Question of Research
The primary question I hope to answer is: What socioeconomic characteristics increase the likelihood that council-manager form of government governs a city? Essentially, do the stereotypes and generalizations that I examined earlier regarding council-manager form of government hold true today?
Using the 100 largest cities by population in the United States as my data set, I identify differences between those cities with council-manager forms of government and those cities with mayor-council. Of the 100 cities in my data set, 48 use the council-manager form of government, 49 use the mayor-council form, and 3 use the commission form. I use ICMA’s designation when assigning cities a form of government (ICMA, 2010). Due to the limited number of cities (3) and the fact that Logistic Distribution Models require binary dependent variables, I have excluded the commission form of government from my study and labeled the mayor-council form of government 0 and the council-manager form of government 1. The logistic distribution model defines the continuous distribution as the probability a city adopted the council-manager form of government on a scale of 0 to 1 with 1 equaling a 100 percent probability. The paper examines the one hundred most populous cities as they are today using the most recent data available, in some cases this data is current and in others up to 10 years old (from the 2000 census). I labeled cities that changed their form of governments within the past decade, such as San Diego and El Paso, using their current form because the data for each characteristic is as current as possible.
The criteria I look at when identifying differences between the forms of government are similar, although not identical, to the socioeconomic characteristics Schnore and Alford examined in suburbs.
Like Schnore and Alford’s study, this paper is limited by the fact that I am using data from the most recent year available and not the year that the city adopted council-manager form of government. Thus, the results do not support conclusions about which conditions make the adoption of council-manager form of government more likely. My findings support claims such as “cities that are governed by the council-manager form of government are more likely to have a higher percentage of (variable X) than cities that use mayor-council”. But any causal relationship or hypothesis, such as white collar workers are more likely to support the adoption of professional management because they themselves are professionals, is purely speculative. However, I believe there is still value in this sort of analysis because cities can potentially change from one form to another. Therefore, it is valuable to know how the socioeconomic characteristics of San Diego differ from San Jose because both cities adopted the council-manager form of government around the same time, yet San Diego abandoned council-manager form of government in 2005 while San Jose did not.
Additionally, this study is more than a revision of Schnore and Alford’s work. Their paper identified differences in the average score for each variable, which I do as well, but failed to quantify whether the differences were statistically significant. Through regression analysis, I hope to show how each variable affects the probability that a city adopted the council-manager form of government and the strength of its relationship.
Median Socieoeconomic Characterics of 100 Most Populous Cities by Form
Population and Age
Year Incorporated 1847 CE 1881 CE
Population 413,201 327,207
Population Change (2000-07) 2.4% 6.8%
Persons Under 18 24.8% 27.3%
Persons Over 65 11.3% 9.3%
Persons per Household 2.41% 2.66%
White Persons 60.2% 66.15%
Black Persons 26.6% 9.25%
Hispanic/Latino Persons 7.3% 21.3%
Person Reporting 2 or More Races 2.6% 3.6%
Foreign Born 7.7% 14.8%
Language other than English Spoken at Home 13.6% 25.5%
Homeownership Rate 50.3% 58.4%
Living in Same House in 1995 and 2000 49.5% 44.25%
Mean travel times to work (minutes) 23.3 24.1
Median Value of Owner Occupied House $104,100 $122,650
Education and Socioeconomic Status
High School Degree (Age 25+) 78.9% 80.3%
Bachelor’s Degree or Higher 27.4% 24.3%
Graduate or Professional Degree 9.3% 8.3%
Persons Below Poverty 18.5% 14.2%
Median Household Income $36,689 $42,168
Per Capita Income $20,450 $20,324
Ethnic Minority Owned Firms 24.1% 19.1%
Women Owned Firms 29.6% 28.4%
Unemployment 4.7% 3.8%
White Collar Occupations 63.3% 61.85%
Retail Sales per Capita $11,055 $11,426
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau: State and County QuickFacts. Data derived from Population Estimates, 2000 Census of Population and Housing, 1990 Census of Population and Housing, Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, County Business Patterns, 2002 (Quickfacts.Census.gov)
These findings from the median statistics for council-manager cities seemingly support some assumptions, or generalizations, regarding the form while rejecting others. First, Schnore and Alford’s finding that “the council-manager city is the more likely, to be newer and to have a young, mobile, white, middleclass population that is growing rapidly” still appears to hold true (Schnore and Alford, 1963). Today, as in 1963, council-manager governments exist in newer cities (based on median year incorporated), have larger percentages of people under 18 and fewer over 65, are less diverse (as a percentage of White persons), earn higher household incomes, and experienced higher rates of population growth when compared to the mayor-council form of government.
However, not all of the characteristics Schnore and Alford identified in the council-manager form of government exist today. In contrast to 1963, cities with council-manager form of government now have twice as high a percentage of foreign born residents as mayor-council cities. This growth is largely due to changes in immigration patters. Most immigrants today come from countries south of the American border and settle in the Southwestern states; whereas, a hundred years ago, European immigrants traveled to America through and settled in New York City or other mayor-council cities in the Northeast. To provide an example of how impactful this growth is: In 1900, New York City had ten times a higher percentage of foreign born residents as Dallas. Today the gap is only a multiple of one and a half.
Increased immigration also led to increased diversity for council-manager cities. Although black persons are underrepresented by 4 points in the median council-manager city compared to the national average, Hispanics (or those of Latino origin) are overrepresented by 6.5 points as a percentage of national population in council-manager cities and are 7.5 points below their national average in mayor-council cities. So, although the white majority is still larger in the median council-manager city, it is impossible to claim that the council-manager form of government is less diverse - it has a higher median percent of foreign born citizens, higher percent of households in which a language other than English is spoken, and a slightly higher rate of bi-or-multi-racial persons.
Interestingly, the demographic differences in each form of government’s workforce appear inconsequential. Contrary to prevailing theories, business interests (as measured by those with Bachelor’s degree or higher, graduate or professional degree, or percentage in white collar occupations) are actually a smaller percentage of the population in council-manager cities. Schnore and Alford found the opposite to be true in 1963 suburban communities - they theorized that white collar workers with professional degrees would more readily support the adoption of and live in cities with a professional city manager with an advanced degree. It is impossible to say whether demographic changes over the past 40 years caused the switch or whether it is simply a function of our two different data sets: cities and suburbs.
Additional differences between the two forms exist in terms of median household income, median home price, and homeownership rates.