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Who you should know in your local government

  • Who you should know in your local government

    Many Americans are involved with their local governments; it’s one of the best ways to make your voice heard when it comes to community improvement. Writing letters, making calls, and attending town council meetingseven if they can get a little heatedcan lead to real action when it comes to municipal decision-making.

    If everything you know about the who’s who of local government comes from NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” you’re still in decent shape. As Leslie Knope says: “What I hear when I'm being yelled at, is people caring really loudly at me.”

    According to the latest census data, there are more than 89,000 local governments in America. A successful local government can positively impact its citizens, just as a dysfunctional one can harm them—and in recent years, local media is not always there to cover it either way. As a result, citizen involvement is more important than ever.

    Here are 30 elected and appointed positions to consider reaching out to the next time you have a suggestion, complaint, or even a compliment.   

    ALSO: Do you know your state's senators?

  • City manager

    City managers are appointed officials who direct the administrative operations of a city or town. The position was first created to centralize local authority and prevent political parties from influencing how individual cities or towns were run. The city manager is responsible for overseeing day-to-day municipal operations and keeping city departments running smoothly.

    Aided by the assistant city manager, the city manager adheres to a strict code of conduct to ensure he or she consistently has the public’s best interest in mind. This includes remaining unbiased in decision-making, reporting ethics violations, and actively promoting equal opportunities. The salary for this job is typically starts upwards of $100,000.


  • Assistant city manager

    Stepping in to assist the city manager is the assistant city manager, who provides support and acts in the place of the city manager when required. The assistant city manager also acts as a liaison between the manager and department heads. Education and experience focused in public administration is typically required, and salaries can range from $50,000 to $85,000 to more than six figures, depending on the size of the municipality. How long one stays in this often high-stress position can vary.


  • Planning director

    A planning director’s job is a mix of civil engineering, budget and contractor management, and political know-how. This typically high-paying job requires a great deal of education, certifications, and experience, but offers $150,000 or more annually. The recently appointed planning director of Nashville, Tennessee, is the first woman to hold the position in the city’s history. She holds three degrees in history, urban and environmental planning, and art and architectural history.


  • Public works director

    This position reports to the city manager and manages the day-to-day operations of a city’s utility infrastructure and billing. Their jurisdiction: streets, sanitation, water, power, and general facilities. Steamed up about constant road work? Problems with your pipes’ supply source? This is the office you’ll want to call up.


  • Fire chief

    Not only is it the fire chief’s responsibility to manage his or her local station, it’s up to them to instill best practices and contribute to the field of fire education. While it’s a risky job—chiefs fight fires right alongside their teams—salaries can top $100,000. Firefighters work their way up to this appointed position with at least a decade of experience as well as specialized training.


  • Police chief

    The chief of police supervises the day-to-day operations of his or her precinct, serves as a spokesperson to the media, and works on the most urgent criminal cases. The chief of police also works with the city manager to plan the police department budget and attends city council meetings. The position pays upwards of $100,000.


  • Parks and recreation director

    This individual is responsible for overseeing matters pertaining to a city’s public and private parks as well as other communal facilities like sports fields and swimming pools. The parks and recreation director manages the department’s budget, and revenue from entrance fees, permits, and rentals.

    The parks and recreation director also supervises personnel and liaises with the city council—to make some unpopular decisions. Salaries top out around $60,000. Planning a music festival in a city park? Expect to be in contact with the parks and recreation director as well as members of his or her staff. Chances are, you won’t find a Ron Swanson-type.


  • City attorney

    There are dozens of types of law professionals, and city attorney is one of them. These government-appointed lawyers handle legal matters within (and against) the city alongside department heads and serve as an integral part of the city’s civil courts. Extensive knowledge of complex municipal law is required and not limited to rent laws, union agreements, public finance, land use, and zoning and water rights.


  • Mayor

    A city’s mayor has a hand in directing every aspect of the municipal government, from budgeting and long-term planning to drafting and approving or vetoing legislation. Most mayors are elected by local voters and serve as chief spokesperson for the city, but some are elected by a city council. Terms last between two and four years, depending on the region. The first female mayor of a major city was Oklahoma City’s Patience Sewell Latting, who took office on April 13, 1971.


  • County auditor

    An elected position, county auditors prepare fiscal reports and manage real estate taxes, licenses for liquor, pet registration, and public records. They are also responsible for managing the everyday accounting of a county’s incoming and outgoing funds. The auditor’s annual review assesses the overall financial health of his or her county and recommends budgetary adjustments to improve it.


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