The Policy-Administration Dichotomy Is Bunkum

By Murray, Sylvester; Banovetz, James | Public Management, October 1993 | Go to article overview

The Policy-Administration Dichotomy Is Bunkum


Murray, Sylvester, Banovetz, James, Public Management


In this PM, Jim Brimeyer writes of the seminar that was held at Cleveland State University this past spring. The seminar was organized to stimulate dialogue between elected local leaders and appointed managers about the council-manager form of government and the evolving role of professional administrators in local governments.

Three mayors, an elected county executive, and a councilmember spoke directly or indirectly about the politics-administration dichotomy to a gathering of approximately 30 managers and a dozen academics. One mayor was from a classic council-manager city of 370,000 population, one from a traditional strong-mayor city of 50,000, and the third from a classic mayor-chief administrative officer city of 1.65 million. The county executive came from a metropolitan center-city county with a population of 507,000, while the councilmember was from a suburban council-manager city of 48,000 population. In one way or another, each elected official made the following points: * Accountability to voters is the

most important definition of "responsiveness,"

and most calls

from voters are about administration

issues. Elected officials,

therefore, must be involved in

administration. * Efficiency of service delivery

should be a salient ingredient in

formulating policy issues. Skilled

administrators, therefore, must

be involved in policy formulation. * The keys to harmony between

elected officials and administrators

are: continuous dialogue

(initiated most often by the administrator);

administrative devotion

to the goal of successful

tenure in office for elected officials;

and demonstrations that

the administrator is not a cynic

about mayor-council politics.

Officials' Primary Concerns

The three points made above are plain and down-to-earth. The elected officials are saying that they are not concerned with public administration theory or the ICMA Code of Ethics. Their primary concern is pleasing the voters, and they want to be kept sufficiently informed to be able to derive a sense of personal accomplishment from their public service.

One of the elected officials was specific in stating that the line between policy and administration is blurred, and should be. She spoke of development issues as an example: The council made the development decisions--set the policy, but with firm recommendations from the staff. …

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