Local Government and Politics

POLS 303 – Spring 2005


I.  Introduction                                                                                                                                  

Local governments – in the form of municipalities, cities, villages, counties, townships, special districts, local and regional planning councils and more – deliver a myriad of public services and are essential actors in democratic political systems.  As students of local government, our job is to examine the differences among these units of government and develop an understanding of the role they play within the larger American system of governance.  Also, it is important to gain knowledge regarding the type of individuals and the professional attributes required to lead these local entities.


This course will provide an introduction and overview of the American system 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.  In addressing these and many other questions, we will rely heavily on the study of real-life cases in several areas of local government decision making, including community politics, intergovernmental relations, and ethics.


II.  Contact and Meeting Information                                                                                                           


Trent Davis

Office: Zulauf 424

Phone: 753-7051 (office)

E-mail: tdavis2@niu.edu

Office Hours: T/Th 11:00am to 12:30pm, or by appointment


Class meetings

T/Th 12:30 to 1:45pm, DU228


III.  Required Course Materials                                                                                                                          

The following textbooks are required for this course:






IV.  Course Assignments and Grading Policy                                                                                                                                     

This section provides an outline of the assignments/exams required for this course and the point value each exercise will carry.


Quizzes                                    100                 

Case Study                               200                 

Reflection Paper                       100                 

Midterm Exam                         100                 

Cumulative Final Exam            100                 



The following grading scale will be utilized:

540 - 600         A

480 - 539         B

420 - 479         C

360 - 419         D

Below 360       F


V.  Quizzes                                                                             

During the course of the semester, six (6) unannounced quizzes will be administered to the class.  Material for the quizzes will be drawn from the required readings for that day and are intended to assess the student’s comprehension of the material.  It is possible that some of the quizzes will be in a ‘take-home’ format, with the expectation that they will be returned the following class period.  Each quiz will be worth 20 points, with the lowest score being thrown-out.  Thus, a total of 100 points of your overall grade will be determined by your performance on these quizzes.  If you are absent on a day in which a quiz is given, you may not make up that quiz unless you are able to provide the instructor with both an excusable reason for your absence and appropriate documentation in which to support this reason.  In general, however, it is in the student’s best interest to be present at all class meetings.


VI.  Case Study Assignment                                                                                       

As mentioned in the introduction, this course will rely upon the use of case studies.  The studies revolve around topical examples drawn from the world of local government politics and performance.  We will discuss illustrative events found in the world of local governance, such as impossible or implausible jobs, success stories, and ignominies.


Each case study will be presented by a group of approximately four or five students, with half of the group’s members serving as presenters and the other half serving as discussion leaders.  This is a role-playing exercise; therefore, students are expected to relate to the situation(s) faced by the local government professionals in the study.  The details and requirements of each function are presented below. 



Functioning as an appropriate member of the municipality’s administrative staff, the presenter’s job is to provide the class with an approximately 10 minute formal presentation.  In brief, you need to provide a succinct summary of the background, problem(s), and question(s) being presented in the case study.  When preparing your presentation, you are expected to utilize the various technologies at your disposal, such as Power Point or handouts.


Discussion Leaders

After the presentation, the group members serving as discussion leaders will lead the class in a debate-like dialogue and, ultimately, conclusion surrounding the problem(s) presented in the case study.  Discussion leaders will take on the role of municipal manager/administrator and present a variety (i.e., 3 to 5) of plausible conclusions to the class, which will serve as an advisory body.  The discussion leaders will answer any questions concerning the case study materials, theories presented, and the proposed solutions.  Ultimately, the discussion leaders must choose a solution and provide the reason(s) for that choice to the class.  You have approximately 35 minutes to complete this process.


Please note: The entire process should take no longer than 45 minutes to complete.  You will be graded not only on your ability to meet this time requirement, but also on the quality of your presentation, solutions, and ability to make a firm and reasoned decision.   Also, please bear in mind that the readings contained in the case studies and the information presented in class is considered testable.  Therefore, during these discussions all students will be expected to demonstrate 1) successful mastery of the facts and 2) the ability to draw broader lessons from the case study materials. 



In addition to the presentation, each group member is required to draft a memo detailing his or her recommendation and reason(s) for this decision.  For this memo it is important to consult outside sources, such as academic journals or professional associations in order to find out in what way(s) your recommendation(s) lends itself (or does not lend itself) to the local government literature found on this topic.  Although you are not required, nor expected, to reach the same recommendation as the other members of the group, your recommendation must be well-reasoned, legally valid, and supported by examples found in the literature.  Please keep in mind that while it is important to provide a brief summary of your case study, the bulk of your memo should be comprised of your own analysis, rather than just a summation of the case study.  The memo is due in class on the same day as your presentation and should conform to the following guidelines:







VII.  Reflection Paper                                                                                                                        

The other writing assignment for this course is a short, approximately four to five (4 – 5) pages, reflection paper on “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A series of plain talks on very practical politics.”


Your assignment is to summarize, as concisely as possible, George Washington Plunkitt’s story and reflect upon the numerous “secrets” or “tactics” of political success employed by Plunkitt, as well as other members of the Tammany Hall organization.  In other words, you need to summarize and discuss the parts of Plunkitt’s story you found most important, intriguing, or repugnant.  Moreover, you need to address the following question: If Plunkitt were practicing politics in the 21st century, as opposed to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, would he have been as successful - why or why not?


The reflection paper is due in class on March 1 and should conform to the following guidelines:





VIII.  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 the Department’s spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate and $50.00.  Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by February 28.  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.


IX.  Academic Integrity                                                                                                                     

Honesty is the essence of the intellectual life of the University.  Students who copy the work of another on an assignment, paper, quiz, or examination are guilty of cheating.  The misrepresentation of another's work as your own, copying material from books, magazines, or other resources without acknowledgement and identification of those sources is plagiarism.  If a student is guilty of either cheating or plagiarizing, or of assisting other students in cheating or plagiarizing on an assignment, paper, quiz, or examination, the student may receive a grade of F for the course and may be suspended or dismissed from the University.  Please consult the University’s website if you have further questions concerning this policy. 


X.  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 coursework, and for which they may require accommodations, should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building.  CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors.  It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


XI.  Department of Political Science Website                                                                                    

Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science website on a regular basis.  This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities.  To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu.


XII. Class Schedule                                                                                                    

Week 1:  Why do we study local government and politics?

Tuesday, January 18

- Course Introduction


Thursday, January 20

- The study of local government

- Values in government

- Overview of the Blackboard Course Server


Week 2:  Evolution of the City, Part I

Tuesday, January 25

- Socioeconomic and demographic factors

- Read:  Harrigan and Vogel, ‘skim over’ chapter 1 and read 2


Thursday, January 27

- Case Study sign-up sheet

- Socioeconomic and demographic factors, cont’d.

- Read:  Harrigan and Vogel, chapter 3


Week 3: Evolution of the City, Part II

Tuesday, February 1

- Intergovernmental relations


Thursday, February 3

- Intergovernmental relations, cont’d.

- State grants of power


Week 4: Machine Politics

Tuesday, February 8

- The Political Machine Model

- Read: Harrigan and Vogel, pages 80 through 83 and Riordon, pages 1 through 49


Thursday, February 10

- Read: Riordon, pages 50 through 98

- Begin working on Reflection Paper


Week 5: The Reform Movement, Part I

Tuesday, February 15

- Government models for reform

- Read: Harrigan and Vogel, chapter 4


Thursday, February 17

- Case Study: Replacing the Police Chief

- Government models for reform, cont’d.


Week 6: The Reform Movement, Part II

Tuesday, February 22

- Government models for reform, cont’d.

- Power in local government today

- County government


Thursday, February 24

- Case Study: A Jail in City Center

- County government, cont’d.


Week 7: Basis for Council Manager Government

Tuesday, March 1

- Reflection Papers Due!

- A new model for the Politics-Administration Dichotomy

- Read:  Wilson, W. (1887), “The Study of Administration” pgs. 197-222 [on-line] and Svara, J. (1985), “Dichotomy and Duality:  Reconceptualizing the relationship between policy and administration in council-manager cities” pgs. 221-232 [on-line] and Svara, J. (2001), “The Myth of the Dichotomy: Complementarity of politics and administration in the past and future of public administration” pgs. 176-183 [on-line]  


Thursday, March 3

- Case Study: Housing the Homeless in Willow County

- Community power and leadership

- Read: Harrigan and Vogel, chapter 7


Week 8: Community Power and Leadership, Part I

Tuesday, March 8

- Case Study: Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Patronage

- Mid-term Q & A


Thursday, March 10

- Mid-Term Exam!


Week 9: Spring Recess

Tuesday, March 15

- No Class


Thursday, March 17

- No Class


Week 10: Community Power and Leadership, Part II

Tuesday, March 22

- Citizen participation, interest groups, and elections

- Read: Harrigan and Vogel, chapter 9


Thursday, March 24

- Case Study: Politics, User Fees, and Barracudas

- Citizen participation, interest groups, and elections, cont’d.


Week 11: Public Personnel Systems

Tuesday, March 29

- Conducting a job analysis


Thursday, March 31

- Case Study: Cedar Valley Slowdown

- Job analysis, cont’d.


Week 12: Local Government Planning

Tuesday, April 5

- Case Study: Personnel or People?

- Public personnel ‘wrap-up’


Thursday, April 7

- Types and scope of local government planning

- Read: Harrigan and Vogel, chapter 8


Week 13: Local Government Budgeting

Tuesday, April 12

- Budget politics


Thursday, April 14

- Case Study: Welcome to the New Town Manager?

- Budget politics, cont’d.


Week 14: Ethical and Professional Administration

Tuesday, April 19

- Budget politics ‘wrap-up’

- ICMA Code of Ethics


Thursday, April 21

- Case Study: Principles Under Pressure

- Ethics, cont’d.


Week 15: Employee Discipline and Arbitration

Tuesday, April 26

- Case Study: Fire or be Fired

- Progressive discipline

- Arbitrators guidelines


Thursday, April 28

- The future of local government

- Read: Harrigan and Vogel, chapters 11 and 12


Week 16: Local Government in the Future

Tuesday, May 3

- The future of local government, cont’d.

- Final Exam Q &A


Thursday, May 5

- Final Exam!



Please note:  The instructor reserves the right to change the course schedule/requirements as necessary.