Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Facilitating Community, Enabling Democracy: New Roles for Local Government Managers

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Facilitating Community, Enabling Democracy: New Roles for Local Government Managers

Article excerpt

Dennis Hays, administrator of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, found himself in an unfamiliar role. In the presence of the governor, the mayor, and other dignitaries, Hays was asked to take the lead in a press conference announcing that the International Speedway Corporation had begun negotiating with the Unified Government as a partner in the construction of a NASCAR racetrack. His highly visible role in the project was being recognized and future expectations were being cast.

Kansas City, Kansas, once a manufacturing stronghold in northeast Kansas, is a city searching for lost pride. Hays, analytical and compassionate, and educated to believe that the role of the manager is to work backstage, found himself leading a project that would have significant effect on the sense of community in this city and on his own definition of professionalism.

This research, based on data gathered from open-ended survey questions, correspondence, and in-depth panel discussions, also utilizes earlier findings for a "then and now" examination of the contemporary roles, responsibilities, and values of city managers. City managers are seen as community builders and enablers of democracy. With those goals, they have become skilled at facilitative leadership and at building partnerships and consensus.

Also, they have become more aware that legitimacy of the city manager role demands more than a legal foundation in council-manager government, the manager's adherence to the value of efficiency, and making recommendations based on "the greatest good for the greatest number over the long run." In today's political environment of diverse and conflicting interests, managers must anticipate and attend to claims for equity, representation, and individual rights if they are to succeed as partner to the elected officials and citizens they serve and as leader of the professional staff they supervise.

The Past

In my earlier review of professionalism in local government I concluded that city management had transformed itself over several decades in three fundamental ways. It had "moved from an orthodox view of a dichotomy between politics and administration to the sharing of functions between elected and appointed officials; from political neutrality and formal accountability to political sensitivity and responsiveness to community values themselves; and from efficiency as the core value to efficiency, representation, individual rights, and social equity as a complex array of values anchoring professionalism" (Nalbandian, 1991, 103). The first change represented an evolution of roles, the second a broader statement of professional responsibility, and the third set out to capture the contemporary value base of city management.

Those familiar with professionalism in local government will see that to a large extent many recent changes have reinforced these transformations. During the ten years, the following changes stand out:

* Community building has become part of the city 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.

What's New

Community Building

Historical reviews of city management reveal a continuing search for the meaning of professionalism (Stillman, 1974). As social, economic, political, and technological trends create new contexts, the roles, responsibilities, and values of practicing professionals change. In my earlier project, I tried to define professionalism in local government as grounded in a broader array of community values than had been posited traditionally. But what I failed to articulate was the search for a sense of community as a way to conceptualize a context for contemporary professional work. …

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