In 1985, Hardyston Township voted by referendum to adopt the council-manager form of government, which combines the strong political leadership of an elected council with the managerial expertise of an appointed manager or administrator. The council-manager form is the most popular form of government in the United States; in 2007, more than 49 percent of U.S. cities and towns with populations of at least 2,500 residents used this form, and it is also used overseas in nations such as Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The council-manager system has its roots in the U.S. progressive reform movement at the beginning of the 20th century, designed to combat corruption by placing an emphasis on ethical, efficient management in a transparent system.
Role of Council:
The council consists of the elected representatives of the residents and serves as the Township’s legislative and policy-making body. Power is concentrated in the council, which is responsible for approving the budget and determining the tax rate, as well as outlining the community’s goals. The council is responsible for setting policy on long-term major projects, land use development, capital improvement, and other matters. The council selects one of its own members to a term as mayor, a voting member who presides over meetings, represents the Township in intergovernmental relationships, and appoints members of citizen advisory boards and commissions, with the advice and consent of the council.
Role of Township Manager:
The manager is a nonpartisan, appointed chief executive and administrative officer that serves at the will of the council, seeing to the implementation of the policies of the council. The manager prepares a budget for the council’s consideration; recruits, hires, supervises, and terminates administrative staff; advises the council on policy considerations, and executes the council’s policies. The manager cannot set policy, yet is able to make recommendations to the council for their consideration and decision. The manager is bound by the council’s actions, ensuring that the governmental power remains in the hands of the elected representatives of the people.
Benefits of the Council-Manager Form:
- Since the mayor is a member of the council, political power is concentrated within the entire body, with the mayor and council sharing in legislative functions.
- Policy making is the sole focus of council, while the manager sees to the day-to-day operations of the community. Elected officials are free to devote their time to policy planning and development of the Township.
- The township manager uses his or her expertise in administration to effectively and efficiently execute the policies determined by the council
- The form is open and transparent, allowing residents to participate in the environment of collaborative government borne out of the cooperative relationship between the council and the mayor. Residents often serve on boards and commissions, participating in planning and advising the council.
- The form is flexible and adaptable to the individual needs of the local communities. For example, Hardyston elects its council members at-large, while larger communities elect them by district or via combination of at-large and by-district elections. Additionally, the mayor can be directly elected by voters, or by and from among the council, as it is in Hardyston.
Value of Having a Professional Manager:
- A professional manager is specifically equipped and able to oversee the everyday operations of the entire Township, and brings organization and efficiency to the operations of the local government.
- By serving at the pleasure of the council, the manager is held accountable for his or her actions, and can be fired by a majority of the council, consistent with local laws or any employment agreements made with the council. This accountability ensures ethical and responsible government.
- The township manager acts as a nonpartisan, objective advisor to the council on policy, and the council relies on the manager for his or her expertise in assessing long-term consequences of council decisions, discussing pros and cons of policy alternatives, and providing objective opinions of local operations.
- A professional manager places emphasis on efficient and effective delivery of service, policy execution, and objective evaluation. The manager ensures that the administrative services of the government align with the goals, values, and mission of the community’s elected council.
- The council-manager form reduces the operating cost of local government by placing administration of the government in the hands of a professional manager, which increases efficiency and productivity. The economic strength of the community may also be improved by the business development and retention strategies of a professional manager.