Thursday, December 4, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Cheat Sheet to City Administrative Roles (12/4/14)

Question: What is the difference between a city clerk, city administrator, and city manager?

Answer: Have you ever wanted a quick cheat sheet on city administrative positions? If the answer is yes, then look no further. Below is a quick primer on the differences and similarities between city clerks, city administrators, and city managers (warning: this is by no means comprehensive).

Type of office
Statutory (elected or appointed)
Non-statutory (usually created by ordinance or resolution)**
Statutory form of government*
Standard Plan
Plan A
Plan B
Standard Plan
Plan A (most common)
Plan B
Numerous (minute book, ordinance book, notice of elections, notice of meetings, records custodian, and more than can fix in this little box)
Varies from city to city but generally day-to-day operations
Head of administrative branch
Relationship to other city staff
Other than for deputy clerk, no appointment or removal power of city staff
Varies from city to city
Can appoint and remove city staff without council approval (except for city attorney)
Policymaking ability
Can recommend ordinances, resolutions, and policies
Financial responsibilities
Bookkeeper (maintains financial records except those maintained by treasurer)
Varies from city to city
Chief purchasing agent for anything $20,000 and less (unless lower limit set by council)
*Standard Plan: council and elected clerk 
*Plan A: council with appointed clerk
*Plan B: council-manager plan of government
*Home Rule Charter: can have a clerk, administrator, and/or manager. What administrative positions they have would be determined by their charter.
An administrator can be hired in a Standard Plan, Plan A, or Home Rule Charter city, but is not required by statute in any plan.
**Administrator: can be hired in a Standard Plan, Plan A, or Home Rule Charter city, but is not required by statute in any plan.

While there is no way to exhaustively list what those in these city administrative positions do in a blog post (many earn the right to wear a cape on a weekly basis), this chart is meant to give you a few of the highlights.

To learn more about these and other city administrative positions, see the League’s Handbook Chapter on City Administrative Staff.

Written by Irene Kao, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1224.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

1 comment:

  1. The original post stated under clerk and "relationship to other city staff" that the clerk had no appointment or removal power. However, a thoughtful member pointed out that clerks can appoint deputy clerks, with approval by the council. She is absolutely right! The chart now reflects this information. —Irene


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