Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Does Professionalism Really Matter? A Look at the Changing Roles of Local Government Executives

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Does Professionalism Really Matter? A Look at the Changing Roles of Local Government Executives

Article excerpt

Perhaps the hallmark of the Reform Movement in the twentieth century has been the development of the city manager form of government.(1) Critical to that form is the appointment of a "professional" manager whose principal role would be the administration of city affairs without regard for "purely" political interests. Since the establishment of that form, it has been generally accepted that neither politics nor administration exists in a true dichotomy but the appointed administrator should swing the balance away from the political side. As a result, many researchers have been interested in assessing both the manner and the extent to which appointed administrators have been able to impact on their particular jurisdictions's policies. Thus, whether or not structural reform has indeed changed the operation of those city governments adopting it has been the subject of much debate.

Structural reform alone, however, can have no major impact. If appointed administrators perform their jobs no differently than elected ones, then reform is more myth than reality. Relatedly, those to whom professional "accouterments" are most important, the proponents of professional organizations like the ASPA, as well as those who produce professional educational and training programs, should have the greatest stake in demonstrating the benefits of reform. Why bother with administrative education and research if it makes no real difference?

The purpose of this research is to determine the impact, if any, of administrative reform at the local government level. Three questions must be answered to isolate the full effect. First, do elected and appointed executives approach their jobs differently in terms of politics and administration? It would seem, of course, that they should since the relative bases of job tenure vary. Second, how stable have those changes been over time? If these effects change with the prevailing political winds, then the relationship between structural form and behavior may be spurious. Finally, how does administrative professionalism affect the executive's role both in terms of structure and change? Logically, if changes occurred in the roles of appointed administrators, those changes would be less pronounced among more professional executives since their training, educational, and organizational affiliations should bolster role consistency.


In order to assess the longitudinal relationship between professionalism and local government styles, surveys were conducted in South Carolina of both elected and appointed local government executives in all counties with either elected or appointed executives and in cities of 5,000 or more population in 1975. The survey was mailed to executives in counties that had adopted either an appointed or an elected executive form under the 1972 home rule amendment to the South Carolina constitution. The survey was replicated in 1984. The 55 usable questionnaires in 1975 and 65 usable responses in 1984 represent return rates of 80 and 82 percent respectively since the population of eligible local governments changed over time.

Local government executives, city and county managers especially, are particularly good subjects for studies of professional administration. First, they were ostensibly selected for professional reasons. Indeed, government charters may specify those reasons. Second, city management is an old field with a rich tradition and a specific professional organization--the International City Management Association (ICMA). Finally, not only are there: more governments at the local level, but there is a greater variety of executive arrangements which make comparative studies possible.


There have been several attempts to depict the different roles played by local government executives--especially city managers. Loveridge (1971), Lewis (1982), Svara (1985), as well as Newell and Ammons (1987), all conducted surveys of city managers and other executives. …

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