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City manager tenure: What's average?

City manager tenure: What's average?

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HANFORD - Fifteen years seems like a conspicuously long time for a city manager to serve in a single city, or is it?

Conventional wisdom says it is.

City managers are often compared with the volatile careers of major league baseball managers, with a tenure of two years thought to be commonplace.

That comparison may be exaggerated, according to a recent study on city managers' tenure published in State and Local Government Review, a leading scholarly journal on intergovernmental issues.

Still, 15 years was more than twice the average city manager tenure the study came up with.

By the time he retires next summer, Hanford City Manager Jan Reynolds - who is already on his job for more than 15 years - will have served 16 years.

Reynolds isn't a record setter, but his longevity on the job puts him into a rather rare category of city managers.

At least that is how Reynolds measures up to the average managerial tenure gauged by David Ammons, a professor in the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, school of government, and Matthew Bosse, a management analyst with the City of Virgina Beach, Va.

&#8220The average tenure of a city manager has been variously estimated by many authors,” Ammons and Bosse said in the winter 2005 issue of State and Local Government Review, quoting a 1998 study by researchers Stumn and Corrigan.

&#8220However, they may disagree on the precise figure, they all agree that professional managers do not stay in one city very long. This is because of the hazards of the occupation and because the only way to progress in the career is to move to where greater opportunities exist.”

Because of such a notion, consultants are often quoted as recommending city managers to move on within three to five years, Ammons and Bosse stated.

In Hanford, city managers tend to stay longer.

According to Reynolds, the first city manager who served in Hanford, Vince Peterson, did even better than he did.

By the time Reynolds came to the city in 1981, Peterson had already been on his post for 16 years. Peterson went on to serve two more years before he retired, Reynolds said.

Reynolds' immediate predecessor, James Armstrong, served about seven years, as Peterson retired in 1983 and Reynolds began working as the acting city manager in July 1990. Coincidentally, that seems to be just around the average of city managers across the country.

Incumbent city managers in the 120 selected cities around the United States had been in office an average of 6.8 years when surveyed in 2002, according to Ammons and Bosse's report.

The mean tenure of the 364 city managers who completed their service in these cities between 1980 and 2002 was 6.9 years, matching the tenure statistics by the International City/County Management Association in Washington, D.C., Ammons and Bosse said in the report.

Although not all that common, a sizable group of managers defies the conventional wisdom and enjoy longer service in a single community. The odds of a 20-year stint in the same town is one in 20 - a rate similar to that of a corporate executive. Ammons and Bosse concluded that that is mostly because of a &#8220pull” that attracts managers to new opportunities rather than a &#8220push” to force them out from the current posts.

(The reporter may be reached at

(Nov. 16, 2005)

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