Public administration Paper on Strong Mayor vs. City Manager

Strong Mayor vs. City Manager


            The running of American cities and metropolitans is done using either the city-manager system or the ‘strong mayor’ system. Before 20th century, strong mayor system was dominantly used in administration of the city communities. There were several drawbacks associated with the strong mayor system, and these led to founding of the city manager system in the early years of the 20th century. This system was found to be inclusive and effective making it the most popular system of city governance in the United States (ICMA, 2009).

The strong mayor system

            This system of local government gives the elected mayor near absolute power to make decisions concerning the formulation of policies and their implementation in the city. The mayor in this system has the authority to hire department heads of the city and fire them at will. The mayor is given the responsibility of preparing the budget for the consideration of the council and administers it after it is adopted by the council (Brodgett, 1994). Further, the mayor can veto decisions that have been made by the council and that veto can only be overridden by an extraordinary majority in the council.

Strong mayor system has the following merits:

  • It avoids the bureaucracy that is experienced in other forms of governments making it easier for the policies to be made and implemented using smaller time frames.
  • The mayor is elected by the people and is a representation of the aspirations of the city community or communities. It is only fair if such a leader were to be given the opportunity to exercise the political authority that has been granted to him/her without any limitations (ICMA, 2009).
  • The power that is wielded by the mayor in this system makes the mayor increase influence over other entities in the city and beyond and become responsive to the immediate needs of the residents in the town.

Strong mayor system also has demerits, and these include:

  • Gives the mayor too much power that he/she can use to gain leverage over the opponents by offering an exchange of benefits for support from various quarters in the city.
  • It is easier for the mayor to be influenced by the special interests groups in way of finance or political power at the expense of the city communities.
  • There is a higher likelihood of mismanagement of the funds and resources of the town by the mayor, who happens to be answerable to no one.
  • Corruption, nepotism and other governance ills can take place if the mayor wills it, and there is very little that the council members can do about it
  • The minority groups in the city are likely to be left out in the decisions and policies made by the local government (McCollester, 2015).
  • The mayor is overburdened by the responsibilities of participating in the coming up with policies an further ensuring that they get implemented in the best way envisioned

City Manager System

The city manager system of local government is the most prevalent one in American cities. This form of government entails a mayor and the members of council, who are the representative of the various districts and communities in the city, playing the role of coming up with development policies for the city. The council or board, which is chaired by the mayor, then appoints a city manager with the responsibility of implementing the policies that have been developed (Brodgett, 1994). The manager has the responsibility to appoint his/her juniors to assist in the implementation of policies based on merits as opposed to political loyalty. City managers are not politicians, but rather technocrats that have experience in management, and they have to be employed on merit. Further, a city manager is accountable to the council or board of the city. Managers have no fixed terms and can be hired and dismissed at any moment depending of the performance of their duties in the eyes of the council (McCollester, 2015). The power and authority of a city using this system of government is vested in the council which includes representatives from all communities and ethnic groups found in the city or metropolitan. The manager is responsible for coming up with the budget for the city, which is then approved by the council.

City manager system has the following advantages:

  • There is more stability in this system
  • The various communities in that reside the city are represented in the decision making body of the city
  • There is reduced influence from the special interests and politics as well
  • The council has significant oversight authority that discourages corruption and other leadership shortcomings

City manager system also has some drawbacks that include:

  • It is harder in this system to hold the elected officials accountable (McCollester, 2015).
  • It takes much longer to make decisions, as wide consultations have to be made to garner support from a majority of the council


            Having considered the merits and drawbacks of each system, city manager model is the better option of the two. This is because city manager system is devoid of political influence and the possibility of the leadership of the town being involved in corruption or mismanagement of resources is minimised.  The expertise of the manager hired by the council ensures that various projects and other programs of the city are carried out with the required precision.




Brodgett, T. (1994). Beware of the Lure of the ‘Strong’ Mayor. (1st ed.). Public Management. Austin, Texas.

McCollester, K. (2015). Local Government 101: Strong Mayor vs. Council Manager. Voterheads Blog. Retrieved 3 November 2016, from