City and County Management as Community Building

Article excerpt

The phrase "community building" captures those initiatives in local governments today that seek to connect the places where people live with the lives they lead. The goal of community building is to create attachment to the community, identity, and pride. Most people realize that the selfish pursuit of individual interests, the increase of diversity, and the longtime trend of development patterns leading to urban sprawl have produced serious conditions of disconnectedness among our various populations.

Often, these forces have produced the most ambiguous yet most serious challenges that face local governments. Bearing this in mind, this article addresses how community building and local government management are, and indeed need to be, related.


Based on a series of interviews conducted by coauthor John Nalbandian over the past 10 years, it seems obvious that the emerging role of the profession is part management and part leadership. Local government managers still must do the work of management, including organizing tasks, setting timelines, and allocating resources. But today's manager must be almost equally adept at leading the council and community to and through the messy processes that build visions - concerned all the while with equity and balanced participation as well as with outcomes.

The research uncovered these trends:(1)

* Community building has become part of the local government management professional's responsibility.

* Managers are expected to facilitate participation and representation and to develop partnerships.

* There is less adherence to council-manager government as the "one best form."

* The manager's internal administrative role has become more process-oriented.

Karma Ruder, director of the neighborhood planning office in Seattle and a former staff person in Phoenix and in Billings, Montana, writes, "Who is doing the work that makes people respect their governments and become committed to making life in their communities better? The crucial issue is how local governments stay legitimate in the eyes of those they serve."

Eric Anderson, city manager of Des Moines, Iowa, writes, "I am increasingly convinced that we are accountable for more than the quality of our management. We also are accountable for how well we have performed in the governance of our communities. Our jobs are to assure a fundamentally productive combination of the two [politics and administration] in the daily life of local governments. We need to be more specific about the responsibility we carry for governance as well as service delivery."

In common, Ruder and Anderson express the need to search for ways to build among residents a sense of obligation to community interests and to convince them that their private and economic well-being is not the only measure of what is good.(2)

What we really want from citizens is an understanding that for their communities to prosper:

* Some individual decisions will have to be subject to majority rule.

* Some individual interests will have to be weighed collectively against an array of interests.

The Foundation

How do we encourage this kind of collective, or public-minded, perspective among residents? There are three kinds of actions that form the foundation of community building. First, provide goods, services, and facilities for residents more efficiently than they could get them if they had to produce or purchase them individually. Examples include clean water, sanitary and stormwater sewer systems, parks, public education, a transportation system, and so on.

Second, provide these public goods in a manner that respects the fundamental democratic values of representation, equity (equal protection), and individual rights (due process).

Third, encourage residents to act like citizens in charge, rather than subjects, of government. …