Local Government Design, Mayoral Leadership, and Law Enforcement Reform

By Kasner, Alexander J. | Stanford Law Review, February 2017 | Go to article overview

Local Government Design, Mayoral Leadership, and Law Enforcement Reform


Kasner, Alexander J., Stanford Law Review


Table of Contents  Introduction  I.   A Primer on City Governance       A. Local Government Structures      B. Trends in, and Federalization of, Local Law Enforcement  II. Mayoral Power and Redesigning Law Enforcement Oversight       A. Litigation and Remedial Control          1. Initiation         2. Resolution         3. Words of caution       B. Civic Engagement and Representativeness          1. Exit         2. Structural reform         3. Litigation         4. Aligning expectations and power       C. Unifying Cosmopolitan Municipalities  III. Barriers and Considerations in Charter Reform       A. Legal Rules and Trends Constraining Local Empowerment          1. Rules: home rule and Dillon's Rule         2. Trends: emergency managers and state receivership       B. Municipal Demographics          1. Talent development         2. Expense assumption       C. Charter Moments and Punctuated Equilibria  IV. Alternative Ways Forward       A. Parens Patriae      B. Sensible State-Local Legislation  Conclusion 

Introduction

It has been a punishing past few years for American cities. Economic collapse became kindling for conflict between residents and law enforcement. Again and again tragedy ensued, often in the very public deaths of minority residents at the hands of public safety officials. (1) On other occasions, the roles were reversed, as law enforcement officials became victims. (2) But the disheartening constant is that city governments have provided few heroes to step in and mitigate the damage. (3) The paucity of leadership may be attributable less to the shortcomings of individual leaders and more to institutional constraints. It is the aim of this Note to investigate, analyze, and explore means to circumvent those barriers.

Take, for instance, the stories of two beleaguered cities and the mayors who purport to lead them. James Knowles, mayor of Ferguson, Missouri during the recent period of civil unrest, rued his relatively powerless role as his city's leader. The position of mayor in Ferguson, he remarked, is "mostly ceremonial." (4) One of the most difficult parts of trying to lead the city, he continued, "was that people assumed he has more power than he actually does." (5) As a "part-time, weak-mayor," he was mostly powerless to deliver the active leadership expected of him. (6)

Stockton, California represents a less explosive but similarly ineffective situation. The 2008 recession led to an unemployment rate of more than 20%, and the police department was forced to lay off a quarter of its officers. (7) Since the recession, Stockton has ranked as one of America's most violent cities. (8) In 2013, surveying the damage, Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva bemoaned, "People think I can be their savior and help them.... Under different circumstances, I can do that. Now, I can forward an email on." (9) As the city dealt with economic downturn and violence, Silva was sidelined. He was unable to appoint the city's police chief (10) and was not invited to an unveiling of the new body cameras that the city's police officers were to begin wearing. (11) Unlike Ferguson, other distressed cities like Stockton are resigned to drinking "a quieter, more final poison." (12) The entrenchment of systemic unemployment and collapsed housing prices lead to government cutbacks of essential services and slower-burning tensions. (13)

Whether with a bang or a whimper, (14) cities are giving in to the twin burdens of economic insecurity and social inequality. And their elected leaders are left unequipped to stand up for their constituents.

This inefficacy is the shared experience of many American mayors, who live a bit of a political paradox. They are clothed in the aspirations of their friends, neighbors, and peers, nominated from within their ranks to fix the problems that matter most in day-to-day life. Yet their place at the dais is more prison than pedestal. Many modern mayors are equipped with only weak, ceremonial powers (15) and saddled with high expectations and mounting challenges. …

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