We’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what a city manager had to say about Cookingham’s 2nd guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Rafael Baptista, an intern for Catawba County, North Carolina.
Formal acts of the council become public policy, and you as city manager must always do your best to translate these policies into action. You should do this in a manner to best realize the intent of the council. In some cases, you may not agree with the policy, but it is your duty as city manager to carry out the policy to the best of your ability unless it is illegal or fraudulent.
Over the years, the role of the City/County manager has evolved. While the position perhaps was once more of an implementer of policy, I believe that the modern-day manager has to take on a much more active policy role.
The crux of LP Cookingham’s guidepost that the manager is not a policy maker remains true; but I believe that in this day and age, the manager must take on a heavier policy advisor role due to the increasingly complicated nature of local government issues—all while striving to maintain political neutrality and implement the will of the council.
The issues that local governments have to address are more complicated and technical than ever before. Councils are dealing less with ideological issues and more with decisions of which Internet provider to work with or what technological programs to invest in for improvements in efficiency.
Since the manager works closely with staff—many of whom are subject experts—the manager has a unique base of knowledge and perspective to share with the council. The manager should not make policy, but rather advise the council on the implications of different decisions and help guide them through a process that allows them to make the decision they deem best. On more technical issues, the manager may want to be more involved in policy advising then in other issues.
However, the manager must completely respect the will of the council and remain politically neutral. The manager needs to know his/her council and how they view different issues. While not avoiding the important issues and potential solutions, the manager must be careful to work with the council in a way that allows him/her to be a sound policy adviser while developing and maintaining strong council relations.
Once the council makes a decision, the role of the manager is implement the policy in a way that most closely reflects the will of the council. They have to be careful to ensure that even if they disagree with the council decision, any disagreement remains professional and as private as possible.
In summary, the crux of this guidepost remains, but managers are increasingly taking on the role of policy adviser in addition to policy implementer.
The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.
I would say that City managers have always been advisers to the Mayor and Council. They are hired for their expertise, not just to be a bobble head saying yes. A City Manager should become the lead advisers to a council and Mayor just like a superintendent of a school system is to a school board.
You’re absolutely right, Charlie. Whether or not a city manager steps up to the plate to become the lead adviser is the question.