Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Post-Transition Employee Perspectives of City-County Unification: The Case of Athens-Clarke County

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Post-Transition Employee Perspectives of City-County Unification: The Case of Athens-Clarke County

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The city of Athens and Clarke County, Georgia, were unified in January 1991. To help identify the effects of unification, employees of the city and county governments were asked in 1991 (just before the unification was implemented) their opinions about its expected impacts. Then, they were asked in 1992 and 1993 their views on what the impacts had been. The authors found that, after some initial optimism in 1991, the 1992 and 1993 surveys indicated that the employees believed unification had no positive benefits. The authors interpreted these negative results to be the product of the turmoil caused by the transition to a consolidated government. To test their hypothesis, another survey was administered in 1997 when the transition had been completed which showed that employee views of consolidation impacts were more positive than those in 1992 and 1993 but more negative that the 1991 expectations. Comments in the returned questionnaires suggested that many former city and county employees still strongly dislike the unified government. The authors identify and discuss the possible bases for these negative views.

INTRODUCTION

City-County consolidations do not occur very often but civic reformers still support consolidation as a means to create governments that they say will be more efficient, responsive, and fair and will improve prospects for economic development.1 The success or failure of city-county unification is difficult to judge because few empirical studies provide evidence to support or refute the claims of positive impacts and those that have been undertaken contradict each other. The research is especially meager and inconclusive in regard to the impact of governmental mergers on smaller metropolitan areas, those with populations less than 250,000 in which about one-half of all consolidations have occurred.

The lack of empirical study of the effects of consolidation inspired the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government to research the impacts of a merger that occurred in its own backyard. The University of Georgia is located in Athens and the merger of Athens and Clarke County was approved by referendum in August 1990. The new government serving a population of about 90,000 came into being in early January 1991.

In the research on the Athens-Clarke County unification, the authors have focused on employees of the former city and county governments because they have had a unique view of the unification, experiencing first-hand whatever disruptions or benefits have occurred as a result of the governmental restructuring. To determine employee perspectives of the merger impacts, the authors surveyed a sample of these employees in January 1991, just before the unification was implemented, asking questions about the impacts they expected the unification to have. They followed with surveys in 1992, 1993, and 1997, asking questions about the employees perceptions of the impacts of the consolidation? In this article, the authors present the results of the most recent survey conducted in 1997 and compare employee views expressed in this survey with the responses in the previous surveys.

Although the responses to the 1991 survey showed that a majority of city and county employees had some optimism that the new, unified government would function better than the separate governments, the 1992 and 1993 survey results reflected an intense dislike of the unified government and the perception that the unified government was performing worse than the separate governments on all measures. Also, for every measure of unified government performance, the differences between employee expectations in 1991 and evaluations in 1992 and 1993 were negative: a large majority of employees viewed the unified government as not living up to their expectations.

When analyzing these results, the authors concluded that the strong dislike of the unified government was likely related to difficulties in the transition. …

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