In light of the ruckus over the summer with the firing of the Raleigh City Manager and the announcement last week of the hiring of Ruffin Hall from Charlotte as the new city manager, we figured it was time to get a little clarity on what exactly the roles are for the manager and City Council members in Raleigh. We spoke with Vaughn Upshaw with the School of Government at UNC Chapel Hill. Here’s what she said:
Upshaw: The council-manager form of government is a more professional, or what’s often called more of a corporate, or unified, form of government. In North Carolina, local governments have the option of being mayor-council or council-manager, and most cities over 5,000 are council-manager form of government. Under that form, we have an elected board that serves as the legislative body, they also serve as a quasi-judicial body, they also serve the executive function through the hiring of a manager. The council-manager form of government allows a professional manager to carry out the policies that are adopted by the elected board.
Record: What are the respective roles of the councilors and the manager?
Upshaw: The General Statutes lay out the specific responsibilities for the manager as distinct from the governing board or the council. We give the council the authority to organize the city in the fashion that it thinks is most effective. They are responsible as a body to carry out the laws that they enact as well as the laws of the state, and as a body they hire and fire a professional manager.
Under the city manager statute, they direct and administer the city government. They are responsible for appointing and removing all other officials in the city, except the city attorney if that person is appointed by the board.
Record: My understanding is the council guides the vision and the city manager enacts that vision and supervises the actual operation of the city.
Upshaw: In most respects that’s true. We do elect them to set direction for our communities. Ultimately, it is the council that is responsible for what happens. So, if the programs or policies or services are not acting as they need to, they either can be able to change that through how the adopt policy or they can choose a different manager if they feel the manager is not carrying out the policy effectively. Or the citizens then, at the voting booth, have the chance to hold the elected officials accountable for their failure to act.
Record: How is that council-manager dynamic supposed to work?
In Raleigh the city charter does expressly say that members of the council are not to direct or request things of people other than the manager. There is language that says clearly that all administration is the responsibility of the manager and that council members are not to, for any reason other than inquiry, interfere with people below the manager level, that that is the manager’s responsibility and not that of the city council. Now that’s in the charter, but there’s no recourse in the charter for a manager to change board behavior. And one of the things about governing boards is that the board must manage the board. So if individual members of the council are beginning to deviate from what the charter spells out, then it is the responsibility of the other members of that board to reassert what their charter is and to clarify again how they want to operate effectively as a governing board and to hold themselves to that standard.