Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

LTI Seminar: Achieving Balance between Governance and Representation on Your City Council

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

LTI Seminar: Achieving Balance between Governance and Representation on Your City Council

Article excerpt

Local elected officials in America's cities face a fundamental dilemma: the positions and decisions that can get you elected and/or re-elected may not necessarily reflect the long-term needs and aspirations of the community. In due course, council members play two distinct roles in the complex office that you fill. Council members must both act as "representatives" of your constituents and also as "governors" of your community.

City council members, in their "representative" role, link the public to the governmental process. As council members express the views of their constituents, responding to their demands and their needs, and as they help citizens deal with governmental agencies.

In their "governance" role, city council members make decisions about the policies and programs of the city, and also review the work of the executive city staff through oversight. Ultimately, they set the course for their community and seek to ensure that it is on track.

As a result, a major issue for elected officials is whether these roles complement each other or conflict with each other. The governance role is inherently difficult. Taking the long view and exercising judgment is hard when confronted with the pressing short-range problems and media criticism of inaction.

Furthermore, elected officials experience pressures from constituents to address their immediate concerns. Thus, council members, in their role as responsive representatives, may find it difficult to be effective governors. On the other hand, council members who strictly focus on the long-term future, and ignore immediate pressures, may not be fully representing their constituents.

These tensions are reflected in the ways that council members rate their own effectiveness, which is noted in a national survey conducted for the National League of Cities in 2001. …

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