Illuminating local government
By ANN COHEN
James M. Banovetz, ed. Managing Local Government; Cases in Decision Making. Washington, D. C.: International City Management Association, 1990. Pp. 244 with appendix. $27.95 (paper).
James F. Keane and Gary Koch. eds. Illinois Local Government: A Handbook. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. Pp. 396 with index. $39.95 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).
Local government has become increasingly complex. Both elected officials and professional employees must deal with an often confusing environment of state mandates, overlapping jurisdictions and increasingly demanding expectations from all sides. Many who work in or with local government will therefore welcome the efforts reflected in both of these recent edited collections to provide basic information and perspective on the subject.
The two books reviewed here are quite different, however, in their approach to this common task. The International City Management Association (ICMA) publication uses a case approach which is clearly intended for public managers and other public officials who are involved in the decisionmaking and policy implementation processes of local government. The 20 cases are well chosen to illustrate both the general range of issues that arise and the complexity of each specific case. For example, in "Replacing the Police Chief," written by William R. Bridgeo and Paul H. Plaisted, the problems of personnel selection are explored, as are the political dynamics of the city manager's office. Other cases deal with such topics as solid waste management, affirmative action and collective bargaining. Almost uniformly, the cases are well-written and easy to follow. They provide the reader with the relevant facts, and they are interesting, too, because they capture the real problems of day-to-day management in local government.
The ICMA casebook does not promise to be all things to all people. Instead, it is clearly designed for the student of local public administration or for the practitioner who wants to review issues or to match perspectives with the authors on various local issues. The careful selection of cases advances these goals, but the book also contains a useful matrix guide at the beginning that identifies the important characteristics of each case by type of government, policy area, management theory and management issue. In addition, each case is presented in a standard format with questions that clarify the issues and guide the discussion.
The Keane and Koch book is billed in its title as a handbook for Illinois local government — something that is sorely needed by students and practitioners alike. In the preface, the editors (Keane is a Democratic state representative from the 28th District, and Koch is special assistant to the state comptroller) set out their goals: "Our intent was to develop a primer on local government in Illinois — a book that any student, taxpayer, or reporter covering his or her first council meeting could sort through to get a rough idea of what local government is, how it works, and whom it affects. We also wanted the book to be a resource for local officials themselves, whether newly elected or appointed officials, or veterans of public service. The book is designed to provide an understanding of local government and of the roles and responsibilities of today's local government official."
The essential problem with the Keane and Koch book is that it claims such a broad purpose and then tries to accomplish this within the confines of an edited collection of chapters. The editors recruited individuals generally familiar with particular aspects of Illinois local government, e.g., local government finance, school districts, intergovernmental relations. Therefore, the chapters focus on very specific topics without the benefit of much integration or creative organization from the editors. The result is that one topic does not necessarily flow into another or expand on issues developed in previous chapters. Ironically, like Illinois local government itself, the book suffers from fragmentation and duplication.
Individually, the chapters range from quite good (especially the chapter on finance by Doug Whitley, head of the Taxpayers' Federation of Illinois) to only fair. Many contain useful appendices that provide excerpts from the Illinois Revised Statutes or information on the fiscal years or tax rates for different local governments.
The people most likely to read and enjoy the Keane and Koch book are those who are already familiar with Illinois local government. Indeed, most chapters of the handbook assume a knowledgeable reader. Because of the choppy overall organization, any reader who lacks considerable background in local government will be frustrated and disappointed. Keane and Koch, however, seem uncertain about their likely reader. For example, the first chapter by William B. Morris ("You Have Been Elected! What Now?") is very elementary and is addressed to the novice public official. The chapter by William McGuffage, "Campaigns and Elections," on the other hand, is full of specific information and is a useful reference chapter for anyone involved in a campaign.
There is still a crying need for a good book on Illinois local government. It is unfortunate that Keane and Koch did not write that book themselves by narrowing their focus and providing a more integrated presentation of the material. They could certainly take a lesson from Banovetz, professor of political science and public administration at Northern Illinois University, who provided his contributors with a standard format and with a clear sense of both the intended audience and purpose of the casebook. Those involved in Illinois local government still need a guide that explains its structure, dynamics and implications as well as its relationship to state and national levels. What they have in Illinois Local Government: A Handbook is an uneven collection of articles that address a variety of audiences.
Ann Cohen is director of community research services and professor of political science at Illinois State University. She is the co-author of a book on state and local government.
August & September 1990/Illinois Issues/67