City Manager Plan from the Cleveland Encyclopedia of History

City Manager Plan from the Cleveland Encyclopedia of History

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The CITY MANAGER PLAN and PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION ELECTIONS for city council members were key features of the City Charter approved by Cleveland voters in 1921. The two-pronged plan was an effort to provide more efficient and more responsive government by utilizing the managerial skills of a trained executive to administer the city, while a more representative council would make policy for the manager to carry out. The first of five (1923-31) proportional representation elections was held in 1923, and the first of two city managers took office in January 1924. At the time Cleveland was the largest and most diverse city in the U.S. to adopt such a system.

The manager, selected by the council, was responsible for law enforcement and the conduct of all city business. He had the power to appoint and remove all administrators except those covered by Civil Service. Four large districts replaced the 33 small wards as electoral units, each district electing 5, 6, or 7 councilmembers at-large, depending on population, for a total of 25 members who served 2-year terms. The Single Transferable Vote ballot (PR/STV) was nonpartisan and gave voters the opportunity to rank their candidate choices and to have their ballots transferred during the count to maximize their effectiveness.

In Jan. 1924, the council elected CLAYTON C. TOWNES† as mayor, a largely ceremonial position, and appointed WILLIAM R. HOPKINS† as city manager. In Jan. 1926, JOHN D. MARSHALL† succeeded Townes as mayor and was reelected by the council in 1928 and 1930. Although the plan was designed to minimize patronage practices, Hopkins was actually selected by Republican Party leader MAURICE MASCHKE† and Democratic Party leader W. BURR GONGWER†, who secured Hopkins’ agreement to split city patronage, with 60% of city jobs going to the dominant Republicans and 40% to cooperative Democrats. Hopkins exercised leadership in policy matters as well as administration, often preempting both the mayor and city council in the governing process. Five Charter repeal efforts were initiated. The first, in 1925, was aimed only at the PR electoral system but failed to pass. HARRY L. DAVIS†, who hoped to take over Republican party leadership and return as mayor, led three subsequent unsuccessful efforts to repeal both PR elections and the city manager plan (1927, 1928, and 1929). In 1930 a split between Maschke and Hopkins caused the Republican majority on council to fire Hopkins and appoint DANIEL MORGAN† in his place. Although Morgan had a better relationship with the council, he alienated Democrats by repudiating the patronage ratio agreement and hiring only Republicans at City Hall. In 1931 a commission led by Democrat Saul Danaceau placed charter repeal on the ballot. Generally, Republicans and reformers now opposed repeal, while Democrats, approaching majority status in the traditionally Republican-dominated city, supported a return to a popularly elected mayor and ward-based plurality elections for council. In Nov. 1931, a majority of voters approved the change.

While substantial public improvements were achieved during the City Manager/PR years, at the same time that taxes were reduced, voters did not attribute this progress to the form of city government. Instead, the electorate reacted to the perception that the city manager had overstepped his bounds, that corruption on the council had not been eliminated, and that the PR/STV was too complex. Finally, the rigors of the Depression created dissatisfaction with government in general.

Bromage, Arthur. Manager Plan Abandonments (1959).

Campbell, Thomas F. Daniel E. Morgan, 1877-1949 (1966).

Hallett, George. Proportional Representation (1940).


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