Political Science 303                                        Office: ZH-411

Local Government & Politics                            Office Hours: M-T-W 1:30 to 3:15 P.M.

Spring Semester 2008                                     Otherwise by Appointment                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Instructor: Dr. Steve Berg                                E-mail:                    

Meeting in DU 246                                          6:00 to 7:15 P.M.  M-W



Course Description:


Course Catalog definition of POLS 303: “LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS (3). Structure, functions, and dynamics of community political systems. Local legislative, executive, and electoral processes.”  Local governments all too often get the short shrift when people think about politics.  Yet, these governments provide most of the essential services to their citizens and residents.  They are also the only level of government where the average person can make their influence felt.  This course is intended to help the student gain crucial understanding of the nature of local governments, the problems facing them, and their history and development.  It will also 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, and to how to best provide services and assistance to citizens and residents at the local level, while maintaining their human dignity.



Expected 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.



Required Texts:


State and Local Politics (Second Edition) by John A. Straayer, Robert D. Wrinkle, and J.L. Polinard; Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago by Mike Royko;  Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics by William L. Riordan.




Supplemental Readings:


Managing Local Government: Cases in Decision Making (Second Edition), by James M. Banovetz.  This book will be made available in the Reserve Room at Founders Library.  Please treat it with great care as it is my own personal copy.  If it disintegrates like the last one did, the librarians will pull it out of circulation, causing great anguish to those who procrastinate on their case study paper.


For those of you who were unable to purchase a copy of the John A. Straayer, Robert D. Wrinkle, and J.L. Polinard textbook, I have placed one on reserve in the library. 


Midterm and Final Examinations:


There will be a midterm and a final exam in this class.  These will be take-home tests, and will likely consist of essay questions.  The final exam will be comprehensive.  They are due at the beginning of the specified class period. 


Research Paper and Case Study:


Each student is expected to attend at least one public meeting of a village board, city council, or the legislative branch of a similar local governmental entity.  You will hand in a copy of the agenda to show that you did attend.   If you prefer to study this particular local government entity, the student will also get a copy of the current year’s budget for the same organization.  If this is not possible, come see me and we may be able to work out the use of another public organization’s budget.  I recommend the budget from the City of DeKalb, as it is well done and has relevance to most people in the class.  If possible, I may lead an expedition to view the DeKalb City Council in action.  This budget paper should be no more than 10 pages in length, excluding appendices, a copy of the relevant part of the budget document and your bibliography and end-notes.  The budget is probably the most important document created by any governmental entity.  It is where the actual priorities are set for the organization each year.  As some budgets are massive in size, and difficult to cover in the page limit for this paper, with the permission of the Instructor, you may limit the scope of the paper to one or more departments.  Your paper should give an executive overview of the budget and discuss what you think the priorities are for your selected governmental organization for the relevant budget year.  You should also discuss why these are the priorities selected.  What I am most interested in after you cover the priorities, are the sources of funding for the entity, and their strengths and weaknesses.  You must also discuss where most of the money is spent.  A subtle hint:  most of it will probably be spent on personnel lines. 


The case study report is your analysis of a case study in Managing Local Government: Cases in Decision Making, by James M. Banovetz, which I will put on reserve at the Founders Library.  You are to select a case presented in the Banovetz book, according to your interests.  This report should be no more than 5 pages in length.   You should discuss the selected case study and then how you would address and hopefully solve the problems in it.  They may not be solvable. 


The tests and papers you hand in for this course are to be typed or printed by ink-jet or laser computer printers.  Other computer printers can be used provided that the output is of letter quality.  Papers and tests should be double-spaced, and preferably be in size 12 type in a standard font like Times New Roman.  As this is a college level course, spelling, command of the English language, and grammar are important elements of your work, and will be taken into account during grading.  Papers showing evidence of plagiarism will be dealt with harshly.  




Late Paper Policy:


All papers, such as the research paper, the case study paper and the tests, are due at the beginning of the specified class meeting.  Papers turned in after this, at the discretion of the instructor, will be docked at least one letter grade per day in arrears.  Should a student have an emergency situation such as illness or family emergency, they should contact the Instructor prior to the class meeting where the paper is due, concerning the nature of the emergency.  All such circumstances must be documented to the satisfaction of the Instructor.  At his discretion the student may be allowed to e-mail the paper, and the reduction in grade due to lateness may be waived or reduced.  Under no other circumstances will the Instructor accept e-mailed papers.  Every semester your Instructor has problems with students who apparently cannot handle or meet deadlines.  Eventually you are going to have a boss, who will be even more of a heartless tyrant than your Instructor, and who will not accept late assignments.  You might as well get used to meeting deadlines now. You know about the assignments for this course from the beginning of the semester.  There is really no excuse for any late papers.  It is to your advantage to get your assignments in on time.


Participation and Attendance:


For the class to be successful, all students must regularly and meaningfully participate.  Of course, for this to occur, students must have completed all of the assigned readings prior to each class.  Students should be prepared to discuss the readings and add relevant observations based upon their own experiences.  In order to make the class more current, the Instructor will bring in items of interest concerning local governments and share them with the class.  Students are encouraged to do the same.  Should participation not be present to the satisfaction of the Instructor, he reserves the right to assign topics to individual students for them to present in class.   The Instructor also reserves the right to call on any member of the class to have them contribute to the discussion or to verify a suitable level of a student’s preparedness.  If it is sadly apparent that many in the course have not read the material, or if there are other clues indicating that preparation has been lacking in the students, the Instructor reserves the right to inflict pop quizzes on the assembled multitude.


Your Instructor believes that the course will be far more valuable, (and much less boring) if we adopt as much of a seminar format as is possible in a class of this size.  This means that you all must be ready to carry your side of the work by being prepared to intelligently discuss the course material extensively and in depth.  Your Instructor has considerable experience in politics and local government, and you also have a wealth of experience to be tapped, and we shall make the most of it. 


Students are expected to attend all of the classes.  If a student misses more than two classes or is chronically tardy, the Instructor reserves the right to proportionally lower the participation and attendance portion of their final grade.  Absent and tardy students miss class material and disrupt class discussion.  Tardiness is strongly frowned upon.  If you are in an unusual situation, such as having a class at Barsema Hall or the Engineering Building immediately preceding this one, it is in your best interest to discuss this difficulty with the Instructor to receive Special Dispensation.  The Instructor has noticed an increase of tardy students in the past several semesters.  Such boorish and inconsiderate behavior disrupts the class, and greatly irritates the Instructor.  Should this tardiness problem persist, the Instructor reserves the right to close and lock the classroom door, and the offending individuals will not be allowed to enter.  Persistently and chronically absent and tardy individuals may wind up being administratively withdrawn from the course.  Attendance will be taken and recorded.




Unless otherwise cleared with the Instructor in advance, all cell phones, pagers, and other assorted communication and entertainment devices shall be turned off during the class meetings.  It is expected that class members will conduct themselves according to classically accepted norms of civility (as understood and exemplified by the Instructor).  Students who fail to comport themselves in a courteous manner and are disruptive, obnoxious, or abusive will find themselves physically and administratively removed from the course and may face charges in the university judicial system. 





The Instructor reserves the right to have a sense of humor, and exercise it in class.




Cheating will not be tolerated in this course.  This includes the offense of plagiarism.  If there is any doubt, please cite the sources of your materials. Quotations need to be appropriately noted in a standard format, such that the original source can be readily determined.  Works consulted for your papers need to be included in a bibliography included at the back of the paper.   This is essential for any material you quote or closely paraphrase. Respect for intellectual property is one of the core values of this university and also of your Instructor.  It is also imperative that you do your own work.  Your Instructor has frequently worked on group projects, where he and a minority of the project team performed the lion’s share of the work.  Reflecting on this, he expects each of you to work independently and not copy, steal, or collude with others in the performance of the assignments for this course.  This is not to preclude the laudable socializing and friendships that hopefully are being formed as you trudge through the labyrinth of your academic career.  I trust that you are getting together outside of class for socializing and discussions.  (And also to plot against me.)  Just do your own work.  Marked similarities of work occurring in tests and papers is an indicator of possible cheating, and arouses my suspicions.  A word to the wise: your Instructor has been known to detect plagiarism quite well, and he reserves the rights to give a student a zero (0) on a given plagiarized test question, term paper or test, and/or an F in the course.  Those who cheat can expect to face the full force of the Departmental, College and University rules on intellectual property and academic misconduct. 


Grading Structure:


Final letter grades will be based upon the following:


Grading scale:

90% to 100% = A

80% to 89% = B

70% to 79% = C

60% to 69% = D

0% to 59% = F


The scale in use indicates that grading will not be done on a curve but as a percentage of successfully completed work. The following list shows the percentage toward your final grade for each graded exercise.  The possible pop quizzes are counted toward the Participation and Attendance part of your final grade.


Budget Research Paper                            15%   15 Points

Case Study                                                                10%   10 Points

Midterm Examination                                        30%   30 Points

Final Examination                                        30%   30 Points

Participation & Attendance                          15%   15 Points

Total                                                                100%  100 Points



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.




Religious Holidays:


Your Instructor has no way of knowing a student’s religious affiliation.  Consequently, if observances of your Faith require your absence from a regularly scheduled class meeting, a prudent student will notify the Instructor in advance so accommodations can be appropriately worked out.





The Instructor of this course was a champion non-traditional student at this University.  Consequently, he realizes that most students must work in order to afford to attend NIU, and that crises and emergencies crop up in the lives of students.  Should these arise (and I surely hope they do not), whenever possible, prompt discussion of the situation with the Instructor is a Really Good Idea.  There are very few of us in academia who have not had to deal with our own “Semester From Hell” and often ways can be worked out to prevent total disaster from coming about.  Those students who are on scholarships requiring the maintenance of acceptable grade point averages are advised to contact the Instructor immediately should they suspect that they might be in some difficulty in the course.  This is especially true for those students with athletic scholarships.  Should any of you have a personal crisis of one sort or another that adversely impacts your performance in this course you are advised to see me immediately during my office hours.  I do not need to hear the private details, but will try to work with you to salvage as much of your grade in this course as is possible.  This University, like most others operates on Rawlsian principles of Justice.  According to these, Justice is Fairness.  So, if I offer special treatment to one person after the fact, I must offer it to everyone else.  It is always much easier to make accommodations before the end of the semester.  It is virtually impossible to do much after the semester is ended.  In the hopefully unlikely event that anyone must be absent due to a death in the family or similar tragedy, please come talk to me and give me some documentation such as a newspaper obituary and most if not all problems relating with what you missed from class can usually be worked out.   The best way to contact me is before or after class.  Otherwise, contact me via e-mail using the address at the beginning of this syllabus.  It is best to not use my NIU e-mail address.



Tentative Weekly Schedule:


Week 1 (January 14 and January 16): Monday, Introduction to the course.  For Wednesday, please read Chapter 1 in State & Local Politics.


Week 2 (January 21 and January 23): For Monday, please celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  For Wednesday, day read The Nature of Local Government in the Banovetz book that is on reserve in the Library and Chapter 2 in State & Local Politics. 


Week 3 (January 28 and January 30): the American Metropolis.  For this week be sure to read Chapters 9 and 10 in State & Local Politics.


Week 4 (February 4 and February 6): Discussion on Local Governments.  Read Chapter 11 in State & Local Politics.


Week 5 (February 11 and February 13): Chapter 12 in State & Local Politics.


Week 6 (February 18 and February 20): Chapter 13 in State & Local Politics.


Week 7 (February 25 and February 27): Continue with the importance of budgeting.  Wednesday, the Mid-Term Exam will be handed out.


Week 8 (March 3 and March 5): Go over some concepts of bureaucracy and public policy.  Also discuss more on professional city management.  Wednesday, the Mid-term Exam is due at the beginning of class. 


March 8-16 Spring Break!


Week 9 (March 17 and March 19):  Introduction to Chicago Politics.  Read pages 5-46 from Boss by Mike Royko.


Week 10 (March 24 and March 26): Continuing on with Chicago Politics.  Read pages 47-158 in Boss by Mike Royko.


Week 11 (March 31 and April 2): Wednesday, the Case Study Paper is due at the beginning of class.  Read pages 159 to the end in Boss by Mike Royko.


Week 12 (April 7 and April 9): Start going over the joys of Tammany Hall from New York City.  Read the entire book Plunkitt of Tammany Hall by Richard Riordan. 


Week 13 (April 14 and April 16): Finish Plunkitt of Tammany Hall by Richard Riordan.


Week 14 (April 21 and April 23): Read Chapter 14 in  State & Local Politics. Wednesday, the budget paper is due at the beginning of class.



Week 15 (April 28 and April 30):  Summary and final review of the course.  Monday, the Final Examination is handed out.


Final Exam Due Wednesday May 7,6:00 to 7:50 P.M.   Due to University Regulations, the class must meet at this time, on this date.  I have to be there, and I will be dutifully sitting on the table graciously accepting your final exam papers.  I may bring some donuts if there is sufficient interest expressed by the class.