Formal Political Arrangements
INSTITUTIONS & PROCESSES
The Legal Framework of Cities.
A. The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states
that all powers not conferred on the federal
government are reserved to the states.
B. The U. S. CON. makes no merit ion of cities or other
local governments, therefore they fall under the
jurisdiction of state governments.
1. It is important to understand the implications of state
governments control. To make fundamental changes
to urban life, the state must be reckon with.
2. Think of it in terms of states being able to eliminate
localities altogether; all the powers and responsibilities
of local governments derive from the actions of the
state government or the people of the state acting
3. The legal dependency of localities is best expressed in
what has been termed Dillon's Rule, since it was
associated with John F. Dillon 1831-1914), a famous
jurist and legal commentator :
Types of Local Government
Local municipal legislative bodies, normally called
city councils (although the term varies; for
instance, in Chicago it is called the Board of
Aldermen), are almost always unicameral.
Three different organizational schemes are
mayor-council, commission, and council-
manager. There are, of course, other local
legislatures as well, from school boards, to
town (or township) boards, to county
City and Local Government in Nevada
Article 4 of the NV state Constitution requires the
legislature to establish a uniform/equitable system of
county and township governments.
Governing board of each county is the Board of County
Commissioners. These are elected positions, their
duties are outlined by the state and to enforce state
statutes i.e. Laws and marriages.
Who is your County Commissioner: www.co.clark.nv.us
City Government: Article 8 of the NV Constitution requires
legislature to enact laws providing for organization of
cities and towns: Cities are governed by city councils
chosen through non-partisan elections
Forms of city government
A. The mayor-council form of government
1. Weak Mayor
2. Strong Mayor
B. The commission form of government
C. The council manager form of government
D. The county
E. Special districts.
Two types exist.
The weak mayor variety features a mayor and a
city council; however, the heads of agencies do
not report directly to the mayor. They may be
directly elected by citizens or appointed jointly
by the mayor and council or even by the
council alone. This supposedly weakens the
mayor's ability to administer programs on a
day-to-day basis, since agency heads do not
have to look solely to the mayor for leadership.
The strong mayor system has both a mayor and
a council; in this case, however, department
heads are appointed by and report directly to
the mayor. Theoretically, this makes
accountability easier to determine, since it is
clear exactly who reports to whom. The mayor,
in addition, normally has a veto, which
enhances his or her power (weak mayors tend
not to have veto power). The Legislature has a
Louder voice in cities with weak mayors than in
those with strong mayors.
In the commission form, there is no independently
elected mayor. Members of the commission
select one of their number to serve as mayor,
but the main role is simply to preside over
council meetings. In addition the mayor would
normally administer one of the departments,
just as do the other commissioners. Over the
past fifty years or so, the number of
municipalities with the commission form of
government has declined.
In council-manager government the voters elect a
council which, in turn, hires a professional
manager to run the city government on a day-
to-day basis. Department heads report to the
manager, who acts as top administrator. The
theory upon which this approach is based is
that government is most efficient when elected
officials make basic policy decisions and then
turn over administering the city to a
professional administrator, the "manager."
Managers can be hired and fired at the whim of
a council, although that does not usually
Leadership in Local Legislatures
City councils tend to be small. The average size is
perhaps five to seven persons, although
councils can run up to fifty or more members
(as in Chicago). Most of the time, councilors
have four-year terms, although two-year terms
are not uncommon. Many councils elect a
majority leader to structure the business of the
council. However, city councils are often junior
partners to the mayor (or city manager) and
may be relatively weak bodies. Because most
councils are small. there is little likelihood of
their having a meaningful committee structure.
Professionalism in Local Legislatures
Local legislative bodies are much less professional
than are those at the state level. Most councils
have no staff help at all; councilors tend to be
poorly paid (if they are paid at all). Hence,
turnover is fairly high compared to turnover in
the state legislatures. Lack of staffing makes
local councils less able to challenge
businesses or interest groups for real power.
Simply put, part-time amateur city councilors do
not have the expertise of the state or federal
level counterparts. In fact, city councils are
often little more than rubber stamps.
The City Manager
Critics of the inefficient urban political
machines also supported the city
manager concept. City managers are
appointed, usually by the city council, to
draft a budget, set up a personnel
system, and supervise the work of city
employees. Between 1910 and 1920,
about 150 cities hired city managers.
Advantages of Professional Managers.
As budgets and work forces grow in response to
larger, service-demanding populations and
state and federal mandates, the efficiency
advantages of hiring a professional manager to
oversee the day-to-day operations of a city or
county become apparent.
The professional manager can plan, monitor, and
coordinate the activities of city or county
employees more effectively than can elected
officials preoccupied with resolving major policy
questions, attentive to the concerns of their
constituents, and untrained in the arts of
administration. Today, one-third of U.S. cities
are run by city managers.
Which Cities Hire Professional Managers?
Medium-sized cities are most likely to use the council-
manager force of government. Their predominantly
middle-class populations are likely to value efficient use
of the taxpayers' dollars highly, and therefore to
support hiring a professional city manager.
The largest American cities do not make extensive use of
city managers. Presumably, strong Mayors in large
cities build their power bases on providing services to
large, low-income minority populations. Efficient service
delivery is of less importance.
Smaller cities also tend to prefer the mayor-council system.
Democracy and Local
“Unless mass views have some place in the
shaping of policy, all the talk about
democracy is nonsense”
V. O. Key (1961)
Community Power (Democracy) and
two central questions preoccupying the academic study
of cities in the post-war era
1. Who governs cities, that is, the community power question.
2. why (or how) cities became marked by savage inequalities,
especially along racial lines.
The first is a process question, involving how political issues
are resolved and the relative power and influence of actors
and structural forces in their resolution. The second
involves outcomes, specifically the pervasiveness of
deeply entrenched poverty spatially concentrated in the
older neighborhoods of the urban core.
1. A “stable” group: The economic elite model posits a
unified and wealthy class of individuals possessing a
dominant influence during numerous decision points in
the policy process and remaining uninhibited by any
larger social or political influences (Gonzalez, 2001).
3. Apathetic Citizens: Argues that democracy functions
when you have a degree of apathy, and elites are the
ones participating the most (voting, running for office).
4. Identifiable/Cohesive Elite
-Understand American society to be composed of a complex set of groups and
it is the competition and bargaining among and between these many
groups that is the essence of the political process.
-When we, as individuals, want to influence politics and policy, we generally do
not do it on an individual basis.
-Any and all groups in society can have their views heard and considered at
some point in the policymaking process.
-The government acts merely as a referee over the group competition and
declares the winner (by rewarding them with policy or policy influence).
-According to pluralist theory, political resources are diffuse and therefore a
variety of interest groups have an opportunity to utilize these resources
and compete with other interest groups for policy attention.
Who Governs?: Robert Dahl:
Robert Dahl conducted a study of New Haven, Connecticut,
and was interested in “Who Governs?”
Dahl found that New Haven was once an elitist city. But, over
time it gave way to pluralism, such that different groups were
active in different policy areas.
Even within a policy area, there were competing groups.
Nonetheless, it was organized interests that drove the policy
Dahl’s theory rests on five assumptions:
– people know their interests
– people collectively organize to further their interests,
– equal access to political institutions exists across groups,
– the government represents those interests,
– and the outcome of government action reflects the inputs of interests.
The Urban Regime
Definition: The informal arrangements by which public bodies and
private interests function together in order to be able to make and
carry out governing decisions
Critical Questions: (1) who makes up the governing coalition? (2) How
is coming together [cooperation] accomplished?
The Importance of Informal
Participants: influenced by two basic institutional
principles of American political economy: (1)
popular control of the formal machinery of
government and (2) private ownership of
What does this mean?
Why do we need cooperation?
– Business elites need government authority
for some projects. Examples?
– Public needs the slack resources that
Achieving cooperation is a major
accomplishment and requires constant
How is cooperation done?
Rational Choice/Game theory
Tit for Tat (repeated interactions)
Selective Incentives (preventing free-riders)
Factors in the success of cooperation:
Culture: language, common identity
Size: larger groups harder to form
Ramifications of Unequal
“Votes count but resources decide”
Which groups will be included in the
The Atlanta Case? San Francisco? Detroit?
Implications of Regime
The importance of looking beyond election
results when we seek to find out who
Business elite occupy a privileged position in