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City Managers, Career Incentives, and Service Delivery Decisions: The Effects of Managerial Ambition on Interlocal Cooperation Choices

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


City Managers are believed to play a particularly influential role in brokering cooperative service deals on behalf of their jurisdiction (Krueger and McGuire, 2005; Thurmaier and Wood, 2002; Morgan and Hirlinger, 1991), however, their motivations for doing so are not well understood. One argument, drawn from theories of bureaucratic entrepreneurship and ambition theory suggests that cities with managers who want to move up in their career will engage in more interlocal service delivery as means of capturing economic efficiencies, which helps to build their record of career achievements. An alternative theoretical argument suggests that more altruistic motives including a desire for increased social equity, and valuing the common good of the region guide, are responsible for guiding city managers decisions for interlocal cooperation. We test these competing hypotheses using survey data from 134 city managers of large municipalities, and finance data from the Historical Database of Individual Local Government Finances. We find strong support for the first theory, and no support for the alternative argument. Managerial ambition has important consequences for the rate at which cities engage in interlocal service cooperation, but local fiscal capacity also shapes these decisions. Moreover, managerial ambition has complex effects; the desire of the city manager to move onto a larger city in the near future increases the rate at which a city sells services to other local governments, but managerial career ambition decreases the rate at which cities are willing to buy services from another jurisdiction.


Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Urban Studies and Planning

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