The council–manager government form is one of two predominant forms of municipal government in the United States; the other common form of local government is the mayor-council government form, which characteristically occurs in large cities. Council–manager government form also is used in county governments in the United States and the governing body in a county may be called a council, a commission, freeholders, aldermen, and such. The council-manager form also is used for municipal government in Canada and in Ireland, among many other countries, both for city councils and county councils.
Under the council–manager form of government for municipalities, the elected governing body (commonly called a city council, city commission, or board of selectmen) is responsible for the legislative function of the municipality such as establishing policy, passing local ordinances, voting appropriations, and developing an overall vision. County and other types of local government follow the same pattern, with a different title for the governing body members that matches the title of the body.
The legislative body, which is voted into office by public elections, appoints a professional manager to oversee the administrative operations, implement its policies, and advise it. The position of "mayor" present in this type of legislative body is a largely ceremonial title, and may be selected by the council from among its members or elected as an at-large council member with no executive functions.
The city manager position in this form of municipal government is similar to that of corporate chief executive officer (CEO), providing professional management to the board of directors. Council–manager government is much like a publicly traded corporation. In a corporation, the board of directors appoints a CEO, makes major decisions and wields representative power on behalf of shareholders. In council–manager government, the elected council appoints a city manager, makes major decisions, and wields representative power on behalf of the citizens.
This system of government is used in 40.1% of American cities with populations of 2,500 or more, according to the 2011 Municipal Yearbook published by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), a professional organization for city managers and other top appointed local government administrators/CAOs.