What's the difference between a mayor and a city manager?

Irma sent me a series of questions about El Paso's city manager. One of them was this: "What's the difference between a mayor and a city manager?"

Here's what I learned. Until local voters agreed to amend the city charter 15 years ago, El Paso had something known as a "strong mayor" form of city government.

That meant the mayor's office was in charge of managing all city departments, usually with the help of a chief administrative officer the mayor appointed. It gave the mayor a great deal of power over budgeting and personnel decisions at City Hall.

It also meant that when a new mayor came into office, they could revamp the city bureaucracy as they saw fit as long as City Council approved.

But because they could freely pursue their political priorities, critics said, it created a merry-go-round of people and policy changes along with sometimes sudden budget adjustments, as a new mayor and council were elected every two years.

Supporters of the "city manager system" say it creates smoother transitions between administrations and provides much more consistency in the leadership of city departments in a nonpartisan way. They say that reduces the risks of things such as favoritism and corruption. They also say city managers usually have years of education and experience in public administration and have often worked their way up through city government, so they usually have a better understanding of how the city bureaucracy works than do elected officials who frequently have no previous experience in local government.

But critics of the city manager form of government say it can make City Hall less responsive to voters.

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