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How a city manager government works

Posted at 1:00 PM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 20:26:23-04

ELMIRA, N.Y. (WKBW) — At least one member of the Buffalo Common Council is interested in replacing the office of mayor with a city manager form of governance.

A concept not foreign to other parts of the state.

The City of Elmira is the largest city in Chemung County. It has a population of a little over 27,000.

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It operates under a city manager form of government, meaning there’s an elected mayor and an appointed city manager. It’s been that way for more than a century. “It works here. It’s worked for well over a hundred years,” explained Elmira City Manager Mike Collins.

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Collins was appointed by Mayor Daniel Mandell Junior. Any city manager appointment needs the city council majority. Both work together on city issues but their roles in city government differ. “I’m kind of like the Chairman of the Board, and my city manager is kind of like the CEO or COO,” said Mandell.

As city manager, Collins works full-time. He makes approximately $135,000 a year. He handles day-to-day operations, the hiring and firing of city employees, and budget presentations. Any of his recommendations require a majority of city county approval.

The mayor is part-time position. Mandell makes $11,000 a year. He attends city functions like parades and ribbon cuttings, and makes appointments to various city boards like the water board or zoning board of appeals.

Jacob Neiheisel is a political science professor for the University at Buffalo. He explained the pros and cons to the city manager form of government.

THE PROS:

-infrastructure funding is typically more evenly distributed throughout the city
-it tends to be more efficient
-less political

THE CONS:

-voters have virtually no say in who manages the city since they’re appointed by the city council.

“With the mayoral election, your city wide ballot is in play where as you only have to appeal to a majority of city council if you are in a managerial position,” said Neiheisel.

For Elmira City Mayor Daniel Mandell and City Manager Mike Collins, they believe the pros outweigh the cons. “You could be influenced as a Mayor because you’re elected by the people. I’m appointed and I’m objective,” Collins added.

Back in Buffalo, Common Council staff will research the idea, including the possible pros and cons to having a city manager. Their findings are expected to be complete sometime shortly before the November Election.