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Professionalism and ethics options for city government

Retired city manager tells of group that has expertise

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
John Phillips

Sauk Valley Media’s editorial on April 10 [“Time to hire interim city manager”] suggested that it was the right time for the city of Dixon to bring in an experienced and trained city manager to serve on an interim basis.

The editorial also noted that the commission form of government in Dixon has been discredited, and that a change in the form of government should be considered.

In  2011, I retired from the position of city manager of Rock Island. I was honored to have had the opportunity to serve the citizens of Rock Island for nearly 25 years in this position.


Under the council-manager form of local government, I enjoyed strong policy direction from three mayors and many elected aldermen over that period of time. I also had the opportunity to serve Rockford as its first city administrator for 5 years in the 1980s.

Since my retirement, I have been a volunteer for the Illinois City/County Management Association and am available to offer advice to city managers and administrators as well as to offer assistance to a community considering a move toward professional municipal management.

The council-manager form of government is an outgrowth of a reform movement in the early 1900s. Its aim was to combat corruption and other unethical activities plaguing cities across the country. Today, more than 3,500 cities and towns across the country operate under this form of government.


There are also many municipalities that operate under the mayor-council form of government that have hired professional administrators to help oversee municipal operations and execute the programs identified by the elected officials.

Professional city managers and city administrators are educated and trained in best practices in management, budgeting, grantsmanship, citizen engagement, and other skills.

They are typically members of the International City/County Management Association and have opportunities for ongoing training to keep abreast of changing federal and state regulations and learn about the latest successful programs and projects in other communities.

Code of ethics

Members of the association also are required to subscribe to a code of ethics. This code sets high standards for conduct that go well beyond what is required by law.

There are 13 tenants of the code that provide guidance for professional city managers and administrators. One of the tenants prohibits involvement in any political activity. Another requires that city managers keep the public informed about the operations of their government. Another requires that members continually enhance their skills.

Of course, the code also requires that members be dedicated to the highest ideals of honor and integrity in public and private relationships. There are sanctions imposed for members who violate the code of ethics.

Local governments today face very challenging times. More than ever, local communities need their city to operate openly, effectively, efficiently, and ethically. Professional administration coupled with strong elected policy leaders can best accomplish this goal.

Should the citizens of Dixon choose to consider an alternative form of local government, our association would be glad to provide information so that there is better understanding of the options. If city officials decide to consider a position of interim city manager or administrator, we would be willing to help identify interested candidates.

For more information, contact Dawn Peters, secretariat for the Illinois City/County Management Association, at 815-753-0923 or by email at

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