On November 8, 2022, voters throughout the United States expressed strong support for the council-manager form of government and for professional management. Thanks to the efforts of ICMA staff, ICMA members, state associations, and grassroots organizers, we continue to see growing support for the often-unheralded work city and county administrators do every day for the communities they serve.
Portland, Maine, Rejects “Executive Mayor”
In Portland, Maine—a city that has operated under the council-manager form for the past 100 years—the city’s charter commission advanced a proposal to implement an “executive mayor” responsible for the administration of government under a mayor-council form of government. For the past two years, ICMA, the Maine Town, City and County Management Association (MTCMA), and grassroots organizations have worked tirelessly to inform the city of Portland about the benefits of the council-manager form of government and professional management more broadly.
Marc Ott provided two key op-ed pieces to offer commentary on the issues of social justice raised by those seeking to change the form of government and also to argue the benefit of the council-manager form of government over the proposed “executive mayor” form. Christine Landes and Ryan Pelletier (MTCMA president and vice president respectively) coauthored a piece leading up to the election on behalf of the MTCMA membership, which provided commentary on the value that the council-manager form of government has brought to communities throughout the state. Grassroots organizers launched an active campaign named “Protect Portland’s Future” to get the vote out to defeat the measure.
As a result of these and other efforts to inform the public over the past two years, the people of Portland, Maine, rejected the change to a strong mayor system with 65 percent of voters opposed to the charter commission recommendation.
Ithaca, New York, Adopts Council-Manager Form
In Ithaca, New York, voters overwhelmingly supported a change from a mayor-council form of government to a council-manager form with 73 percent of voters approving the measure. ICMA spoke with elected officials and staff to provide deeper understanding of the distinctions between mayor-council and council-manager forms of government. As part of their research, the city spoke with city managers and academics to better understand both theoretical and practical implications in potentially changing the form of government.
Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to place a ballot question before the people to consider adopting a council-manager form of government. Because elected officials and staff engaged the community throughout the process, there was little opposition raised against the change. The transparency and thoughtful approach to changing the form of government contributed greatly to the overwhelming public support.
Red Bank, New Jersey, Adopts Council-Manager Form
In Red Bank, New Jersey, the voters chose to adopt the council-manager form of government. This is a shift from the borough form of government, which is a weaker mayor-council system. ICMA provided information and expert testimony on the distinctions between various forms of government. The council ultimately chose to place the initiative on the ballot to determine whether a nonpartisan election for a council-manager form of government would better meet the needs of the people of Red Bank.
The measure ultimately passed with 68 percent of voters in favor of the transition. The first election will be held in May 2023, where six councilmembers and a mayor will be elected at-large to serve staggered four-year terms. A city manager will be appointed by the newly formed council following the May 2023 election.
Portland, Oregon, Adopts Mayor-Council with City Administrator
For years, Portland, Oregon, stood as the only large city operating under a commission form of government. As part of its requisite 10-year charter review, Portland set out to change that. ICMA engaged with members of the charter commission during the 2021 ICMA Annual Conference held in Portland. We also have continued to provide technical support and information regarding the value of professional management and council-manager form of government.
The commission considered a change from commission form to council-manager form too much of a shift from the culture of elected officials managing daily operations. However, they recognized the tremendous value and benefits of having a professional administrator manage the operations of government. And so, they chose to recommend changing to a mayor-council form of government, but also to include the charter requirement for a city administrator.
Under the new plan, the city administrator will be recommended by the mayor and approved by the council. The city administrator will report to the mayor, who is responsible for the administration of government. While this is not the structure ICMA recommended, it certainly provides opportunity for better administrative management of the government organization than the previous commission form of government. What’s more, the decision to require a city administrator by the charter demonstrates the value of professional management.
Need form-of-government assistance?
ICMA provides information, presentations, and other support to individuals and organizations interested in promoting professional management and the council-manager form of government. Contact Jason Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about donating to ICMA’s Future of Professional Management Fund.
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