Roles/Relationships Under Statutory Town Manager Plan

(from Maine Townsman, May 1977)
by Charles M. Jackson, Assistant Director, Legal Services

The most important functional aspect of the statutory town manager plan is the concept of the separation of the policy functions and the administrative functions of government.

In theory, most town manager forms of government, including the Maine plan, differentiate between the legislative role (town meeting), the executive role (Board of Selectmen), and the administrative role (town manager.) [Under a council-manager form of government adopted by charter, the executive and legislative powers are usually combined in the Council.]

The legislative and executive roles together perform the political or policy determining function as distinguished from the management of municipal affairs or administrative function performed by the town manager. To explain further, the policy-making function is viewed as the role of the municipal legislative body in deliberating and deciding broad questions in view of the perceived needs and values of the municipal inhabitants; administration is the execution or implementation of that policy.  JJ Haag, Municipal Administrative Organization, 1970, p. 111.

This separation of policy and administration is easily apparent under either the council-manager form of government or the town meeting-selectmen-manager form.

Under the council-manager form the functional structure, in general, is as follows: the people elect the council; the council performs both the legislative and executive functions of adopting governmental policy, controlling the raising and appropriating of funds, levying taxes, contracting of debts, etc. and, appointing and supervising the town manager; the manager executes and carries out the governmental and fiscal policies adopted by the council, spends the monies appropriated by the council, has direct responsibility for and supervises all administrative function, and makes most appointments. JJ Haag, Municipal Administration Organization, P. 12. See Chart 1.

JJ Haag, Municipal Administration Organization flowchart

Under the town meeting-selectmen-manager form of government the legislative and executive functions are divided: the town meeting not only performs the election function but also the legislative function of adopting governmental policy, levying taxes and raising and appropriating monies, authorizing the contracting of debts, etc. The Board of Selectmen is the executive body which interprets the policies of the town and chooses the course of action between town meetings, has ultimate administrative responsibility to see that the governmental policies are carried out (but must deal with administration solely through the town manager), and appoints and supervises the town manager. The manager executes and carries out the government and fiscal policies with guidance from the selectmen and has direct responsibility for and authority over all administrative functions. JJ Haag, The Manager Plan in Maine,1971, pp. 42. See Chart 11.

Common to both forms of government is the concept, stated at the outset of this article, that administrative control is centralized in the office of the manager, separate from the legislative and executive functions.

The manager concept, then, is one of a single chief administrator accountable to the Council or Board of Selectmen for the performance of his duties. He is given the responsibility to appoint all department heads and through them all other employees. He prepares the financial plan for approval by the legislative body and is responsible for administering the budget once enacted. He is specifically responsible for all the administrative functions. He coordinates all administrative activities. He is in a position to provide expert information on the needs and status of various governmental activities. He regulates departmental spending and reports on the financial needs of each of the branches of government. Within the framework of the policies laid down by the legislative and executive body of the town, he can formulate and carry out an administrative plan for governmental activity allowing for regular and orderly development. National Municipal League, Forms of Municipal Government, 1968, p. 12.

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Thus, under a manager form of government, a distinct line is drawn between the duties of the executive body (Council or Selectmen) and the administrative head (town manager) and, indeed, it is even prohibited for the executive body to interfere with the direct administrative function of the manager. In Maine, the concept of separation of function is found in 30 M.R.S.A. 2316 [Now found at 30-A M.R.S.A. 2635.] which states:

"Board of Selectmen to act as a body, administrative service to be performed through town manager, committees. It is the intention of this subchapter that the Board of Selectmen as a body shall exercise all administrative and executive powers of the town except as provided in this subchapter. The board of selectmen shall deal with the administrative services solely through the town manager and shall not give orders to any subordinates of the manager, either publicly or privately. Nothing contained in this section shall prevent the Board of Selectmen from appointing committees or commissions of its own members or of citizens to conduct investigations into the conduct of any official or department, or any matter relating to the welfare of the municipality."

Fundamentally, then, the Maine manager plan channels direction and control of municipal administration through a single manager appointed by and responsible to the municipal legislative and/or executive body. JJ Haag, The Manager Plan in Maine, p. 46.

In practice, the clear separation between policy and administration is less precise, for 2 reasons.

1) Many administrative functions performed by the manager, such as planning, determination of possible alternatives, research and recommendation, etc., may affect or influence policy decisions made by the legislative/executive body. For example, the administrative activity of preparing the proposed budget may involve a variety of determinations and recommendations that must be made prior to submission and review by the legislative or executive body. Such recommendations may be adopted by the legislative body with little or no change. In this regard, the manager would be providing a policy-support function as an off-shoot of his administrative responsibilities.

Similarly, the actions of the legislative body may affect the administrative function. For example, if the legislative body adopted an administrative code or personnel policy, this would determine aspects of administrative organization and procedure. J J Haag, Municipal Administrative Organization, p. 111 .

For a more lengthy discussion of the policy-support function of the manager, see Public Administration Service, Urban Policy Making: The Council-Manager Partnership, Chicago, 1970.

2) Under the Maine plan, to a certain extent a town can determine which administrative roles will be combined under the manager, and which will remain elsewhere.

In other words, a town has some flexibility in determining which offices will be combined under the town manager, which departments will actually be headed by the town manager, and which departments will have a separate department head responsible to the manager and which offices will remain elected, etc., as allowed by certain statutory provisions.

Under 30 M.R.S.A. 2317(D) [Now found at 30-A M.R.S.A. 2636(4).], the manager is to serve as the head of any department when so directed by the selectmen.

Under 30 M.R.S.A. 2317(E) [Now found at 30-A M.R.S.A. 2636(5).], he is to appoint, supervise and control the heads of departments which he does not head.

Under 30 M.R.S.A. 2317(F) [Now found at 30-A M.R.S.A. 2636(6).], he is to appoint, supervise and control all other town officials when the municipal officers are required by statute to appoint, except boards and commissions, unless otherwise provided by municipal ordinance.

Under 30 M.R.S.A. 2311 [Now found at 30-A M.R.S.A. 2631(2).], the town may determine that any or all of the following town officials remain elected under the plan; assessors, overseers of the poor, clerk and treasurer.

As an example of how a town may vary from the basic plan, as shown in Chart II, let's say the town determines to continue to elect the clerk, to create separate public work and recreation departments each with their own departmental head, that the manager will serve as head of a department of finance combining the duties of treasurer and tax collector, and the selectmen will continue to serve as assessors. In addition, a health officer and a Planning Board are to be appointed. See Chart III.

As you can see under this particular format, certain administrative functions, (assessing and clerk) are performed by persons other than the manager; certain administrative functions are controlled by the manager through his appointed department heads public works and recreation; and certain administrative functions are controlled directly by the manager acting as department head (treasury and collections). Also, boards and commissions are selectmen appointments, single town officials (and all other subordinates) are manager appointments.

To summarize, the basic concept of the town manager plan, as discussed earlier, is to separate the policy function from the administrative function.

However, as you can see from the discussion above, the town has some choice as to the extent to which the administrative activities are to be combined under the manager, if the town chooses to exercise that choice.

Chart III A variation from the basic plan

The fundamental concept to remember is that, except as otherwise provided by the town, the town manager plan channels nearly all administrative direction and control of municipal affairs through a single chief administrator—the town manager—who is responsible to the legislative/executive body of the town for the performance of those administrative duties.

For your convenience, 30 M.R.S.A. 2317 [Now found at 30-A M.R.S.A. 2636.], which delineates most of the authorities and responsibilities of a town manager, is reprinted below.

Sec. 2317.   Powers and duties of town manager

1. Duties. The town manager shall:

A. Be the chief executive and administrative official of the municipality;

B. Be responsible to the Board of Selectmen for the administration of all departments and offices over which the Board has control.

C. Execute all laws and ordinances of the municipality;

D. Serve in any office as the head of any department under the control of the Board of Selectmen when so directed by the Board of Selectmen;

E. Appoint, subject to confirmation by the Board of Selectmen, supervise and control the heads of departments under the control of the selectmen when the department is not headed by the town manager under paragraph D:

F. Unless otherwise provided by municipal ordinance, the manager shall appoint, supervise and control all town officials whom the municipal officers are required by statute to appoint, except members of boards, commissioners, committees and single assessors; and appoint, supervise and control all other officials, subordinates and assistants, except that he may delegate this authority to a head of a department, and report all appointments to the Board of Selectmen;

G. Act as purchasing agent for all departments, except the school department, provided that the town or the selectmen may require that all purchases greater than a designated amount shall be submitted to sealed bid;

H. Attend all meetings of the Board of Selectmen, except when his removal is being considered;

I. Make recommendations to the Board of Selectmen for the more efficient operation of the municipality;

J. Attend all meetings and hearings of the municipality;

K. Keep the Board of Selectmen and the residents of the municipality informed as to the financial condition of the town;

L. Collect data necessary for the preparation of the budget;

M. Assist, insofar as possible, residents and taxpayers in discovering their lawful remedies in cases involving complaints of unfair vendor, administrative and governmental practices.

N. Have exclusive authority to remove for cause after notice and hearing all persons whom he is authorized to appoint and report all removals to the Board of Selectmen.