The City Manager, Post-Bell

The small southern California town of Bell became notorious for corruption when the exploits of its city manager were revealed in a newspaper investigation. The crime highlights the power of the city manager and how those powers can be misused.
July 19, 2011, 12pm PDT | Nate Berg
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Writing for Zocalo Public Square, Ventura, California, City Manager Rick Cole looks at the history of his role, how it can help cities, and how its potential goods can be overwhelmed by corruption.

"It promised clean and efficient city government, freed from the grip of political bosses. Part-time citizen politicians would be confined to passing laws and setting policies. They would cede all administrative functions to a non-political "city manager." What model did reformers look to for such a civic Galahad? Not to corporate CEO's (those didn't emerge until the rise of General Motors.) No, the first city managers were usually civil engineers, rational problem-solvers who applied "scientific management" to municipal challenges like crime, disease and poverty.

Ironically, the model never caught on in the biggest cities. Yet outside San Francisco and Los Angeles, it was almost universally adopted throughout California, where it remains in place today, reliably producing vital local services.

Irony of ironies, though, the Council/Manager form was twisted beyond recognition by Robert Rizzo, the wizard of Bell."

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Published on Sunday, July 17, 2011 in Zocalo Public Square
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