Year 1972 Interpersonal Relationships between Councilmen and Administrators: An Examination of Some of the Dynamics Involved in the Council-Administrator Relationship, and Suggestions for Understanding the Issues and Difficulties Involved

By Eddy, William B. | Public Management, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Year 1972 Interpersonal Relationships between Councilmen and Administrators: An Examination of Some of the Dynamics Involved in the Council-Administrator Relationship, and Suggestions for Understanding the Issues and Difficulties Involved


Eddy, William B., Public Management


2006 Ccomment: We have included Eddy's 1972 article because it is the first that challenges city managers to look within themselves as part of their examination of council-manager relations. He wrote that the beginning of a study of any relationship should start with oneself. He asked probing questions of a kind that had not previously appeared in PM's literature on council-manager relations.

Eddy ended by observing that very little has been done to assist administrators and councilmembers to develop their interpersonal relationship. This comment is interesting for two reasons. First, it emanates from the emerging organizational development movement, in which Eddy played an important intellectual role, that saw its popularity rise significantly in the 1960s and early 1970s. This movement emphasized learning organizations, self-reflection, team building, and action theory and research.

This article is of interest for a second and related reason: Eddy's discussion takes us out of the democratic theory and accountability context and into an organizational effectiveness context, where the council-manager relationship is seen as a partnership. As the partnership metaphor increases in salience, it creates an alternative to the politics-administration dichotomy. These paradigms do not compete, however, because their proponents come from very different intellectual origins. One has to do with effectiveness; the other with political accountability. Both have made a significant impact on the legitimacy of city management.

--John Nalbandian and Shannon Portillo

The human relationships and transactions between the municipal administrator and his council occur within a complex of political, economic, cultural, and ideological factors. Thus, when conflict arises or communications break down, it is not always possible to sort out those factors which are primarily interpersonal in nature.

Pressures of a multifaceted administrator's role, partisan differences, and complexities of managing a governmental system certainly influence council-administrator relationships. Nevertheless, a significant portion of the difficulties that arise between council and administrator is interpersonal. That is, they stem from the "humanness" of the individuals concerned--their needs, feelings, styles, and habits--rather than solely from the political or other environmental differences which may be present.

Administrators often discuss strategies for minimizing interpersonal problems with councilmembers. "Should the administrator develop close personal ties with councilmembers, or should he remain more distant?" "Should he relate to councilmembers on a one-to-one basis, or only to the entire council as a group?" "Is it appropriate to socialize with councilmembers?" "How much information should he provide beyond what is specifically requested?" "How do you respond to anger or hostility expressed by a councilmember?" "Should the manager take a dominant or a subservient public role in relation to the council?"

In any collection of municipal administrators, one would hardly find consensus in relation to any of the above questions. And, most authorities avoid laying down hard and fast guidelines, knowing full well that situations and personalities vary considerably. It is possible, however, to examine some of the dynamics involved in the council-administrator relationship, and to suggest ways of understanding more clearly the issues and difficulties involved.

Goals, needs, and interpersonal style--An examination of the questions posed above indicates that most, if not all, involve attempts to predict the other party's behavior. "If I do so-and-so, then he is likely to respond in such-and-such a way." We tend to carry around our personal theories about the other fellow, based on our own past experiences, preferences, information, etc. Usually we have a less clearly defined theory about our own needs and behavior. …

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Year 1972 Interpersonal Relationships between Councilmen and Administrators: An Examination of Some of the Dynamics Involved in the Council-Administrator Relationship, and Suggestions for Understanding the Issues and Difficulties Involved
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