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Conceptualizing the CAO Position: The General Manager Plan
Writing in 1954, Sayre first articulated the concept of a strong mayor form of municipal government with an appointed CAO. (3) He argued that large cities were turning to the mayor-with-general-manager plan and away from the council-manager plan, for several reasons. First, the mayor had become an important asset to the cities as the "center of energy and public leadership and the focus of responsibility for policy and performance." (4) Second, the general manager plan added professionalism to the managerial system while still preserving the separation of powers familiar to citizens. Sayre contended that although the strong mayor would be a permanent fixture in American city government, the mayor would not be able to manage the city alone because of the "complex administrative establishments, which require strengthened central managerial leadership, direction, and coordination." (5)
The best solution, according to Sayre, was a professional manager appointed by and working alongside the mayor but at the mayor's discretion. Sayre did not propose a standardized design. Instead, he observed that the approach has evolved and been customized by each city that chose to adopt it. Indeed, Sayre viewed organizational elasticity as one of the benefits of the plan, since it increased responsiveness to local needs, preferences, and changes. (6) Outlining the major differences in five cities that used some type of general manager, Sayre reported that title, appointment, term, removal, and powers of the manager differed greatly among mayor-council cities. More recently, the academic literature on the subject has focused on accountability, roles and responsibilities, and professional experience and educational attainment relative to city managers.
Accountability of the CAO
Accountability is a basic issue in designing a CAO position. A variety of informal factors affect the relationships among mayor, CAO, and council, among them the personality and the electoral strength of the mayor, the presence of an "extraconstitutional" key adviser to the mayor who may be inserted between the mayor and the CAO, and the degree of cohesion of the council. These are certainly important, but formal factors are the focus here, particularly variations in provision for appointment and removal, that is, who hires and fires the chief administrator. These have important implications for how the CAO defines the line and scope of accountability.
There are two schools of thought regarding whether the CAO should be accountable solely to the mayor or be accountable to both the mayor and the council. The 1989 Model City Charter recommends that the CAO should serve the mayor and be appointed and removed by the mayor alone. (7) In a strong-mayor government, the charter endorses undiluted mayoral power. To this end, the charter makes no provision for specifying the CAO's authority Instead, "the working relationship of the administrator and the mayor may well be compared to that of the executive officer of a naval vessel and his commanding officer. The mayor should be solely responsible for the appointment and removal of the administrator without any requirement of approval by the council." (8) A CAO appointed under this type of system is strictly accountable to the mayor.
Bill Hansell, executive director of the International City/County Management Association, takes a different stance. A strong advocate of the council-manager form, Hansell suggests a version of the strong-mayor form that he terms "mayor (separation of powers)-council-manager" for cities that face a great deal of conflict among elected representatives. (9) Under this form of government, the mayor acts as chief executive and nominates a manager or administrative officer whom the council must approve. Hansell's intent is to make the manager responsive to both the mayor and the council, since both are involved in the hiring decision. The manager is removable only by a majority vote of the council, and responsibilities revolve around service delivery Hogan's research demonstrates that a close relationship exists between the mayor and CAO. (10) He found that the closer the relationship between the mayor and CAO and the greater the mayor's power, the lower the level of professionalism, authority, and scope of activit y of the CAO. (11)
Data on accountability seem to support the connection between accountability and authority in the hiring decision. (12) Drawing on 1997 survey data, Svara reports that a majority of CAOs feel equally responsive to the council and mayor when the mayor must seek council approval for his hiring. (13) Conversely, most administrators believe they act as agents of the mayor when there is no council approval needed for the mayor's decision.
Roles and Responsibilities of the CAO
The responsibilities and duties of the CAO in a mayor-council city have not been clearly defined in the literature. Generally the formal status of the CAO falls into one of two …