Forms of City Government Organization

There are three administrative formats cities currently utilize in structuring their internal organization: weak mayor-council, strong mayor-council, and council-manager.

Weak mayor-council

The weak mayor-council plan is by far the most common plan in Minnesota. Besides being the form for Standard Plan, Plan A, and Plan B statutory cities, it is also the favorite of most home rule charter cities.

Under the weak mayor-council plan, administrative as well as legislative authority is the ultimate responsibility of the council unless the council has created an independent board, such as a utilities commission, to handle one or more specific functions. In Plan B statutory cities, however, administrative power is generally the responsibility of the city manager.

The mayor’s powers in weak mayor-council communities are no greater than those of any other member of the council, with the exception of the mayor’s role as presiding officer at council meetings and several other minor duties. No individual council member holds specific administrative powers.

Many statutory Standard Plan and Plan A cities create a city administrator position by resolution or ordinance and specify the responsibilities of the position. City administrators are appointed because of their professional qualifications; this is not a political appointment. Many cities have also created combined city clerk-administrator positions.

Strong mayor-council

The strong mayor-council plan is rare in Minnesota; only a few cities use this administrative format. Home rule charter cities are the only cities that may have this form of organization. Under the strong mayor-council plan, the mayor is responsible for the operation of all administrative agencies and departments within the city.

If the plan is the conventional, strong mayor-council plan, the mayor:

  • Can appoint and remove department heads and other subordinate staff subject to civil-service provisions where applicable.
  • Is not a council member, but can veto council legislation subject to the right of the council to override the veto by an extraordinary majority.
  • Prepares and administers a budget that the council approves.

The chief functions of the council are to:

  • Legislate and set policies.
  • Pass budgets and bond issues.
  • Review mayoral and administrative actions. All of these features can vary under city charter provisions.

Council-manager

Some home rule charter cities and those statutory cities operating under Optional Plan B in the statutory city code have a council-manager form of government. Only statutory cities with populations of more than 1,000 may adopt Optional Plan B. Under this form, the council has policy-making and legislative authority, but administration of the government is the manager’s responsibility.

The manager is directly responsible to the council. The manager has indefinite tenure and is subject to removal by the council after a hearing. The manager appoints department heads, usually without council approval. Here again, the home rule charter can change the conventional plan. City managers are appointed because of their professional qualifications; the position is not a political appointment.

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