The following responses were provided by Norton Bonaparte, town manager of Glenarden. The material is intended to provide students with an idea of what working as a city manager might be like, and some steps they can take to prepare for a career in that field.
A native of New York City, Bonaparte received a bachelor's degree in urban studies from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and a master's degree in public administration from Cornell University in 1977. Bonaparte began working as an administrative assistant in the office of the city manager of Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1977 and came to Glenarden as town manager in 1988.
NATURE OF THE WORK
"A typical day is an anomaly in and of itself. Every day is different.
"The counsel-manager form of goverment started at the beginning of the 20th century in response to widespread corruption at the local government level. Basically, a city manager takes the politics out of managing the government. When you look at what gets a person elected, it's everything from giving good speeches to kissing babies to having a firm handshake, but that has nothing to do with running a government. City management is set up similar to a business. In a business, the board of directors is elected by the stockholders and appoints a president to run the company. In government, the elected officials set the policy and decide on the agenda and then hire someone to manage the day-to-day operations of the government.
"Basically, the manager is the chief administrative officer of the government. All of the departments of government report to the manager; the police, the schools, the public works, etc. The manager prepares the budget to be approved by the council and is responsible for implementing the budget through the various departments.
"The town offices open at 8:30 a.m., but I am usually in the office by a few minutes after 8 a.m. A lot of my time is taken up in meetings -- I meet with city leaders, citizens groups and business leaders to address their concerns and I attend meetings to facilitate action within the community, combining the efforts of businesses, schools and neighborhood groups. As we become a more complex society, not all of the problems and solutions fall into one area. The manager plays a role in the process, involving government and private interests from varied areas to solve the problems of the community.
"I supervise the ongoing operations of the government. In Glenarden, we have 10 departments responsible for everything from making sure the potholes get filled to major renovations in community buildings and equipment. While most of my focus is in working with the department heads to make sure they are accomplishing their goals, I make sure our organization best serves the population. For instance, by keeping track of the demographics of the community, I note trends in population, making sure we have enough of our resources devoted to the needs of the elderly or of the youth. Looking to see what are the best ways to adjust and anticipating changes in demographics and national and social trends are big parts of being a city manager.
"Salaries for city managers vary, depending of the size of the community. As a general range, small communities' managers have salaries around $35,000, while for large cities, the managers can make up to $130,000 a year."
"The typical career track in city management is for a student to get a masters' degree in public administration and then start working as an aide in a city manager's office, then becoming an assistant city manager and, finally, a manager. I started as an administrative assistant to the city manager of Grand Rapids, Mich.
"The key points -- the most important skills -- are interpersonal skills (being able to get along with people) and communication, both verbal and written. Most of the time is spent talking to people and writing letters, memos and reports. Having an understanding of mathematics is important, and being able to understand computer data. A city manager is technically nonpolitical, but he definitely needs to understand politics.
"Courses in English, government, computer science and math can be very helpful."
MATCHING YOURSELF WITH THE WORK:
"The major character trait is 'wanting to make a difference.' That is important. The advantage of working at the local level is that you can see the results immediately; they are tangible. If you don't get the streets plowed, or the potholes filled, the effects are immediately visible.
"A manager needs to have a thick skin and needs to be able to take criticism and still see things in perspective -- people may not tell you if you're doing a good job, but you'll hear about it if you aren't. A manager needs to have a 'big-picture' outlook and still be sensitive to the need for change."