City manager as CEO: A brief explainer on what Glenwood Springs’ top administrator does |

City manager as CEO: A brief explainer on what Glenwood Springs’ top administrator does

This week, Glenwood Springs City Council is expected to choose the next city manager.

But what does a city manager do exactly?

“I would certainly say that a city manager can be essentially counted on to be in an apolitical position,” said Kevin Bommer, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League.

In Colorado, there are two main forms of government for towns, cities and municipalities. There is a council-mayor system or a mayor strong system, and there is a council-manager system or a manager strong system. 

Most municipalities in Colorado have the council-manager system, with the exception of Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

“Most of the municipalities in Colorado, and certainly, almost all of the home rule municipalities are council-manager form of government,” Bommer said.

Both systems have elected city council members, and both have a mayor who acts as some form of a representative. 

The biggest difference is in how the mayor is chosen, what duties the mayor performs and how much power the position holds.

“Denver and Colorado Springs both have strong mayors, and honestly, that gets very political because they can wield an inordinate amount of power because they serve both as the city’s CEO, and typically, as somebody who has veto power over the rest of council,” Mayor Jonathan Godes said. 

In the council-mayor system, the mayor is an elected official who also runs all of the day-to-day responsibilities, Bommer said. They have more power in decision making, hiring and policy implementation. 

In a council-manager system, the city council decides the city manager, the city attorney and the municipal judge, while the city manager hires all other city administration positions. 

“At the municipal level, the more politics you can take out of things, the better you serve your constituents, the citizens,” Godes said. 

In the council-manager system, like in Glenwood Springs, the mayor has little to do with day to day administration, instead, they, along with the rest of council, hire the city manager to run the administrative work as a professional in that field. 

“We have a full gamut of services, water, sewer, electric, all the stuff we have here. And when you have that, I think you need a manager who is trained to do that, you need a professional manager,” Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Willman said.

Typically, the city manager in a manager strong municipality also holds a masters of public administration, or has the equivalent in work experience.

“My concern with a strong mayor system, that is the mayor being actually the administrative person, the one who runs the city is your elected someone, and they may or may not have the qualifications to operate, the complexity of a business,” Willman said. “I mean, the city is basically a large business.”

In many ways the city is run like a business. The person who fulfills those duties for a city is required to handle budgets, implementation and administer enterprise funds such as water and sewer utilities.

The City Council hires the city manager in a manager strong system, and they are the ones who present policy to the managers. 

“We direct policy, and we do it through the city manager for city staff to then implement,” Council Member Paula Stepp said. “The benefits to me are that the city staff has history and knowledge and depth, a depth of knowledge that I don’t have.” 

Another reason this form of government works well for residents and smaller to larger rural communities is that it offers residents more opportunity to communicate with their local government. They can ask council for feedback or followup, or they can even petition for change at city council. 

They can also go directly to the city manager. 

“The city manager is accessible to the citizens and should be accessible to citizens on a regular basis and how and to what level that occurs, may differ from person to person,” Willman said. 

Gaining community input and making sure the community is a part of the decisions of the city is the direction the city wants to work in. 

“I think we have to find better ways of gathering community input without saying, ‘Well, we’re gonna do this project,’ we can say, ‘Tell us what kind of project you’d like us to see,’” Willman said. 

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