Highlights of governing styles

Strong mayor-council

This is the form in Williamsport, which began under Mayor John Coder in 1972. Prior to 1972, the city had a commission form of government.

That form provides for a five-, seven- or nine-member council elected at large for overlapping four-year terms, along with an executive branch with a mayor, treasurer and controller, also elected for four-year terms.

In this form, the mayor enforces ordinances, supervises departments, appoints heads of departments and prepares and submits annual budgets.

Council sets the policy, passes ordinances and passes budgets.

The system allows for a treasurer who serves as tax collector, while the controller examines and audits city accounts and expenditures, and an engineer who is certified is hired to maintain the infrastructure of the city.


The council-manager form is composed of five, seven or nine members elected at large for four-year overlapping terms. The manager, who is hired by council, serves as chief administrator and is responsible for executing the ordinances of council. The manager also hires and fires department heads and subordinates. In this form, a mayor also may be chosen by council from among its members.

Cities also have a treasurer, controller and engineer.

Altoona is an example of this form, but with home rule added to the mix.


In this form, each commissioner heads one department. Under this form, the mayor and four other commissioners constitute the commission, according to the state Department of General Services. The mayor, as commissioner for public affairs, is head of the police department and appoints its major officers. He or she makes appointments to the planning commission and the redevelopment authority and generally has a great deal of influence in the operation of those agencies.

The mayor also supervises the conduct of council meetings, has the power to enforce and execute laws and has the power of a sheriff in a riot.

Other commissioners head the departments of accounts and finance (with major responsibility for accounting and budgeting), streets and public improvements, public safety, and parks and public property.

Council appoints a city clerk, city solicitor and city engineer. Commissioners serve four-year overlapping terms.

Weak mayor-council

Among the least desired by either council or the home rule group supporters, the weak mayor-council form features strong policy and administrative influence by council committees and a mayor with little or no executive authority, similar to what happens in boroughs.

Parker City, in Armstrong County, is an example of a third-class city that uses this model. And, it is the only one to do so.

Home rule

Home rule provides more flexibility in allowing taxpayers to propose ordinances for consideration by the ruling government and may include any of the other forms of government with it, such as strong mayor-council, council-manager, commission or weak mayor-council.