Our Form of Government



The Council-Manager form of government is established in the Nogales City Code. According to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the Council-Manager form of local government combines the strong political leadership of elected officials with the strong managerial experience of an appointed professional local government manager.


This model is used widely throughout the United States and by virtually every local government in the state of Arizona. It is most closely compared to the model used in the private sector where there is a board of directors, and then there is a chief executive officer that reports to the board and manages the day-to-day operations of the company. For more information on the Council-Manager form of government, see the video below or click the "Life, Well Run 2012" link on the right side of the page.


The chairman of the board would be compared to the mayoral role in the Council-Manager form of government. The chief executive or administrative role would be closely aligned to the role of the City Manager. In the Council-Manager form, the City Manager works closely with the Mayor to ensure the policies of the City Council as a whole are implemented.


In Council-Manager communities such as the City of Nogales, the Mayor presides at City Council meetings, serves as a spokesperson for the community, facilitates communication among elected and appointed officials, assists the City Council in setting goals and advocating policy decisions, and serves as a promoter of the community.


The City Manager is hired to serve the City Council and the community and to provide the benefits of training and experience in administering local government projects and programs. Some of the City Manager's responsibilities are:

  • Preparing a budget for the City Council’s consideration;
  • Recruiting, hiring and supervising City staff;
  • Serving as the City Council’s chief advisor;
  • Carrying out the City Council’s policies.

City Council members and residents count on the City Manager to provide complete and objective information, including alternatives and long-term consequences.



Council-Manager form of government

What is the council-manager form of government?

The council-manager form of government is the fastest growing form of government in the United States today. It's also the most prevalent -- it's used by more cities, villages, townships, and counties than any other form. 

It's a system of local government that combines the strong political leadership of elected officials (the governing body) with the strong, politically neutral, managerial experience of an appointed local government manager. The governing body is the City Council. The council-manager form establishes a representative system where all power is concentrated in the elected council, and where the council hires a professionally trained manager to oversee the delivery of public services.

The council-manager form, sometimes referred to as the "city manager" form, was born in the early 20th century in response to corruption and patronage that plagued many cities. The form was designed to "professionalize" local government and resembles the structure of a corporation or a non-profit organization. In a city, for instance, the city council acts much like a board of directors: similar to how a board would hire an experienced CEO to run a private sector organization, the council hires a professionally-trained manager to run the day-to-day operations of the city. (The position of mayor can be compared to the chair of the board.) The council, which includes the mayor, oversees the actions of the professional manager and ensures that policies are implemented to the community's satisfaction. The council may decide to replace the manager at any time with a majority vote.

The second most prevalent form of government in the US is the "strong mayor" form, also known as the mayor-council form. In this form, it is the mayor who serves as the CEO of the community. Since the mayor is an elected office, this form of government may or may not result in a professionally-trained manager serving in that position.

The council-manager form of government is used throughout the world, in communities both large and small, because it is highly effective and adaptable to local conditions and preferences.

What is the difference between the council-manager and strong mayor forms of government?

Nearly 90% of all communities use either the council-manager or the strong mayor form of government. When viewed together, the overwhelming advantages of the council-manager form become apparent. It encourages neighborhood input into the political process, diffuses the power of special interests, and eliminates partisan politics from municipal hiring, firing, and contracting decisions.

How is the council-manager form more responsive to community needs?

In a council-manager government, the mayor, or chairperson of the governing body, and council members are the leaders and policy makers elected to represent the community. They focus on policy issues that are responsive to citizens' needs and wishes. The manager is appointed by the governing body to carry out policy and ensure that the entire community is being served. If the manager is not responsive to the governing body's wishes, the governing body has the authority to terminate the manager at any time. In that sense, a manager's responsiveness is tested daily.

How does the council-manager form use merit-based decision making versus partisan politics?

Under council-manager government, qualifications and performance -- and not skillful navigation of the political election process -- are the criteria the elected body uses to select a professional manager. The professional manager, in turn, uses his or her education, experience, and training to select department heads and other key managers to oversee the efficient delivery of services. In this way, council-manager government maintains critical checks and balances to ensure accountability at city hall.

Under the strong mayor form of government, the day-to-day management of community operations shifts to the mayor, who often lacks the appropriate training, education, and experience in municipal administration and finance to oversee the delivery of essential community services. Also, under the strong mayor form, there is the temptation to make decisions regarding the hiring and firing of key department head positions such as the police chief, public works director, and finance director based on the applicant's political support rather than his or her professional qualifications.

How does the council-manager form help to diffuse the power of special interests?

Under the council-manager form of government, involvement of the entire elected body ensures a more balanced approach to community decision making, so that all interests can be expressed and heard not just those that are well funded.

Under the strong-mayor form, however, it's easier for special interests to use money and political power to influence a single elected official, rather than having to secure a majority of the city council's support for their agenda.

How is the council-manager form adaptable to local needs?

Not all council-manager governments are structured the same way. One of the most attractive features is that the council-manager form is adaptable to local conditions and preferences. For example, some communities have councils that are elected at large while other councils are elected by district or by a combination of an at-large and by-district structure. In some local governments, the mayor or chairperson is elected at large by the voters; others are elected by their colleagues on the governing body.

In Nogales, the Mayor and members of the City Council are elected at large by the voters to 4-year terms.

How is the council-manager form less expensive?

Local governments have found that overall costs actually have been reduced with competent management. Savings come in the form of reduced operating costs, increased efficiency and productivity, improved revenue collection, or effective use of technology.

How does the council-manager form enable neighborhoods to strengthen their voice?

The council-manager form encourages open communication between citizens and their government. Under this form, each member of the governing body has an equal voice in policy development and administrative oversight. This gives neighborhoods and diverse groups a greater opportunity to influence policy.

Under the strong mayor form, political power is concentrated in the mayor, which means that other members of the elected body relinquish at least some of their policy-making power and influence. This loss of decision-making power among council members can have a chilling effect on the voices of neighborhoods and city residents.