Credible Commitment and Council-Manager Government: Implications for Policy Instrument Choices



The credible constraint of morally hazardous or opportunistic behavior can enhance efficiency. This idea is applied to an examination of local government institutions to identify how council-manager government constrains opportunism in economic development by substituting low-power bureaucratic incentives for high-power electoral incentives. A panel design isolates changes in the use of development strategies or instruments in 516 cities.

The central argument presented here is that the Progressive ideology of the separation of politics and administration, institutionalized in the council-manager plan, allows administrators and elected officers to more easily resist opportunistic behavior. Economic and political forces have significant effects that are different for mayor-council communities than for council-manager communities. The influence of strategic planning is evident in council-manager cities, but not in mayor-council communities. Under council-manager government, development is carried out in a discriminating manner, leading to lower levels of financial incentives but more loan and business-attraction programs. In conclusion, the authors discuss how the career patterns of city managers are shaped by the incentive structures created by the council-manager plan.