Political Science 303: Local Government & Politics

Northern Illinois University

MWF 11-11:50 a.m.

DuSable 252


Dr. Vicki Clarke






Local governments–in the form of townships, villages, cities, counties, special districts, authorities, local and regional planning councils and more–deliver a myriad of public services and are essential actors in democratic political systems.  They deal with political issues such as racial tensions, school disputes, growth problems, economic stagnation, poverty, crime and violence, on top of providing essential services such as education, highways, police and fire protection, and garbage collection.


Yet public knowledge of what local governments do, how they function, and why is often quite limited and sometimes non-existent.  This course is an exploration of the major themes and issues in the study of local government and politics.  This will include the structures and functions of local government units, the politics and administration of local government, and the relationships - historical and current - among citizens, politicians and administrators.  Attention will also be focused on the obstacles to honest, ethical public service.


Political Science Course Outcomes

1.   Content: Students should show familiarity with major concepts, theoretical perspectives and empirical findings as related to the course.

2.   Communication Skills: Students should demonstrate effective oral and written communication skills.

3.   Research Skills: Students should have an understanding of basic research skills and be able to apply analytical and research skills in written assignments for the course.

4.   Critical Thinking: Students should use critical thinking and skeptical inquiry in problem solving.






Course Format

This course provides students with both a broad overview of local government and politics and the opportunity to apply and expand that knowledge through a service learning experience. Classes will be organized as a mixture of lectures, oral and audio-visual presentations, and class discussions - student participation is expected and appreciated. The professor will introduce new topics by providing supplementary information and elaborating upon important themes in lectures.                                                           






Class Assignments and Grading

Midterm Exam        25%

Final Exam              25%

Quizzes                   15%


Service Learning Experience

Weekly Journals      10%

Reflective Essay     20%

Class participation     5%


The exams test familiarity with basic information and concepts encountered in the course and include identification of terms and essay questions. There are no make-up examinations or quizzes administered in the course for any reason other than serious, documented medical illness - written verification from a doctor or hospital will be required – or death in the family, and only when the Instructor is notified in advance.  Three quizzes will be given and the two highest scores will be used.


"If hard work and education are the prerequisites to success in America, it is a sense of civic responsibility that knits the fabric of our society together and keeps it strong."  Geraldine Ferraro


Service learning is the integration of formal study with hands-on activities outside the classroom. For purposes of this class, students are expected to engage in 20-30 hours of service learning with a political or public agency/group such as (a) a political party, (b) a candidate for a contested elected office, (c) a special interest group that supports a particular issue or agenda, (d) a city/county government agency, or (e) a special taxing district.  


In this course, we will combine our study of local government and politics with purposeful civic learning and relevant service with the community, for the opportunity for enhanced academic learning.  In this course, service learning in a local government serves as the vehicle for the achievement of specific academic goals and objectives.  It provides structured time for you to reflect on your service and learning experiences through a mix of writing, reading, speaking, listening, and creating in small and large groups and individual work.


In addition to learning more about local government and politics, you will also be learning how to be an independent learner, how to extract meaning from experience, how to apply academic knowledge in the real world, and how to integrate theory and experience.  You will learn about the community, about particular political issues, and about the provision of social and/or urban services.  Finally, you will learn how to work with others, learn about yourself and others, strengthen your interpersonal skills, and learn about possible career options.


Service learning fosters the development of those "intangibles" - empathy, personal values, beliefs, awareness, self-esteem, self-confidence, and social-responsibility - and helps to foster a sense of civic responsibility.  Your experience this semester is based on a reciprocal relationship in which the service reinforces and strengthens the learning, and the learning reinforces and strengthens the service. 


Each student is expected to find a sponsor and complete a service learning contract by September 23rd that is approved by the instructor and the sponsor. The contract will enable the sponsor and the instructor to monitor and evaluate the service learning experience. Moreover, the instructor reserves the right to contact the sponsor at any time to obtain information on the quantity and quality of the work performed by the student.


In addition to the contract, each student will maintain a journal with comments and observations about the service learning experience. For example, the journal might address questions such as: (1) What happened this week? (2) What did I learn from what happened? (3) How does what happened relate to the subject matter I read or discussed in class? (4) How does it relate to running a democracy?  Each journal entry should be typed (Times New Roman 11 or Courier 12 point font) and at least 800 words in length.  Journal entries should be submitted at each mandatory service learning meeting -- September 23, October 28, and November 18.  Failure to attend the mandatory sessions will result in a reduced grade for the service learning experience. Please pay careful attention to the schedule and, if necessary, be prepared to make adjustments as the semester moves along. Failure to read the schedule is not an acceptable excuse for missing classes, exams or quizzes.


A final reflective essay that synthesizes the observations of the weekly journals and analyzes some aspect of local government and politics (hopefully related to your service learning experience) is the major writing component of the course.  The reflective essay offers an opportunity to develop in-depth familiarity with at least one concept from the course as it applies to a service learning experience. Previous students in this course have discussed the following issues in their essays: 1) local government campaigns and elections, 2) the importance of fundraising in campaigns, 3) how a municipality annexes land, 4) political conflicts that face a city manager, 5) financing the park district, 6) public perceptions of the city council members, 7) encouraging economic growth in small rural communities, 8) role of interest groups in local politics, and 9) relationship between city and county government.


All reflective essays must be typed, double-spaced, using Times New Roman 11 or Courier 12 point font.  With the exception of the title page, all pages should be numbered with one-inch margins.  Essays should include a bibliography of sources you have consulted. Essays must be a minimum of 8 full pages (excluding the title page and bibliography) and no more than 10 pages.  Please proofread your work for spelling and typographical errors before submitting the final draft. 


The Reflective Essay is due at the beginning of class on November 18.  Essays turned in late will automatically be penalized one full grade. No papers will be accepted after November 19th.  Students are urged to turn in research papers early.  Those students who choose to wait until the last minute take the risk of, and full responsibility for, last minute complications.


The criteria for evaluating the reflective essay are: (a) clarity, (b) completeness, (c) thoughtfulness, and (d) extent to which the essay reflects integration with the course material. You will be graded lower on your journal entries  and reflective essay for poor use of the English language.  This is almost the real world so good spelling and grammar are requested.


Class Participation

All students are expected to have done the assigned readings for each week, and to be able to discuss the readings in class. Class participation and attendance will count toward the final grade (A = Consistent and thoughtful participation; B = Occasional but thoughtful participation; C = Less than regular attendance; D = Little or no attendance).  Note that I pass around an attendance sheet. If you come to class late or miss the attendance sheet, you are responsible for signing the sheet that same day. 


Undergraduate Writing Awards

The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies. Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing. Winners are expected to attend that Department's spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate and $50. Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary. All copies should have two cover pages--one with the student's name and one without the student's name. Only papers written in the previous calendar year can be considered for the award. However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following year's competition even if the student has graduated.


Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their course work and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR). CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors.  Please schedule an appointment with me early in the semester to discuss any documented accommodation that may be needed for the course.


Academic Honesty and Integrity

Regarding plagiarism, the NIU Undergraduate Catalog states: "students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging them. Students guilty of or assisting others in either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university." This statement encompasses the purchase or use of papers written by others. Since this course is offered frequently, it is might policy to retain photocopies of student papers written in previous years. In short, members of the class should do their own work and learn the rules for quoting, paraphrasing, and footnoting.


Incomplete Requests

Such petitions will be granted rarely and only in extraordinary circumstances. The instructor reserves the right to ask for documentation to verify the problem preventing completion of the course by the normal deadlines. If the student does not present documentation from a university office or official, the matter will be left to the instructor’s discretion.


Department of Political Science Website

You can find the Department of Political Science web site at http://polisci.niu.edu/.


We will be using the Blackboard site (http://webcourses.niu.edu/) for this course.  In order to logon to the site you need to know your Logon ZID which is available from Information Technology Services.  Please let me know if you have trouble logging on. 


Required Readings

Additional readings as well as assignments from other sources will be assigned regularly and posted on Blackboard.  All materials that are posted on Blackboard for this course are fair game for quizzes and exams.


Pelissero, John P. 2003. Cities, Politics and Policy: A Comparative Analysis. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.


Royko, Mike. 1988. Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago. Chicago, IL: Plume Books.



Schedule for Discussion                                                                                Readings


The professor reserves the right to

assign additional readings as well

as assignments from other sources.


August 22 - 26                         Introduction to Local Government                     Pelissero Chapter 1                                                

                                                Political Environment of Cities              


August 29                                 States, Communities, and Federalism                Pelissero Chapter 2

August 31                                 Intergovernmental Environment            

September 2                             Service Learning Day


September 5                             Labor Day Holiday (no class)

September 7 – 9                       Political Participation in Local Govt.                  Pelissero Chapter 3     


September 12 – 14                   Race and Ethnicity in Politics                             Pelissero Chapter 4

                                                Implications for Local Government

September 14                           Quiz #1

September 16                           Power and Governance                                    Pelissero Chapter 5


September 19 – 21                   Power and Governance                                    Pelissero Chapter 5

September 23                         SERVICE LEARNING MEETING #1

                                                Service Learning Contract Deadline


October 3 – 5                          Mayoral Politics                                                Pelissero Chapter 6

October 7                                Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago                    Ryoko


October 10                              Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago                    Ryoko

October 12                              MIDTERM EXAM

October 14                              Service Learning Day


October 17 - 19                       City Councils                                                    Pelissero Chapter 7

October 21                              Service Learning Day


October 24 – 26                      City Managers and Administrators                    Pelissero Chapter 8

                                                Municipal Reform Movement

October 28                              SERVICE LEARNING MEETING #2


October 31                              Urban Services                                                 Pelissero Chapter 11

November 2                             Urban Services and Quiz #2

November 4                             Service Learning Day


November 7 – 9                       Economic Development Policies                        Pelissero Chapter 10

November 11                           Service Learning Day


November 14 – 16                   Politics of Public Budgeting                               Pelissero Chapter 9

November 18                          SERVICE LEARNING MEETING #3

                                                Reflective essay and weekly journals due


November 21                           Managing Urban Spaces and Quiz #3

November 23 – 25                   Thanksgiving Holiday


November 28 - 30                   Suburban and Metro Politics                             Pelissero Chapter 13

December 2                             Suburban Sprawl


December 5                            FINAL EXAM (10:00 – 11:50 am)