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Municipal Management Model: Leading an Action Agenda

Are you frustrated by the seemingly endless studies and discussion, yet no action? Have you ever heard, “How can government run like a business and get things done?” Well government is different and while it should run in a businesslike manner, we are not in business to make a profit. Cities don’t build things; we build community. So, how can we better put our plans into an Action Agenda?

For 40 years I have utilized the Municipal Management Systems Model in cities for whom I’ve worked. I was first exposed to this systems approach while working in the budget office for the City of Seattle. Since then I’ve used it in cities I’ve managed from 2,000 to 70,000. It aligns vision/goals with action.

Goals Organization Budget Personnel Procedures Communication
Vision/Values Community Taxes/Bonds Service
Elections Press/Media
Strategies/Goals City Council Financial
Salary/Benefits Ordinances/
State of City/
Action Plan Mayor/Manager Budget Personnel Procedures Annual Report
Work Plan Dept. Head Budget Mgmt Training Standards Operations
Unit Plans Unit Manager Cost Control Supervision Operations Progress
Tasks/Duites Individual Services/$ Responsibility Checklists Status
Effectiveness Efficiency Control and Transparency


Government doesn’t have a bottom line. Our success is measured by our accomplishments in building a better quality of life for our communities. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Vision, values, strategies and goals constitute our “bottom line”. Whether it’s by means of an extensive community outreach and involvement effort, or just the council’s annual goals retreat, the city council’s primary task is to clearly identify where you’re going and how you plan to get there: vision, values, strategies and goals.

The vision is how you see your community 20 years or so from now. The values are how you intend to conduct yourselves in getting there. The strategies form the bridge to that future, and the goals are the individual steps to be taken to get there. Everything else we do as city government flows from there.


While the council’s primary responsibility is to see that the goals (vision to actions) are clearly articulated, it is the chief executive (mayor or city manager) who must assure that there is alignment with the goals at all levels across the organization and its systems.


Accountability and responsibility go together. Make sure that each organizational unit has their part of the budget assigned, and then hold them accountable for goal accomplishment within it.


More than just staff assigned to each budget unit, how well is the overall unit performing and do they leverage outside community resources and volunteers? What are the time and unit costs?


Are your procedure systems aligned with today’s goals and action plans, or are they actually impeding performance. Code and process streamlining is more essential than ever.


I used to view this section of the model as a reporting component. But today it is even broader and really addresses the city’s communications as an essential function of government. How do you report to and have two-way communication with your community? A good municipal communications plan has clear messages, appropriate messengers and uses a variety of media means.


By using this municipal management systems approach in your city, you can measure effectiveness (goals:teams), efficiency ($:staff), and have more real control and be more transparent (process: communications). But it all starts with clear council vision, values, strategies and goals.


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Photo of Bob Jean

About Bob Jean

Bob Jean writes for MRSC as a guest author.

Bob Jean retired in 2010 after 15 years as the City Manager for University Place, Washington. He has over 35 years of city and county management experience. He is a past Board Member for AWC. He received the ICMA national Award for Staff Development and Training. He currently serves as an advisor to cities and counties as a Range Rider for WCMA.

The views expressed in guest author columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.