A city government is entitled to an array of responsibilities, one of which is the representation of the city population and their interests respectively. Although most city governments typically pursue roughly the same range of goals, their structure varies depending on several factors, primarily the size of the city and its population (Brouwer, 2016, p. 146).
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However, with each form of governance having its advantages and disadvantages, it is important to identify their key properties in order to determine the most effective ones, as well as reassess their functions in the cities of varying sizes. Although the Council-Manager form of city governance is the best known and the most common occurrence, other approaches to advance the process of city management are worth considering due to the emphasis on citizens’ participation.
Forms of Governance: Comparison
At present, the Council-Manager (CM) approach toward governing a city is the most typical framework. According to the key principles of the specified approach, the city council controls most of the processes occurring within the city, including administration-related issues, policy development, and budgetary issues, such as the allocation of the available financial resources (Oliver, 2016, p. 96).
The specified form of government implies that the city council is elected by its residents, and that the mayor of the city has the same number of rights in regard to legislation, policy-making, and financial issues as any other member of the council (Bowman & Kearney, 2016, p. 266). The CM framework is deployed in most cities and viewed mostly as a responsive type of city government, yet further adjustments may be required to reinforce the communication between people and the administration.
While the CM approach is deemed as applicable to any environment, large U.S. cities require especial treatment, which calls for the introduction of the Mayor-Council system (MC) in states such as Texas (Sweeting, 2017, p. 145). The proposed framework may exhibit the characteristics of either strong or weak governance, which manifest themselves in the degree of authority that a mayor receives.
In the weak MC (WMC), the mayor is provided with very limited influence, which is mostly restricted to personal influence. As a result, a range of processes such as the removal or appointment of city officials, the management of the voting process, and the associated issues are controlled not by the mayor but by the council (Sweeting, 2017, p. 145). The identified framework seems legitimate in the instances when the needs of minorities may be overlooked. The WMC, in turn, allows the voices of vulnerable groups to be heard.
In the strong MC (SMC), on the contrary, a mayor has a larger array of powers than the council does. Consequently, it would be reasonable to deploy the specified approach toward managing a city in the setting where diversity levels are low and where the citizens are not numerous. Otherwise, the threat of misrepresenting a particular group will emerge. Nonetheless, the SMC is currently deployed in most large U.S. cities.
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The reasons for the specified phenomenon to exist in the American political and administrative environment is that the SMC framework allows for a more coherent management system and a faster resolution of key issues (Sweeting, 2017, p. 145). Since the role of the mayor is stretched far beyond the ceremonial one that a WCM mayor traditionally assumes, the SMC approach gives a chance to introduce a cohesive system of managing budgetary, political, and social issues within the city. Therefore, certain elements from the specified framework can be borrowed to improve the M approach.
Commission as a form of city governance is also a rather well-known tool. Instead of selecting a mayor or a manager who will exert power over the key city processes, the proposed framework suggests creating a commission that will perform the same functions. Compared to the CM and MC systems, a commission-based approach may imply greater flexibility in managing the needs of a diverse demographic since several members will comprise it (Jones et al., 2016, p. 217). As a result, the city policies that a commission approves are likely to cater to the needs of diverse populations, such as Portland, Oregon.
Thus, a commission might be seen as a more responsive form of government than any of the frameworks described above. However, the application of the identified approach toward managing city-related issues does not seem feasible in certain scenarios. The concept of a commission is also known as the City Board, or a Special District, and may constitute a part of the interstate contract, which is represented by several boards managing a greater area composed of several cities (Irazábal, 2017, p. 176).
Town meetings should also be mentioned as one of the common forms of city governance. Although the identified mode of managing a city is not as common as the frameworks described above, it also provides extensive options for improving the city policies and representing the needs of its demographic. The specified form of government enhances the participation of citizens in the political and social changes within the community since it implies that a large group of city residents is expected to represent its voters during own meetings (Bowman & Kearney, 2016, p. 267). Town meetings are typically seen as the oldest form of city governance, dating as far back as the 17th century (Palus & Dilworth, 2016, p. 164).
The proposed tool allows implementing the principles of democracy directly due to the emphasis on the participation among citizens (Bowman & Kearney, 2016, p. 267). However, utilizing the specified tool as the ultimate method of governing a city does not seem reasonable due to the lack of homogeneity in the levels of political awareness and economic savvy among citizens (Bowman & Kearney, 2016, p. 267). Indeed, while in small communities, town meetings seem to be a legitimate framework for managing the related issues, in larger ones, it may cause disruptions in the community development (Bowman & Kearney, 2016, p. 267).
Therefore, town meetings incorporate certain flaws that make them applicable to a restricted number of cases. The specified problem is partially addressed in representative town meetings, where the opportunity to vote is provided to a selected number of people, yet the suggested framework may be seen as detrimental to the basic democratic principles.
While the Council-Manager framework of city governance remains the most popular one due to its universality, other strategies need to be revisited in order to enrich the current one and encourage citizens’ participation. As a result, a gradual improvement within the community will take place, with an increase in people’s involvement in socioeconomic and sociocultural issues. The specified change will contribute to a rise in the levels of diversity, allowing the city to celebrate multiculturalism and encourage cross-cultural communication.
Therefore, the choice of the form of governance hinges on the extent to which the population participates in the political and social life of the city. While the Council-Manager form of governance is the most popular approach nowadays, it will be desirable to introduce the elements of a system involving town meetings since it will increase the levels of involvement among city residents. As a result, the opportunities for increasing diversity levels and representing the needs of minority groups will rise systematically.
Bowman, A. O., & Kearney, R. C. (2016). State and local government (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Brouwer, M. (2016). Governmental forms and economic development: From medieval to modern times. New York, NY: Springer.
Irazábal, C. (2017). City making and urban governance in the Americas: Curitiba and Portland (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Jones, M. P., Maxwell, W. E., Crain, E., Davis, M. L., Wlezein, C., & Flores, E. N. (2016). Texas politics today: 2017-2018 edition. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Oliver, W. M. (2016). Policing America: An introduction. New York, NY: Walters Kluwer.
Palus, C. K., & Dilworth, R. (Eds.) (2016). The CQ press guide to urban politics and policy in the United States. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press.
Sweeting, D. (2017). Directly elected mayors in urban governance: Impact and practice. Chicago, IL: Policy Press.
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