What is the difference between a chief of staff and a chief administrative officer?

What is the difference between a chief of staff and a chief administrative officer?

There was a question from a reader last week regarding the difference between a "chief administrative officer" in Urbana and the mayor's "chief of staff."

The reason this question is relevant to the primary election (and probably the general election, too), is because candidate Les Stratton has threaded it into almost every issue he has adopted as a campaign point.

Here's the background: The city last had a chief administrator in 2007, when the person holding the position at that time was put on administrative leave and not invited by Prussing to return to city employment at the end of the fiscal year.

Prussing then hired a chief of staff — not a chief administrative officer — and assumed many of the duties herself. Since then, she said, the city has run more smoothly and cheaply. 

Opponents of the move — including Stratton and Republican challenger Rex Bradfield — have called it a power grab, and Stratton has said hiring a new chief administrator would be one of his top priorities. He has offered it as a solution to many of what he thinks are city failures.

"I have a chief of staff, I hired a person and called it a chief of staff, so I think it's not really right to be quibbling over the title," Prussing said last week.

Well, it was suggested by a reader that I should just post the two job descriptions so everyone can make that decision for themselves. The first one here is the job posting from 2008 when the city was seeking a new chief administrative officer. Prussing has said no one could be found who adequately fit the qualifications, so they began searching for a chief staff instead.


  • Amount budgeted for Chief of Staff in FY 2012-13: $74,260 (note that this salary is five years after the below-listed CAO salary.)

SUMMARY: The Chief of Staff assists the Mayor in oversight and administration of Urbana city government. Key responsibilities include helping all city departments develop and maintain best practices with a high level of accountability to citizens. A major focus will be to help foster good communications and harmonious working relationships with staff, the City Council, the citizens, the business community and local, state and federal governments.


  • Maintains an effective working relationship with the City Council, city staff, news media, constituents, business and community leaders;
  • Conducts research on best practices in other cities;
  • Responds to constituent concerns and resolves problems;
  • Acts as Public Information liaison on behalf of the Mayor;
  • Conducts staff meetings in the absence of the Mayor;
  • Acts as the Mayor's principal liaison and responds to office visits and telephone inquiries from constituents and various interest groups;
  • Represents the City to local groups when the Mayor is unavailable.

EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: A minimum of a bachelor’s degree and at least ten years experience in working with local governments or any combination of education and experience which demonstrates an ability to perform the essential job functions.


  • Knowledge of municipal practices and procedures;
  • Knowledge of local, state and federal agencies and departments;
  • Ability to work cooperatively and courteously with diverse groups of people;
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills;
  • Knowledge of office computer applications;
  • Works well under pressure.


  • Amount budgeted for CAO in FY 2007-08: $125,740

JOB SUMMARY: Responsible for the management of all aspects of municipal services; reviews the work of department heads to assure effective and efficient operations; provides overall planning and evaluation of all programs and services; develops a proposed annual City budget.


  • Assists the Mayor in enforcement of all laws and ordinances of the City.
  • Assists the Mayor in developing City policies.
  • Reviews the implementation of City policies, procedures, and directives to assure they are carried out effectively.
  • Prepares reports on overall management and administration.
  • Maintains effective relations with other governmental officials, community leaders, citizens, news media representatives, etc.
  • Develops general administrative guidelines which pertain to all departments; updates annually.
  • Develops organizational development goals and updates annually; distributes information about organizational status, trends, and goals.
  • Evaluates organizational structure and makes changes or recommends changes as needed to maximize effectiveness and efficiency and to promote the principles of management.
  • Establishes and reviews annually general organizational improvement objectives which significantly improve municipal government.
  • Approves Council and Council Committee meeting agendas and supporting material; coordinates to facilitate decision-making.
  • Approves or recommends to the Mayor and Council policies relative to the operation and activities of the departments.
  • Reviews new or amended procedures relating to the operations and activities of the departments.
  • Approves procedures relating to the operations and activities of the Personnel, Legal, and Human Relations Divisions.
  • Monitors critical performance elements of City services to help assure effective and efficient operation and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Reviews key Personnel, Legal, and Human Relations operations and activities at regular intervals to help assure standard operating procedures are followed and performance standards are met.
  • Reviews job descriptions of direct subordinates to assure they are accurate and current.
  • Plans, assigns, and evaluates the work of department heads, Executive Department division heads, Executive Secretary, and Information Specialist.
  • Establishes annual performance objectives for department heads and Executive Department division heads and assists in their accomplishment.
  • Develops personalized training goals for department heads, Executive Department division heads, Executive Secretary, and Information Specialist.
  • Reviews performance appraisals for exempt personnel to monitor overall performance levels and objectives.
  • Reviews grievances for all employees through an "open door" policy as well as Step 3 of the union grievance process; determines appropriate resolution.
  • Administers disciplinary action as necessary according to standard operating procedures; reviews all disciplinary action administered by subordinates.
  • Hires and discharges personnel who are directly accountable to the Chief Administrative Officer in accordance with established procedures; reviews the hiring and discharge of all personnel; recommends the appointment of personnel to non-Civil Service positions.
  • Monitors time records and leave records for personnel directly reporting to the Chief Administrative Officer pursuant to standard operating procedures; monitors City-wide usage totals on a regular basis.
  • Approves compensation and fringe benefits of all personnel annually pursuant to wage and benefit plans; approves wage and benefit plans every five years.
  • Maintains a safe work environment in all areas under direct supervision; maintains a safety program conducted pursuant to the safety program plan.
  • Serves as Budget Director according to ordinance.
  • Develops, recommends, and administers the budget for all Funds in accordance with standard operating procedures.
  • Reviews proposed budget operational expenses to monitor necessity and reasonableness and to maintain balance with overall revenues; monitors changes in service to assure proper authorization has been received.
  • Schedules proposed major capital expenses to generally follow a multi-year approved plan; updates annually.
  • Approves general revenues and financing techniques to help assure adequate and equitable funding of City services.
  • Approves fee schedules for activities annually and adjusts as appropriate.
  • Monitors monthly financial reports for all Funds to maintain ongoing fiscal control and stability.
  • Approves commitments to purchase over $2500 and purchase orders over $1000 and approves proposed fund transfers pursuant to the purchasing policy.
  • Approves travel authorizations, advances, and reconciliations pursuant to travel policy.
  • Provides for the development and dissemination of information relating to business of the City.
  • Answers proper requests for information and resolves complaints as needed.
  • Serves as director of the City's emergency service and disaster agency.
  • Serves as Appointing Authority for Civil Service as delegated by Mayor.
  • Performs other related duties and tasks as directed by the Mayor.


  • Extensive knowledge of organizational behavior.
  • Extensive knowledge of policy planning.
  • Considerable knowledge of the legislative policy making process.
  • Knowledge of laws, codes, and ordinances related to municipal government.
  • Knowledge of municipal financing, personnel management, public works management, and management of the protective services.
  • Ability to deal tactfully and effectively with administrative officials, local government officials, employees, and with the public.
  • Extensive knowledge of municipal budgeting practices and procedures.
  • Knowledge of community development programs.
  • Ability to supervise and motivate subordinates in the administration of policy.
  • Ability to mediate between groups of administrators, policy makers, and public officials.
  • Knowledge typically acquired through completion of a Bachelor's degree in public or business administration and five years experience in a management position including two years at the executive level. Prefer five years of experience in municipal government at either the city manager or assistant level or as a department head of a major operating department.


  • Responsible for the management of all aspects of municipal services.
  • Responsible for assuring effective and efficient operations in all departments.
  • Responsible for providing overall planning and evaluation of all programs and services.
  • Responsible for developing and administering the City budget.
  • Responsible for the direct supervision of one (1) Director of Public Safety, one (1) Director of Community and Economic Development, one (1) City Engineer, one (1) Comptroller, one (1) Director of Public Works, one (1) Human Relations Officer, one (1) City Attorney, one (1) Corporation Counsel, one (1) Personnel Manager, one (1) Executive Secretary, and one (1) Information Specialist. Indirectly responsible for all personnel.


  • Ongoing contacts with the Mayor and City Council, other elected officials, professional groups, and representatives of labor organizations.
  • Daily contact with department heads, general public, private agencies, and governmental agencies.


  • Standard office setting.


  • Must possess or obtain within sixty (60) days a valid State of Illinois Class D drivers license.
  • Works with confidential information.
  • Failure to comply with applicable laws and regulations could result in loss of productivity, funds, and potential liabilities.


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