The City of Bakersfield operates under the Council-Manager form of government which vests authority in an elected City Council which, in turn, hires an appointed executive. The City Council is composed of seven members elected from the seven wards of the City on a nonpartisan basis to serve overlapping four-year terms. The Mayor is elected at-large to serve a four-year term as presiding officer at City Council meetings and as the official head of the City for legislative and ceremonial purposes. The City Manager is appointed by the City Council and serves at the pleasure of that body.
The City Council is the City's legislative and policy-making body. Acting as a whole, the City Council is responsible for passing ordinances and orders necessary for governing the City, as well as for setting the direction of City policy. The City Manager is responsible for the overall administration of the City. This responsibility includes implementation of the general policies set by the City Council in addition to the day-to-day operation of all City functions. The City Manager, with the help of the staff, provides the City Council with the information needed to fulfill its policy-making role.
The Council-Manager form of government separates legislative and executive responsibilities in a manner similar to state and federal governments. This system provides "checks and balances" of both policy and administrative branches of government by limiting the power of each.