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Chief executives and legislators at the Federal, State, and local level direct governmental activities and make laws that affect all of us. They are elected or appointed officials who strive to meet the needs of their constituents through effective and efficient government.
Chief executives are officials who run governmental bodies that formulate and enforce laws. These officials include the President and Vice President of the United States, State governors and lieutenant governors, county executives, town and township officials, mayors, and city, county, town, and township managers. All except local government managers are elected by their constituents. Managers are appointed by the local government council or commission.
Government chief executives, like their counterparts in the private sector, have overall responsibility for how their organizations perform. Working in coordination with legislators, they establish goals and then organize programs and form policies to attain them. They appoint heads of departments, such as highway, health, law enforcement, park and recreation, economic development, education, and finance departments. Through these departmental heads, chief executives oversee the work of the civil servants who carry out programs and enforce laws enacted by the legislative bodies. They prepare budgets, specifying how government resources will be used, and insure that these resources are used properly and programs are carried out as planned.
Chief executives meet with legislators and constituents to discuss proposed programs and encourage their support. They also may confer with leaders of other governments to solve mutual problems. Chief executives nominate citizens for boards and commissions that oversee government activities addressing problems such as drug abuse, crime, deteriorating roads, and inadequate public education. They also solicit bids from and select contractors to do work for the government, encourage business investment and economic development in their jurisdictions, and seek Federal or State funds. Chief executives of large jurisdictions rely on a staff of aides and assistants, but those in small ones often do much of the work themselves. City, county, town, and other managers, although appointed officials, may act as chief executives.
Legislators are the elected officials who pass laws or amend existing ones in order to remedy problems or to promote certain activities. They include U.S. Senators and Representatives, State senators and representatives (called assemblypersons or delegates in some States), county legislators (called supervisors, commissioners, councilmembers, or freeholders in some States), and city and town council members (called trustees, clerks, supervisors, magistrates, and commissioners, among other titles).
Legislators introduce bills in the legislative body and examine and vote on bills introduced by other legislators. In preparing legislation, they read staff reports and work with constituents, representatives of interest groups, members of boards and commissions, the chief executive and department heads, and others with an interest in the legislation. They generally approve budgets and the appointments of department heads and commission members submitted by the chief executive. In some jurisdictions, the legislative body appoints a city, town, or county manager. Many legislators, especially at the State and Federal levels, have a staff to perform research, prepare legislation, and resolve constituents' problems.
Both chief executives and legislators perform many ceremonial duties such as opening new buildings, making proclamations, welcoming visitors, and leading celebrations.
The working conditions of chief executives and legislators vary with the size and budget of the governmental unit. Time spent at work ranges from meeting once a month for a local council member to 60 or more hours per week for a U. S. Senator. U.S. Senators and Representatives, governors and lieutenant governors, and chief executives and legislators in large local jurisdictions usually work full time year round, as do county and city managers. Many State legislators work full time while legislatures are in session (usually for 2 to 6 months a year) and part time the rest of the year. Local elected officials in most jurisdictions work a schedule that is officially designated part time, but many incumbents actually work a full-time schedule when unpaid duties are taken into account. In addition to their regular schedules, chief executives are on call at all hours to handle emergencies.
Some jobs require only occasional out-of-town travel, but others involve long periods away from home to attend sessions of the legislature. Officials in rural districts covering a large area may drive long distances to perform their regular duties.
Chief executives and legislators held about 91,000 jobs in 1994. About 5 of 6 worked in local government, while the rest worked primarily in State governments. The Federal Government had 535 Senators and Representatives and the President and Vice President. There were about 7,500 State legislators and, according to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), about 10,100 city managers. Executives and council members for local governments made up the remainder.
Chief executives and legislators who do not hold full-time, year-round positions often work in a second occupation as well. This is commonly the one they held before being elected. Business owner or manager, teacher, and lawyer are common primary occupations, and there are many others as well.
Because voters seek to elect the individual believed to be most qualified from among a slate of candidates who meet the minimum age, residency, and citizenship requirements, the question becomes not "How does one become qualified?" but "How does one get elected?"
Successful candidates usually have a strong record of accomplishment in paid and unpaid work. Some have business, teaching, or legal experience, but others come from a wide variety of occupations. In addition, many have served as volunteers on school boards or zoning commissions; with charities, political action groups, and political campaigns; or with religious, fraternal, and social organizations.
Management-level work experience and public service help develop the planning, organizing, negotiating, motivating, fundraising, budgeting, public speaking, and problem-solving skills needed to run a political campaign. Candidates must make decisions quickly, sometimes with little or contradictory information. They must inspire and motivate their constituents and their staff. They should appear sincere and candid, presenting their views thoughtfully and convincingly. Additionally, they must know how to hammer out compromises and satisfy the demands of constituents. National and Statewide campaigns also require massive amounts of energy and stamina, as well as superior fund raising skills.
Town, city, and county managers are appointed by a council or commission. Managers come from a variety of educational backgrounds. A master's degree in public administration-including courses such as public financial management and legal issues in public administration-is widely recommended but not required. Virtually all town, city, and county managers have at least a bachelor's degree and the majority hold a master's degree. Working as a student intern in government is recommended-the experience and personal contacts acquired can prove invaluable in eventually securing a position.
Generally, a town, city, or county manager in a smaller jurisdiction is required to have expertise in a wide variety of areas. Those who work for larger jurisdictions specialize in financial, administrative, and personnel matters. For all managers, communication skills and the ability to get along with others are essential.
Advancement opportunities for elected public officials are not clearly defined. Because elected positions normally require a period of residency and because local public support is critical, officials can usually advance to other offices only in the jurisdictions where they live. For example, council members may run for mayor or for a position in the State government, and State legislators may run for governor or for Congress. Many officials are not politically ambitious, however, and do not seek advancement. Others lose their bids for reelection or voluntarily leave the occupation. A lifetime career as a government chief executive or legislator is rare.
Town, city, and county managers have a clearer career path. They generally obtain a master's degree in public administration, then gain experience as management analysts or assistants in government departments working for councils or chief executives and learning about planning, budgeting, civil engineering, and other aspects of running a city. With sufficient experience, they may be hired to manage a town or a small city and may become manager of progressively larger cities over time.
Little, if any, growth is expected in the number of government chief executives and legislators through the year 2005. Few, if any, new governments are likely to form, and the number of chief executives and legislators in existing governments rarely changes. Some small increase may occur as growing communities-in the rapidly growing South and West, for example-become independent cities and towns and elect a chief executive and legislators and, perhaps, appoint a town manager. A few new positions may also develop as cities and counties without managers hire them and as unpaid offices-which are not counted as employment-are converted to paid positions.
Elections give newcomers the chance to unseat incumbents or to fill vacated positions. In many elections, there is substantial competition, although the level of competition varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and from year to year. Generally, there is less competition in small jurisdictions, which have part-time positions offering relatively low salaries and little or no staff to help with routine work, than in large jurisdictions, which have full-time positions offering higher salaries, more staff, and greater status. In some cases, an incumbent runs unopposed, or an incumbent resigns, leaving only one candidate for a job. The high cost of running for such positions in large jurisdictions may serve as a deterrent, or may leave the challenger dependent on contributions from special interest groups.
Earnings of public administrators vary widely, depending on the size of the government unit and on whether the job is part time, full time and year round, or full time for only a few months a year. Salaries range from little or nothing for a small town council member to $200,000 a year for the President of the United States.
According to the International City/County Management Association, the average annual salary of mayors was about $9,900 in 1994. ICMA data indicate that the average salary for city managers was about $65,700 in 1994. Salaries ranged from $30,800 in towns with fewer than 2,500 residents to $130,400 in cities with a population over 1 million.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the salary for legislators in the 40 States that paid an annual salary ranged from about $10,000 to $47,000 per year. In 6 States, legislators received a daily salary plus an allowance for expenses while legislatures were in session. Two States paid no expenses and only nominal daily salaries, while 2 States paid no salary at all but did pay a daily expense allowance. Salaries and the expense allowance were generally higher in the larger States.
Data from Book of the States, 1994-95 indicate that gubernatorial annual salaries ranged from $60,000 in Arkansas to $130,000 in New York. In addition to a salary, most governors received perquisites such as transportation and an official residence.
In 1995, U.S. Senators and Representatives earned $133,600, the Senate and House Majority and Minority leaders $148,400, and the Vice President $171,500.
Related occupations include managerial positions that require a broad range of skills in addition to administrative expertise, such as corporate chief executives and board members, and high ranking officers in the military.
Information on appointed officials in local government can be obtained from:
International City/County Management Association, 777 North Capitol St. NE., Suite 500, Washington, DC 20002.
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