almost all of which are Council/Manager forms of government.

An excerpt.

“These are troubling times for the supporters of council-manager government, among whom I count myself. The Rogue’s Gallery of recently distressed, bankrupt and/or scandal-plagued cities seems to include just as many council-manager cities as strong mayor cities.

“Vallejo, Bell, Stockton and San Bernardino are all council-manager cities. (Note the remark about “terrible governance” in this Reuters blog post about San Bernardino. Ouch!) San Diego was a council-manager city during its “Enron-by-the-sea” moment in the earlier part of the last decade. In recent years, city managers have been implicated in some egregious cases of pension-spiking, such as in Vernon and Elk Grove, CA (via Steve Greenhut’s Plunder!).

“This was not supposed to happen. To its early 20th century Progressive architects, council-manager government was intended to be good government. The Progressives believed that good government required the separation of politics and administration. Council-manager effected this separation by placing responsibility for a city’s administration in the hands of an appointed, professional manager, leaving politics to the elected city councilors.

“Council-manager proved to be an attractive idea, particularly among mid-sized American cities. Over 60% of all cities with a population between 25,000 and 249,000 have council-manager government. But it also has long had its critics, who tend to allege either that the city manager has too much power for an unelected official, and/or that he does not have enough power to get anything done. The latter argument is relevant to the case of Public Sector Inc.

“If truly bold reform is needed to rein in the unions, address pension and retiree health care liabilities, and so on, we will probably need politicians more than administrators. Take San Diego, whose strong mayor, Jerry Sanders, successfully persuaded San Diego voters last month to enact “the most sweeping change to the city’s retirement system in four decades.” Sanders is the first strong mayor in San Diego’s history. He was elected in 2005 after San Diego voters decided to scrap council-manager. San Diego’s change from pension laughing-stock to standard-bearer not only coincided with, but was clearly enabled by, its change from strong mayor to council-manager. (See Roger Lowenstein’s While America Aged on how San Diego’s former city manager abetted pension fraud and mismanagement.)”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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