Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Council Member Perceptions regarding Representational Effectiveness: Does Bureaucracy Make a Difference?

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Council Member Perceptions regarding Representational Effectiveness: Does Bureaucracy Make a Difference?

Article excerpt


Local governments are under increasing pressure to effectively represent various political interests within communities. This study attempts to measure and explain city council member perceptions of local government representational effectiveness for a sample of communities in New York state. The authors hypothesize that variables from seven categories are related to representational effectiveness. Using survey methodology and regression techniques, the authors find, for example, that female council members rate their local governments lower in representational effectiveness than their male counterparts, and also that council members perceive a strong relationship between program/service delivery and representational effectiveness.


Governments at all levels in the United States are under increasing scrutiny not only in terms of how well they deliver goods and services, but also in terms of how well they are representing various political interests. We argue in this essay that these dual pressures are interrelated. That is, local government is nuts and bolts government in the sense that most people come to evaluate the representational effectiveness of these institutions based upon how well they engage in the delivery of services. To the knowledge of these authors, no studies have systematically linked these two evaluations of local government effectiveness, a task we hope to accomplish in this essay.

A large body of literature has developed over the years that evaluates governments with regard to the delivery of goods and services based upon several different factors (e.g., Cingranelli, 1981; Nivola, 1978; Jones, Greenberg, Kaufman and Drew, 1977; Kettl, 1993; Lineberry, 1977). Very few studies, however, have evaluated governments, particularly local governments, on how well they are doing in terms of representing the interests of constituents. These studies have directly evaluated governments in terms of representational effectiveness based on factors such as race (e.g., Bullock and MacManus, 1990; Browning, Marshall and Tabb, 1984; Engstrom and McDonald, 1981) and gender (e.g., Bullard and Wright, 1993; Guy 1993; Deen and Little, 1999, Bullock and MacManus, 1991). Many have concluded that the make-up of governmental institutions does not reflect society at-large and, therefore, implied that they do not effectively represent constituents. Other studies have indirectly evaluated the representational aspects of governmental institutions such as legislatures based upon the representational role types of elected officials (e.g., Eulau, Wahlke, Buchanan, and Ferguson, 1959), implying that some legislators are more likely to consider the interests of constituents when making decisions than others. These legislators would, therefore, be more effective in representing constituents' interests.

This essay attempts to address governmental effectiveness based upon the perceptions of city council members with regard to how well their local governments are representing the many, and oftentimes, conflicting community interests. It is important to study the council members' perceptions about the representational effectiveness of their local governments. These perceptions may actually enhance or, alternatively, depress the morale and, ultimately, the level of activity and effectiveness especially of those council members who belong to traditionally underrepresented groups. It is also possible that the council members' perceptions are reflective of what the citizens actually think. This confluence of views is more likely at the local level, as council members typically have smaller constituencies. In either case, the perceptions about representational effectiveness are ultimately judgments about the legitimacy of the local democratic decision making process. Suspicions about that legitimacy may be detrimental to the functioning of local governments and to their effectiveness as service providers. …

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