PSPA 532: Local Government Challenges and Issues

Spring 2007

DuSable 464

Thursday 3:30-6:10


Professor: Kimberly Nelson, Ph.D.

Office:  211 IASBO Building                             Phone: 815-753-6146

Email:                                  Office hours: Monday and Thursday 9-10

                                                                              and by appointment


Course Objectives & Description:

This course is intended to introduce students to the primary issues and problems faced by local government managers.  After an introduction to the development and context of the contemporary American city, this course will then cover the primary issue areas with which city administrators must contend. The six policy/issue themes are policymaking and leadership, citizen participation, urban service delivery, personnel management, public budgeting and finance, and economic development.  Each policy issue will be covered from the perspective of the urban manager.


We will devote two class sessions to each theme in order to fully explore the implications for public managers.  During the first session, the professor and students will discuss the literature related to the theme.  For the second week, a guest speaker(s) will describe his experiences related to that theme and we will discuss a case study related to the topic.


Required Texts:

Morgan, David R. and Robert E. England.  2006.  Managing Urban America, 6th Edition. New York: Chatham House.


Watson, Douglas J. and Wendy L. Hassett, editors.  2003.  Local Government Management: Current Issues and Best Practices. Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe.


In addition, there will be supplemental readings posted on Blackboard.


The professor reserves the right to change this syllabus at any point in the semester.




Course Requirements:

Research papers (2 @ 20% each)                                 40%

Biweekly questions (6 @ 3% each)                             18%

Case studies (5 @ 4% each)                                          20%

Group Presentation                                                      12%

Participation/Attendance                                            10%



There will be no exams in this class.  Two research papers will be completed in place of traditional exams. 


Biweekly Questions:

For each week in which we will have a guest speaker, students should come to class with three typed questions prepared for the speaker.  Each student will submit the questions at the end of the class for grading. 


Group Presentation:

During five of the weeks in which we have no guest speaker, two/three students will be assigned to present on the topic for that week.  Although you may use readings assigned for that week, you must also incorporate additional sources.  Students will work as a group to develop the presentation.  Presentations should be as interactive as possible, either including questions for discussion or a class exercise.  The presentations should address the major conceptual ideas from the readings and attempt to relate those ideas to the practice of local government management.  Each student should submit his/her part of the presentation to the professor as well as any notes or discussion questions he/she developed.  I will distribute a sign-up sheet in which you state your preferences, and then I will determine the group assignments.


Research Papers:

Each student will write a research paper on one of the major topics from the class. As these are in lieu of exams, students should spend a considerable amount of the semester researching and writing these papers. There are three major components to each of these assignments; the description of each and the grading breakdown are provided below.


1)      Research proposal (15%):

The research proposal should be approximately 1 page in length.  It will describe the research question and/or hypotheses, the reasons for doing the research, an initial summary of the existing literature and theory, a description of the proposed methodology, and a preliminary bibliography.  The due dates for the proposals are listed on the course schedule.


2)      Finished paper (70%):

The full papers should be written in the same format as academic journal articles.  Using a qualitative or quantitative approach, you are to critically examine a major topic in local government management grounding the analysis in public administration theory.  The first paper is due March 8, the second paper is due May 3.  Proper attribution of sources is mandatory.


3)      Presentations (15%):

On the dates the papers are due, each student will give a brief presentation of their findings. On March 8, students will present after the guest speakers in place of completing a case study assignment.  On May 3, the entire class period will be devoted to presentations.  Consequently, presentations on March 8 should be limited to 5 minutes.  No handouts or supplemental materials are required.  On May 3, presentations should be approximately 10 minutes in length.  Handouts, overheads or a PowerPoint presentation should be included.



10-15 pages, double-spaced, 12-point font, 1-inch margins

Use headings/subheadings

APA style (in-text parenthetical citations)

Cover page


Evaluation of the papers will be based upon both content and writing quality.  Please consult the APA Publication Manual for descriptions of appropriate citation format.


Case Studies:

During the weeks we have speakers scheduled; we will also be examining a case study related to that week’s materials.  The case studies are available on Blackboard.  Students should read the case studies and answer the questions for each.  Answers should be typed and submitted on the night they are due.



This course is a graduate seminar, not a lecture course.  In order for students to get the greatest benefit from the course, they should come to class prepared to discuss the weekly topics.  Therefore, students should complete the readings on time and bring notes on the readings to class.  Additionally, half of your participation grade will be determined by your attendance.



A = 90-100; B = 80-89; C = 70-79; D = 60 – 69; below 60 = F


Late assignments will only be accepted with prior approval from the instructor or in cases of documented emergencies.  Division policy prohibits the submission of work via email or fax.


Attendance:  This course is a graduate seminar, not a lecture course.  In order for students to get the greatest benefit from the course, they should come to class prepared to discuss the weekly topics.  Therefore, students should complete the readings on time and bring notes on the readings to class.  Additionally, half of your participation grade will be determined by your attendance.


Academic Integrity: Students are required to adhere to NIU’s code of student conduct for academic integrity.  Violations will result in a failed grade on the assignment and possibly the class.  You are expected to ensure that all assignments submitted for a grade reflect substantially your own work, that work submitted under your name is substantially original, and that you have understood and learned the competencies in each assignment and not relied solely on the knowledge of others. Students whose work is substantially plagiarized from others, whether intentional or not, will receive a ‘0’ on that assignment or exam.  A lack of understanding as to what constitutes plagiarism is no defense.  If you are unclear of what actions constitute plagiarism, please see me.


Students with Disabilities: NIU abides by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations be provided for qualified students with disabilities. If you have a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please contact me early in the semester so that I can provide or facilitate in providing accommodations you may need. If you have not already done so, you will need to register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR), the designated office on campus to provide services and administer exams with accommodations for students with disabilities. The CAAR office is located on the 4th floor of the University Health Services building (815-753-1303). I look forward to talking with you soon to learn how I may be helpful in enhancing your academic success in this course.
Key: M & E = Morgan & England; W & H = Watson & Hassett; BB = On Blackboard


Class Schedule:




Jan. 18



Jan. 25

Evolution & context of cities

M & E, Chapters 1, 2 & 3

1st Research Proposal Due

Feb. 1

Policymaking, decision-making & leadership

W & H, Readings 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

M & E, Chapter 6 and pp. 85-111 and 232-238

If you have not yet read James Svara’s article on Complementarity, please read it on Blackboard

Feb. 8

Speaker on policymaking, decision making, and leadership

Case Study: “Working with Elected Officials”

Feb. 15

Urban service delivery—public safety, operations, evaluation

M & E, Chapter 7

W & H, Readings 11, 21, 23

BB--Cities, Politics, & Policy, Ch. 11, by Ammons

Feb. 22

Speaker on urban service delivery

Case Study:Seattle Solid Waste”

Mar. 1

Personnel management

M & E, Chapter 10

W & H, Readings 15, 16, 17, 20

2nd Research Proposal Due

Mar. 8

Speaker on personnel management

No case study this week

Research Paper #1 Due

Mar. 15

                                            Spring Break

Mar. 22

Citizen participation

M & E, pp. 111-114

W & H, Readings 29, 30

Mar. 29

Speaker on citizen participation

Case Study: “Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Patronage”

Apr. 5

Meet from 1:30-3:30 for speech by John Nalbandian, abbreviated class to follow


Public budgeting & finance

M & E, Chapter 9

W & H, Readings 8, 9, 10

Apr. 12

Speaker on public budgeting & finance

Case Study: “Getting Control of the Greenfield City Budget”

Apr. 19

Economic development

M & E, Chapter 5

BB, “Equitable Approaches to Local Economic Development”; “Distinguishing Development Incentives from Giveaways”; “Multinetwork Management”

Apr. 26

Speaker on economic development

Case Study: “Port Pleasant”

May 3

Presentations on research papers

Research Paper #2 Due