One of the best practices to a local government’s success is the ability to foster a strong relationship with elected officials. This could not be anymore evident in the formation and management of interlocal partnerships—those agreements between geographically neighboring municipalities.
The discoveries of Eric Zeemering, in his Public Administration Review article “Governing Interlocal Cooperation: City Council Interests and the Implications for Public Management,” provide us with an outline on how local government managers can utilize cooperation with elected officials in interlocal partnerships.
The first section of the article describes how to gain support for the partnership with elected officials. One strategy that local government leaders can try is to ensure the project is going to help your community. Generally, elected officials are thought of as jurisdictionally-focused actors who will give pushback on efforts that do not directly assist their jurisdiction. The local government manager needs to make an effort to show that this effort will be beneficial to their specific jurisdiction. This will ensure they receive the elected officials’ support.
Another strategy is to ensure that constituents support the project. Zeemering states that elected officials are motivated by decisions that will help them get reelected. It is inevitable that the manager explains that the partnership will help the official’s public image. The elected official is the voice of the people and if the manager can gain public support for a project, then the elected official’s opinion should reflect that. The manager should try to utilize citizen outreach and engagement strategies to accomplish this.
Zeemering provides these three reasons why cooperation between managers and elected officials can ensure success in interlocal partnerships:
1. Elected officials have the most access to communities. Generally, elected officials who live and work in their communities are prominent members of them. They can provide insights into the public’s concerns and are the best agents to increase community engagement. Community outreach and engagement can sometimes be difficult for managers, and they should use the elected officials’ skills with engagement when developing a partnership.
2. Elected officials are in contact with other elected officials in bordering jurisdictions. It may be difficult for managers to communicate with other local governments when developing interlocal partnerships. Elected officials, however, are already in a communication network with other elected officials from these jurisdictions. They can open up the interlocal communication network for managers.
3. Elected officials will ensure that a partnership will benefit their communities because of their jurisdictional self-interest. Managers should focus on how an interlocal partnership will solve a public issue in and out of their jurisdiction. Elected officials are concerned more with how this partnership will impact their community. Managers need to reach out to officials because these differences in focus will ensure that the partnership is beneficial to all concerned parties.
Zeemering’s article is one of the few academic articles written on the relationship between local managers and elected officials from the perspective of an elected official. As shown in this post, when a local government manager is developing an interlocal partnership he or she should try to collaborate with elected officials in the process.
Zeemering, E. S. (2008), Governing Interlocal Cooperation: City Council Interests and the Implications for Public Management. Public Administration Review, 68: 731–741. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6210.2008.00911.x.