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Blogs / Professional Fellows Exchange Program / INTRODUCTION TO DUBUQUE'S CITY STRUCTURE


Sreedaran Raman, Malaysia

Organizing Grantee: ICMA

YSEALI Theme: Environmental Sustainability

Host: City of Dubuque, IA

Our first working day in Dubuque started with breakfast with Assistant City Manager Cindy Steinhauser, who arranges and coordinates our itinerary throughout our stay here.


With Cindy Dubuque's Assistant City Manager


Later we met Dubuque’s city manager Mr. Michael C. Van Milligen who has served as City Manager for the City of Dubuque since January of 1993. From his introduction presentation we learnt that the city operates under the council-manager form of local government, which combines the political leadership of elected officials in the form of city council. The council-manager form of government was adopted by citizen referendum in 1920.


With Dubuque's City Manager Mr. Michael C. Van Milligen

Mayor Roy D. Buol and the Dubuque City Council members are the leaders and policy makers elected (every 4 years) to represent the community and to concentrate on policy issues that are responsive to citizens’ needs and wishes. The mayor and the city council members’ duties do not include the implementation of the policies made and as such it is not their full time job and they do have their other own carrier.

The council is the legislative body; its members are the community’s decision makers. Power is centralized in the elected council, which approves the budget and determines the city portion of the tax rate, for example.

The council also focuses on the community’s goals, major projects, and such long-term considerations as community growth, land use development, capital improvement plans, capital financing, and strategic planning. The council hires a professional manager to carry out the administrative responsibilities and supervises the manager’s performance.

The council meets every fortnightly and when necessary a work session will be conducted before the meeting to discuss in detail about any important issues.

The city is mainly self-funded from various tax imposed to the citizens and also by applying state and federal grants which are not adequate for the overall management of the city. Most of the city’s new initiatives and policies are well informed to the citizens and transparency in handling the city’s income is something I adore. For an example, I was impressed when a citizen aged 85 years old which I have met here knows about the details (type of engineering solutions) of the city’s flood mitigation project which is not so common back in Malaysia.

To learn more about Dubuque's city government please refer to City of Dubuque's official website :

Apart from that America’s city management approach is totally different than Malaysia’s. In Malaysia the cities are manged by the local government known as municipal council headed by  Datuk Bandar (Mayor) for big cities and Yang Di Pertua (City Manager) for small and medium cities. These posts are not elected and it is a state government’s hired post.

The local governments have a group of elected or nominated council members (differs by states).  The municipal council collects property and business tax and in-charge of development approvals, planning, licensing, permits and other maintenance in the city area.

Apart from the municipal council there are other agencies/departments exist in each cities to carry out other needs such as water resource management, road works, sewerage, water supply, welfare and others. All departments and city council are parked under various ministries and has federal, state and city offices. All officers and staffs of these departments and municipal councils can be rotated from federal, state and district offices when necessity arises and in accordance to their appointment terms. There are two types of staff appointment in Malaysia government:

i)   State posts (subjected for rotation within the respective state and will be paid by state government and this includes district and state offices.

ii)  Federal Post (subjected for rotation within the country : federal offices, state or district)

For more information about this please refer to the following websites:

The major difference between America and Malaysia’s city management; America's City Manager’s office is carrying out all the tasks and responsibility under one management office and as for the areas out of the city, county office are responsible, whereas in Malaysia we have so many various departments and agencies to implementing the same tasks but we don’t have county setup as such the management covers not only the city but also the whole district.

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Form of Government