Peer-reviewed articles that are relevant
Focus on how professionalism lessens discrimination and inequitable outcomes. Can discuss the role of representative bureaucracy in public administration.
How does membership in professional organizations help mitigate unethical and/or discriminatory practices in local government
HOW DOES PROFESSIONALISM IMPROVE MUNICIPAL OPERATIONS?
Traditionally, municipal operations have been characterized by rigid, wasteful centralized bureaucracies. Problems relating to ineffectiveness and inefficiency in service delivery have continued to be a major feature of service delivery in this context. Consequently, a debate has been ongoing to determine ways of improving outcomes. The bureaucratic system within which municipal operations such as law enforcement agencies and courts are undertaken creates numerous opportunities for the perpetuation of unethical ideologies such as racial discrimination and inequitable outcomes (Margaret, 1991). Thus, ongoing efforts to identify better approaches to public administration in local governments are strongly inspired by the need to promote ethical behavior among the local government administrators themselves.
One of the suggested solutions entails fostering professionalism. The assumption in this case is that professionalism can play a critical role in reducing discrimination and facilitating the realization of equitable outcomes. However, there are some challenges to be confronted in this undertaking. For example, within law enforcement agencies, organizational socialization tends to stand in the way of rules and regulations designed to enhance the level of professionalism. It has also become common for the concept of representative bureaucracy to be employed in an attempt to ensure that local government workforce reflects the demographic composition of the citizens residing in the jurisdiction. Membership in professional organizations is also considered an excellent way of mitigating unethical and discriminatory practices in local government. This paper sets to provide an in-depth analysis of these measures and their impact on public administration within the context of municipal operations.
Professionalism plays a vital role in promoting effectiveness, efficiency, fairness, equitability, and impartiality in municipal operations (Mafunisa, 2001). Each profession has specific characteristics that workers should ideally exhibit for them to be efficient and impartial in their work (Scott & Snider, 1984). Some of these characteristics include intensive compulsory education, a code of conduct, a monopoly within a particular field or line of work, organization and membership in a professional association, and intellectual as opposed to manual work. Educational qualifications constitute a crucial requirement since they are widely considered a prerequisite for entry into public service. Based on these characteristics, public service employers get a yardstick for determining whether municipal administration is being undertaken in a professional manner or not.
Managers of municipal operations should play a leading role in promoting professionalism with a view to lessen discrimination and inequitable outcomes (Nalbandian, 1990). They must acknowledge politics and workplace diversity, act as leaders, and promote ethics. It is upon municipal employees to uphold their duties as citizens in the fact of corruption and other unethical practices such as racial discrimination (Bowman & Williams. 1997). In some cases, there may be a price to pay for embracing professionalism. For example, employees who engage in whistleblowing may be victimized by their superiors for their role in fighting various unethical practices.
Racial discrimination is a major problem that affects municipal operations in the United States; in fact, this is one of the leading causes of inequality in many states and cities (Harris, Evans & Beckett, 2010). African Americans constitute one of the groups that are being discriminated against by municipal employees on the basis of race. A number of efforts have been made by municipal managers to address this problem, one of them being workplace diversity. For example, since the 1960s, one of the main reform efforts in terms of law enforcement have revolved around increasing the number of African Americans within various policing agencies. These efforts are based on the assumption that diversity can foster police-community relations while reducing discrimination by police officers, particularly against African Americans (Brown & Frank, 2006). Debate is ongoing in regards to whether the race or ethnicity of police officers is related to their behavior and attitude towards citizens (Beverlin, 2012). Available evidence indicates that there is a direct relationship between officer race and arrest outcomes (Beverlin, 2012). The same case applies to decisions to ticket drivers for traffic law violators. For example, Black officers tend to exhibit a greater degree of reluctance in issuing tickets to Black motorists who violate traffic law compared to their White counterparts (Gilliard-Matthews, Kowalski & Lundman, 2008). This essentially means that the decision to arrest tends to vary depending on the racial background of the police officer. These findings allude to a problematic situation as far as professionalism is concerned (Regoeczi & Kent, 2014). Police officers who allow themselves to be influenced by factors such as race in making arrest decisions cannot be said to be upholding the highest level of professionalism.
There is a growing expectation in municipal operations that police officers, both Black and White, will become “blue” once they put on their uniforms, meaning that they will be guided by aspects of professionalism as opposed to racial considerations. However, this assumption may not always be correct considering that there are some situations in which Black officers engage in brutal acts against fellow Black citizens. In many cases, it becomes difficult to explain the behavior of individual police officers based on racial considerations because of the power of police culture to bind the officers to a similar code of behavior of race.
Without embracing professionalism municipal agencies are unlike to make any significant gains in their efforts to confront the problems of racial discrimination and inequitable outcomes. This view is widely supported in literature on the association between the race of municipal administrators and their performance in the workplace (Kakar, 2003). Findings indicate that race is by no means a significant factor as far as municipal employees’ (particularly officers’) self-assessments in the United States are concerned (Kakar, 2003). Yet the truism of a higher level of unemployment and underemployment among Blacks compared to non-Whites has continued to dominate historical analyses of race relations in the country. Inequitable treatment of minorities by municipal administrators continues to be legitimated by traditional norms and supported by a pervasive culture of racial discrimination. This is an indication of failure as far as professionalism is concerned.
In some cases, minority administrators also fall victim to lack of professionalism within local governments. A case in point is the traditional practice whereby Black police officers are denied an opportunity to work in predominantly White communities. Instead, they are restricted almost exclusively to predominantly Black neighborhoods. In this case, the inequality extends to constraints in terms of the foot patrol assignments, location of these assignments, as well as manipulation of performance ratings by senior police officers. In some cases, racial minority professionals have had to contend with dismissal on racial grounds. This lack of professionalism greatly contributes to inequalities in service delivery by local government agencies. Police officers who are discriminated against on the basis of race are unlikely to deliver high quality outcomes to the community. Similarly, it is unprofessional for municipal administrators to marginalize minority communities in the delivery of essential services like security, education, transportation and healthcare. The converse is true, whereby professionalism can go a long way in lessening discrimination and inequitable outcomes. The race problem in the United States is so dire that many citizens hold the perception that their race influences how they are treated by law enforcement agencies (Kochel, Wilson and Mastrofski, 2011). Yet this need not be the case because it shows a lack of professionalism on the part of municipal operations.
Promoting professionalism can also help municipal agencies fulfill public expectations as far as the management-performance nexus is concerned (Emile, Huberts & Van Den Heuvel, 2007). Towards this end, municipal managers are called upon to increase their public management knowledge (Nicholson-Crotty & O’Toole, 2004). Such a pursuit can potentially equip them with a wider range of skills and techniques for promoting professionalism among municipal workers. For example, using knowledge on environmental and structural variability within different jurisdictions, municipal managers can adapt their managerial approaches to different circumstances. In many cases, variability may manifest itself in terms of racial composition, crime rates, and economic development. Adopting the right managerial approaches to meet the challenges of local populations can go a long way in reducing inequalities and tackling unethical practices such as racial discrimination.
The idea of representative bureaucracy has been widely promoted in public administration. In many instances, the concept has been embraced as a way of lessening discrimination and inequitable outcomes in public service. Under this concept, efforts are normally made to ensure that members of various social groups, including minorities, are appointed to administrative and political positions as officeholders or employees to represent the members of their respective groups during decision-making. The objective is to ensure that all aspects of the population are captured in every municipal operation’s governing body. This approach can be an effective way of reducing the domination of a bureaucratic entity by dominant elites and instead promoting the interests of citizens from all social classes.
In today’s highly diverse societies, representative bureaucracy plays a vital role in creating a sense of belonging among citizens. It creates a situations where citizens feel that they are well represented in public administration. In situations where conflicts arise and the feuding social groups are equally represented in the arbitrating agency, one may assume that it is highly likely that everyone’s interests will somewhat be protected. The basic assumption in this case is that those who are appointed to reflect the demographic composition of society will be sympathetic to the concerns of their respective social groups. Such an expectation may radically diminish if some of the groups are not well represented in the public agencies responsible for the arbitration process. As this debate rages, local governments across America and other parts of the world continue to come up with policies designed to promote the involvement of minority groups in public administration. In this debate, a major concern is that the meaning of representative bureaucracy may vary depending on the prevailing socio-economic and political circumstances. In some cases, this change in meaning may bring about controversy, thereby creating the impression that representative bureaucracy is not a plausible concept in the contemporary practice of public administration.
One of the leading roles of representative bureaucracy is to enhance a bureaucracy’s responsiveness to the public. It potentially complements the aspect of instrumental rationality that is inherent in the policy implementation process with increased bureaucratic responsiveness to the needs of the public. Through this approach, employees and officeholders in municipal operations can exercise discretion in an attempt to favor policies that promote the public interest. Such efforts essentially constitute a shift from passive representation to active representation particularly in regards to the organizational context in which state bureaucracies operate. Passive representation is said to turn into active representation whenever a public administrator acts on his beliefs about his personal discretionary authority to promote the welfare of a specific social group. For example, a public administrator may accept to take on an advocacy role on behalf of an underserved or minority group of which he is a member.
In passive representation, focus is on the extent to which the bureaucracy shares the same demographic characteristics as the population it sets out to serve. The ideas of passive representative are said to have been achieved whenever the composition of the bureaucracy appears to mirror the general population in terms of demographic composition. This essentially means that it becomes necessary to address the problem of the underrepresentation of minority groups. In contrast, active representation address the issue of how representation can influence policy making as well as implementation.
The extent to which a municipal administrator accepts such a responsibility may vary depending on various factors, such as organizational influences, peer pressure agency expectations, and individual perceptions in regards to discretionary authority. The decision to embrace active representation can also be influenced by organizational structure, size of the organization, vertical and horizontal differentiation, and degree of organization. At the same time, an administrator’s beliefs about his roles and responsibilities as well as role expectations also play a critical role in shaping behavior as far as active representation is concerned. Thus, it is important to consider the climate in which administrators work in order to understand better how representative bureaucracy can improve municipal operations.
Organizational socialization in many instances acts as a hindrance to active representation. In other words, there are instances where minority bureaucrats may be reluctant to engage in active representative. This is mainly due to the manner in which they are socialized into their respective administrative positions. There are many examples of a phenomenon where active representation has failed to occur despite concerted efforts being made to entrench representative bureaucracy in a public organization. For example, in some situations, growth in the recruitment of Black police officers in some police divisions has been associated with an increase in the level of racial profiling in those divisions (Wilkins & Williams, 2008). This view emerges at a time prior evidence indicates that minority bureaucrats tend to use their discretion or implement policies designed to reduce inequalities that greatly contribute to suffering among minorities (Wilkins & Williams, 2008).
Police departments are particularly notorious for their reliance on socialization as a tool for modifying employees’ behaviors and attitudes. The impact of this socialization is widely evident in the realm of racial profiling since this is a major area where police officers are called upon to exercise discretion in decision-making. At the outset, one would expect an increase in the number of African American police officers to trigger a reduction in the level of racial profiling by police officers with Blacks being the victims. If, on the contrary, such a move leads to an increase in incidents of racial profiling targeted at Black, then one may conclude that the newly recruited Black police officers have successfully been socialized into the behavioral and attitudinal practices of the affected police agencies. This is an unfortunate phenomenon considering that racial profiling is a leading source of tensions between racial minority communities and the police as well as a pressing issue facing all American police organizations.
The expectation that passive representation will translate into active representation over time sometimes fails to materialize in municipal operations. This is mainly because the bureaucratic nature of these operations create a situation where decisions are made based on rules. Thus, bureaucrats tend to have very few opportunities to use discretion to reward specific groups within their clientele. However, as quintessential street-level bureaucrats, police officers routinely exercise a considerable amount of discretion that they need to operate effectively, but are often held back by organizational socialization in their efforts to make decisions that translate into active representation. They are socialized to adopt certain behaviors that are assumed to be in line with their organizational goals. In this regard, personal beliefs are relegated to an inferior position while organizational loyalty is emphasized. In other words, administrative decision-making is depersonalized. In the police profession, the level of solidarity among police officers is unusually high, and this greatly contributes to the inefficiency of representative bureaucracy. Despite the disagreements over whether greater passive representation of minority groups leads to their active representation, the enduring view in the public realm is that once hired, minority employees mirror the needs of their groups more than non-minorities do.
Peer pressure is also a major barrier to the effectiveness of representative bureaucracy. The representatives of minority groups may be operating as members of various primary groups within a public organization, and the pressure to conform may be intense. Whenever the norms of such primary groups run counter to the values of the minority groups, even officials who are honestly supportive of the minority groups’ course may be reluctant to promote their interests. Additionally, goal uncertainty can sometimes make representative bureaucracy ineffective. Those who have been appointed to represent various minority groups may be ignorant of the goals to be achieved and the means of achieving them. The employees sometimes lack knowledge on how to project the appropriate racial perspective in relation to the mission of their agency. At the same time, efforts by the administrator to gather views from his racial community regarding the right racial perspective may lead to conflicting views. Consequently, minority administrators are therefore confronted by the challenge of articulating contradictory interests of their respective constituents.
Nevertheless, there are certain situations where the linkage between passive and active representation can occur. One of them is when the existing groups and institutions in society have already articulated structures for promoting minority pride and pressing for the interests of all minority groups. In essence, what occurs in bureaucracies tends to be heavily influences by social context. For example, during the 1960s, many racial groups stated developing a sense of pride particularly in the wake of the far-reaching gains made through the civil rights movement. As a result, civil servants who hailed from these groups developed an equally strong sense of pride in their respective heritages. They were no longer ashamed of declaring that they belonged to a minority racial group and that they were ready to champion for the interests of that group. This means that social forces made those civil servants receptive to the idea of not only sympathizing with the minority groups but also to working hard promoting their interests.
Linkage can occur if minority officials choose to deal with issues of utmost relevance to the wellbeing of the minority groups that they represent. Some agencies deal with issues that have clear implications for the minority employees who want to help their groups. In contrast, there are other agencies whose operations have unclear implications for the interests of minority groups. Minority employees are first and foremost concerned about the level of importance that their activities and decisions have for the minority groups to which they belong. If the administrators perceive the issues to be of utmost relevance and to have far-reaching ramifications, for example the planning of eligibility requirements for social welfare, they are likely to be motivated to pursue those interests on behalf of the minority groups. More importantly, minority employees tend to protect with vigor those minority interests that directly collect with their self-interest. For example, Black administrators who have been victims of racial profiling are highly likely to promote policies can lead to the abolition of racial profiling by police, in social spaces, and in all internal personnel processes.
How Membership in Professional Organizations Helps Mitigate Unethical and Discriminatory Practices in Local Government
Membership in professional organizations is a key step towards mitigating unethical and discriminatory practices in local government. However, this role is not clear-cut; rather it is part of a wider realm of actors that influence local government operations, some of which include non-profit organizations, lobbying firms, contractors and developers, political parties, watchdog groups, unions, quasi-governmental agencies, public monopolies, and public-private organizations. All these entities play a part in the way local authorities are governed.
Meanwhile, professional organizations can impact on the actions on local government employees in a more direct way through patronage. Each of the organizations typically comes up with a code of ethics that members must adhere to or else risk being deregistered. Given that deregistration may put the careers of the affected administrators in jeopardy, most of the professionals opt to conform. Issues of unethical conduct such as corruption as well as discrimination tend to feature prominently in these codes of conduct. The organizations play a crucial role of promoting ethical behavior particularly in areas where local government jurisdiction has been unsuccessful in preventing the emergence of scandals. Similarly, these organizations allow local government to maintain its ethics programs while creating room for independence in administration, cost-sharing of fees paid out to professional ethics officers, and the hiring of experienced ethics commission members.
In many cases, unethical behavior crops out of conflicts involving personal relationships. Organizational associations have greatly helped local government managers to deal with such conflicts. This is mainly through the inclusion of the appropriate provisions that are designed to prevent the behavior from arising and to define appropriate resolution mechanisms whenever they happen to arise. For example, some of the rules that have been established by these organizations have pointed out the unethicality of the local government administrators’ practice of according preferential treatment to their family members, political colleagues, business associates, friends, and supporters. An administration’s temptation to return the favor often tends to be very high given that numerous friends, colleagues, and supporters must have made numerous sacrifices to help him get elected or appointed to that position. The guidelines that professional organizations provide can equip such an administrator with the tools he needs to strike a balance between his obligations to specific individuals and his obligations to the wider public. In such a situation, it is upon the employee to choose between upholding professionalism and merely dishing out rewards to his cronies. Public officers operating in the local government who choose the latter path end up contributing to the growing problem of discriminatory practices.
Whenever the public expresses concerns regarding unethical practices and corruption by local government professionals, attention shifts to the organizational associations of which the alleged perpetrators are members. Furthermore, the associations often face immense pressure to take stern disciplinary action against the errant professional. This phenomenon underscores the crucial role of professional organizations particularly in local governments that are typically characterized by monopolized service delivery and inefficiency. The expression of such concerns is among the leading factors that have contributed to the embracement of service contracting by local governments. Professional organizations have a strategic capability of using their expert power to add a voice to the clamor for service contracting based on public choice arguments.
There is a strong justification for these organizations to participate in such policy-making processes (Boyne, 1998). Given that most local government agencies operate as monopolies, the resulting impression is that their staff can easily choose to exercise monopoly power in a manner that promotes their own personal interests to the detriment of the public good. Under such circumstances, professional organizations can potentially act as impartial advocates of ethics, integrity, and corruption-free operations by local government professionals. In a political context where practical recommendations for dealing with unethical behavior, discriminatory practices, and corruption is rarely forthcoming, professional organizations can easily come in to bridge the gap.
By promoting professionalism within local government, professional organizations have contributed towards the fight against unethical behavior and discriminatory practices in three main ways (Nalbandian, 1999). First, they have fostered the practice of shared functions between appointed and elected officials, thereby eliminating the traditional dichotomy between administration and politics (Nalbandian, 1999). This phase of change has centered primarily on the evolution of professional roles. Second, they have triggered a shift from formal accountability and political neutrality to responsiveness to specific community values (Nalbandian, 1999). In this level of change, focus has been on the elaboration of professional responsibilities. Third, they have contributed to the entrenchment of efficiency, individual rights, social equity, and representation as a complex set of values that are anchored on professionalism as opposed to efficiency as a standalone core value (Nalbandian, 1999). In this element of change, attention has been on the value base within which contemporary local governments operate. Consequently, professional organizations are at the heart of current efforts to bring about a shift from wasteful centralized bureaucracies characterized by rigidity to decentralized, entrepreneurial government entities characterized by flexibility.
Entrepreneurial local governments of today should ideally be catalytic, focusing on leveraging various private-sector actions geared towards solving problems (Moon, 2002). They also need to be community-owned, empowering communities and families in terms of problem-solving. The element of competitiveness should also be present, whereby traditional monopolistic models in public services such as policing, transportation, and education are giving way to competitive service contracting. All these changes require highly specialized contribution from professionals, hence the need for guidelines and input from professional organizations. These organizations also play a valuable role in helping local authorities address emerging challenges such as racial discrimination, abuse of office, and corruption.
One of the most valuable features of professional organizations is that they promote self-regulation (Wotruba, 1997). Members of a profession simply come up with a set of rules and regulations governing the operations of members. In many cases, the organizations also address the issue of the minimum educational qualifications that an individual should attain to become a member. Consequently, they become an integral component of the members’ professional development and career progress. This element of self-regulation has greatly contributed to the promotion of ethical practices in various local governments. Since the early 1990s, these transformations have been reinforced by community building as an integral component of local government professionals’ responsibility as well as the growing expectation for managers to facilitate increased representation and participation as well as build new partnerships. At the same time, leaders of professional organizations have been at the forefront in efforts aimed at the abandonment of the “one best form” kind of local government.
These efforts notwithstanding, a number of challenges that are directly attributable to the operations of these professional organizations remain unresolved. One of them is the continued lack of clarity regarding the meaning of professionalism in local government. In today’s highly globalized world, the current complexity of this issue has been contributed to by the emergence of socio-economic, technological, and political trends that continue to create new roles, contexts, values, and responsibilities for practicing local government professionals. Unless the professional associations continue adapting their rules and regulations to the changing workplace contexts, local government administrators will continue encountering challenges arising to variations in the way their professions are defined.
There is also a major challenge that arises from criticism of professional bodies of which many local government employees are members. These bodies have been criticized for promoting professional elitism. The argument in this case is that for citizens to be reconnected to government, the government should be oriented towards involvement by those citizens. In many cases, professional elites are assumed to inhibit this objective by exercising too much government control. To thwart this criticism, local government professionals should work towards enhancing civil society and helping build social capital. They must also avoid abusing their positions of privilege, for example, when making suggestions on who should be appointed to various commissions and committees. Despite the criticism, membership in professional organizations has led to growing emphasis on the themes of participation and representation among local government professionals. Although these themes have traditionally been emphasized in city management literature, their transforming quality is only now being realized through professional organizations’ efforts to promote ethical conduct. Many managers who abide by the regulations laid down by respective professional organizations promptly realize that they can become successful in addition to having the meaning of their professions more clearly understood.
The emerging role of professional organizations in local government also puts into perspective the crucial theme of diversity. One reason why discriminatory practices remain pervasive in local governments is the lack of a regulatory regime governing the way administrators address the issue of diversity. Enriching the typical local government professional’s viewpoint regarding diversity through guidelines provided by a professional association is a powerful way of promoting diversity and reducing the pervasiveness of discriminatory practices. The same is true for other vices affecting local governments such as unethical behavior and rampant corruption. Such an approach can also help local government managers meet the existing diversity requirements from the perspective of problem-solving as opposed to that of political correctness or affirmative action. These benefits have greatly contributed to the growing acceptance of professional associations in fostering organizational integrity in local government departments (Menzel, 2005).
The efficiency of municipal operations can be enhanced significantly through the embracement of professionalism, representative bureaucracy, and administrators’ membership in professional organizations. Professionalism lessens discrimination while promoting equitable incomes by emphasizing competency in a specific line of work and adherence to a code of conduct. Professionalism in local government can create a platform where public officers are appointed based on qualifications and experience as opposed to racial considerations. Conversely, lack of professionalism can lead to the deterioration of quality of services delivered to the citizens. Efforts to promote professionalism in municipal operations in the United States are being hampered by the high level of racial discrimination.
Representative bureaucracy can also play a vital role in improving municipal operations. This theory is based on the view that the composition of workers in a bureaucracy should mirror the general population in terms of demographic composition. The assumption is that whenever employees are appointed in such a way that they represent specific social groups in the community, they will be sympathetic to and promote the interests of the respective social groups. It is important to consider the climate in which administrators work in order to understand better how representative bureaucracy can improve municipal operations. The ideal situation is one where passive representation translates into active representation over time. A number factors that impede representative bureaucracy also need to be addressed. Some of these factors include organizational socialization, peer pressure, goal uncertainty, and ignorance.
Lastly, membership in professional organization is increasingly gaining prominence as an enabler of ethical and non-discriminatory practices in local government. It is a key step towards mitigating unethical and discriminatory practices among municipal administrators. Professional organizations can impact on the actions on local government employees in a more direct way through patronage and self-regulation. The organizations play a crucial role of promoting ethical behavior particularly in areas where local government jurisdiction has been unsuccessful in preventing the emergence of scandals. These organizations also participate in policy-making processes in addition to promoting professionalism within local government. However, this is an ongoing initiative, and there are several challenges to be confronted. One of them is the continued lack of clarity regarding the meaning of professionalism within municipal operations. It has also become challenging for leaders of these organizations to deal with criticism arising from the perception that they have been in the forefront in promoting professional elitism.
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