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City Managers and Political Party Affiliations: How to be a True Professional

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Roger Kemp
November 6, 2020 

During my city management career, I changed my political party affiliations a few times for a number of reasons. Over the years, I registered as a Republican (R), a Democratic (D) and as an Unaffiliated Voter (UV). The reasons for these political party affiliations over the years during my city management career were for the following reasons.

The Democrats

Early in my city management career, I was a registered Democrat (D). At one public meeting a City Council member said to me, “ I heard that you were a Democrat, which makes me believe that you are a liberal, and now I know why you wish to help minority groups and senior citizens when we increase our program user fees for services. You always look for discounts for low-income citizens and senior citizens.” This was his belief based on my personal political party affiliation.

The Republicans

Later in my city management career, I was a registered Republican (R) and at one public meeting a City Council member said to me, “I heard that you were a Republican, which makes me believe that you are a conservative, and now I know why you wish to keep our budget low, minimize our tax increases and want all citizens to pay their respective share of our budget expenses. You always try to keep our budget low, and minimize our annual tax increases.” This was his belief based on my personal political party affiliation.

Personal Reflections

I did not like these elected officials, my bosses, as their City Manager, to think that I was making recommendations to them based on my political party affiliations. This was not how I liked the elected officials that appointed me to think about the recommendations that I made to them during my tenure as their City Manager.

The Unaffiliated Voters

So, later in my city management career, I changed my politcal party affiliation to that of an Unaffiliated Voter (UV), since this shows that I am an independent thinker, and that all of my recommendations to them were professional in nature, and not political in nature.

Professionalism at Its Best

From this point on, I reflected this philosophy about my political affiliation to all of the elected officials that I worked for. I even used these thoughts during future job interviews that I underwent for other City Management positions during my career.

The City’s elected officials were my boss, and I respected all of them, notwithstanding their respective personal political affiliations. If they are elected by majority vote, they represent the governing body that hired me and that I work for. I did what they wanted me to do by their majority vote.

The Future

This political philosophy was held for the duration of my City Manager career, and I liked how everyone appreciated it. The bottom line is that I have no political party affiliation; I am a working professional, and all of my recommendations to my elected officials are always only professional in nature.

All of the Mayors and City Council members that I worked for over the years have liked this professional perspective. After all, I respected all of them regardless of their own personal political party affiliation.


Author: Roger L. Kemp has beren a career City Manager, and worked in and managed the largest City Mangement cities in California (Oakland), New Jersey (Clifton), and in Connecticut (Meriden). He has also been an Adjunct Professor, teaching city management courses in the evenings at universities during his city management career. He has also authorred and edited over 50 books dealing with subjects related to city management. His personal website is: www.rogerkemp.org, and his e-mail address is: [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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