Form of Government

The City of San Bernardino is a Charter City operated pursuant to the Council-Manager form of government. A Charter City is one which operates under the laws contained in the Charter adopted by voters of the City and laws and rules established by the State of California. The Council-Manager form of government establishes a method of governance which allows for democratic participation, representation through the Mayor and City Council, professional implementation, and efficient and effective operation that comes from a full-time professional manager.



What is the Council-Manager form of government?
The council-manager form of government is a system of local government that combines the strong political leadership of elected officials in the form of a mayor and city council or other governing body, with the strong, professional managerial experience of an appointed local government manager. The form establishes a representative system where all power is concentrated in the elected mayor and council where the mayor and city council hires a professionally trained manager to oversee the delivery of public services. In council-manager governments, the mayor and council members are the leaders and policy makers elected to represent various segments of the community and to concentrate on policy issues that are responsive to citizens' needs and wishes. The city manager is appointed by the mayor and city council to carry out the policy direction and ensure that the entire community is being served. If the manager is not responsive to the mayor and council's wishes, the mayor and council have the authority to terminate the manager at any time. In that sense, the manager's responsiveness is tested daily.

What is the Mayor's role in the council-manager government?
The Mayor is a key political leader and policy developer in the council-manager government. The Mayor serves as the head of legislative body, presides at council meetings, serves as the spokesperson for the community, facilitates communication and understanding between elected and appointed officials, assists the council in setting goals and objectives and advocating policy decisions, and serves as a promoter and defender of the community. The Mayor is responsible for soliciting citizen views in forming policies and interpreting them to the public. In addition, the Mayor serves as the key representative in intergovernmental relations. The Mayor, City Council, and City Manager constitute a policy development and management team.

What is the City Council's role in the council-manager government?
The City Council is the legislative body, and its members are the community's decision makers. Power is centralized in the elected council which approves the City budget and determines the tax rates and rates for fees and charges. The City Council focuses on the community's goals and major projects and establishes policies that guide long-term considerations such as community growth, land use and development, capital improvement plans, capital financing, and strategic planning. The Mayor and Council hire a professional manager to carry out the administrative responsibilities of the organization and supervise the manager's performance.

What is the City Manager's function?
The City Manager is hired to serve the Mayor and City Council and community and to bring to the local government the benefits of training and experience in administering local government projects and programs on behalf of the governing body. The City Manager prepares a budget for the Mayor and City Council's consideration; recruits, hires, and supervises the City's staff; serves as the chief advisor to the Mayor and City Council; and carries out the Mayor and City Council's policies. The Mayor and City Council count on the City Manager to provide complete and objective information, the advantages and disadvantages of available alternatives, and long-term consequences.

Does the City Manager participate in determining City policy?
No. The Manager makes policy recommendations to the Mayor and City Council based on her objective analysis of the issues and alternatives and her professional judgment and discretion, and the Mayor and City Council may or may not adopt the recommendations or may make modifications. The City Manager is bound by the action of the majority of the Council.

Are all Council-Manager governments structured the same way?
No. One of the most attractive features is that the Council-Manager form of government is adaptable to local conditions, preferences and needs. For example, some communities have councils that are elected at large while other councils are elected by districts, or as in San Bernardino, wards. Some local governments have mayors who are elected by voters at large while others are elected by their colleagues on the city council.

Is this form of government used only in certain kinds of cities?
No. In fact, it not restricted to cities. It is used by counties too. Currently, 3,625 cites operate under this form of government, and 529 counties indicate that they operate under the county administrator form. The agencies that use this form of government vary greatly in size and characteristics, including independent cities.

Is the council-manager form of government popular in California?
Yes. 97 percent of California cities use this form of government. Local examples include the cities of Fontana, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Long Beach, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, San Diego and Santa Ana.

The content on this page is based on information obtained from the International City/County Management Association. Additional information is available at