Municipalities have council-manager government, i.e. they are governed by an elected council (kunnanvaltuusto, kommunfullmäktige), which is legally autonomous and answers only to the voters. The size of the council is proportional to the population, the extremes being 9 in Sottunga and 85 in Helsinki. A subsection of the council, the municipal executive board (kunnanhallitus), controls the municipal government and monitors the implementation of decisions of the council. Its decisions must be approved by the council. Unlike national cabinets, its composition is derived from the composition of the council, not along government-opposition lines. Furthermore, individual decisions are prepared in specialized municipal boards (lautakunta) for a council meeting; these include e.g. zoning, social assistance, and education boards. Council, executive board, and municipal board memberships are elected positions of responsibility, not a full-time job.
Municipal managers (kaupunginjohtaja, stadsdirektör for cities, kunnanjohtaja, kommunsdirektör for other municipalities) are civil servants named by the council. The city manager of Helsinki is called ylipormestari/överborgmästare "Lord Mayor" for historical reasons. There were previously no mayors in Finland, but after a change in law, Tampere was first city to elect a mayor (pormestari/borgmästare) in 2007. The mayor is not, however, currently elected directly, but by the municipal council. The mayor acts as municipal manager and as a speaker of municipal council.
Although municipalities do not have police or legislative powers, local ordinances concerning traffic can be set, and municipal parking inspectors can give parking tickets. Municipalities are legal persons and can appear in an administrative court. Likewise, the state of Finland is a separate legal person.
Excluding judicial review of formal compliance to administrative law, municipalities are independent and not a part of a local state hierarchy. Municipalities cooperate in regions of Finland. State agencies have jurisdictions spanning one or more regions: each region is served by an ely-keskus (elinkeino-, liikenne- ja ympäristökeskus) on matters of employment, the economy, transport and environment, while law and environmental enforcement is handled by the local aluehallintovirasto, governing multi-region jurisdictions termed alue.
Residents pay a municipal tax that is a form of income tax, which is the mainstay of the income of a municipality (42% of income). Municipal tax is nominally a flat tax that is levied from a broader population (including lower income levels) than progressive state income tax, which is collected only from medium to high income earners. However, in practice even the municipal tax is progressive due to generous deductions granted to the lowest income levels. The pre-deduction base tax varies from 16% in affluent Kauniainen to 20% or more in a number of small rural municipalities. Next to the municipal tax, municipalities receive funding from the state budget (valtionapu, 19% of income). This funding is means-tested to municipality wealth and serves to balance the differences in municipal tax revenue. Besides taxes, sales revenue, fees and profit of operations also form a substantial share of municipal income (21%).