Ph.D. Spotlight: Executive Turnover, Policy Change and Evolution of Interlocal Collaboration Network

Public officials’ turnover could play an important role in improving the quality of democratic governance. Public officials’ turnover happens at all levels of government. Politicians are vacated from their offices after the loss of regular elections or political appointees are fired or voluntarily resign for policy failure. Their departure is a mechanism to ensure that the government is accountable and effective. More importantly, the occurrence of turnover events underscores that who governs does matter for policy outcomes. The departure and succession of public officials could open the policy window to modify public policy by reason of the substitute of the obsolete and inappropriate practices with innovative and legitimate ones. This process would make the government adaptive to the new demands emerging in the governance environment. As several studies have shown, the government official currently holding office, otherwise known as the incumbent, tends to take the cabin rearrangement as a strategic response to the dissidents when encountering political challenges. And likewise, newly elected political officials are expected to change existing policy and adopt a new one based on the political demands reflected in the recent elections.

Given the critical function, turnover events in public organizations have been central to political science and public administration. Most studies on turnover pay much attention to exploring the reason why public officials leave the offices, such as individual characteristics, organizational context and environmental factors. But surprisingly, few studies pay substantive attention to the effect of turnover events on policy design and outcomes. Even when the consequence of turnover events is of interest in recent literature, the results are often mixed. These findings suggest a widely up-held premise that turnover would produce negative impacts on policy outcomes that may not be adequate. And more theoretical developments and empirical tests are needed to assess whether turnover is adaptive or disruptive within specific contexts.

To fill in this gap in the literature, this dissertation attempts to examine the influences of turnover events of local officials in various turnover contexts in two policy fields: inter-local service delivery and urban sustainability. The first paper focuses on types of turnover and pre-turnover contexts within local government. Particularly, this paper examine the effects of single or multiple episodes of turnover events as well as their predictability on engagements in interlocal service delivery. The exit of leading officials could change the utility functions of local governments to join interlocal collaboration due to either the influx of new knowledge and skills, or the lack of liaison in intergovernmental connections. Regular turnover of local officials would suggest unstable governance environment within public organizations. In addition, whether turnover events are facilitators or obstacles to support more interlocal service delivery would be contingent on the predictability of turnover events, as measured by the degree of policy conflict between appointed officials (i.e. city manager or administrator) and city councils. Using the state and local financial survey data, this paper found supportive evidence in the case of interlocal revenue and interlocal expenditure.

The second paper evaluates the relation between turnover events and policy change in urban sustainability policy. While extant scholarship shows that contextual factors, such as socioeconomic conditions, interest group pressure, political institutions and administrative capacities, could explain the variance of urban sustainable development, this paper highlights the importance of executive turnover as the agency of policy change at the micro-level. In particular, this paper addresses the research question by examining various types of outgoing officials and their successors. This approach sheds light on the distribution of policy power between elected and appointed officials in local governments.. The relation between strategic changes and career incentives of appointed officials is investigated as well. Drawing data from the two-wave International City/County Management Association (ICMA) sustainability surveys, a longitudinal analysis is used to test the hypotheses.

The third paper further investigates the link between intergovernmental influences, managerial turnover, and the adoption of sustainable energy policy. As noted, prior research has pointed out numerous internal conditions where local governments would be likely to take proactive steps forward sustainable development to fill in the void of climate governance left by federal inactions. External influences from the higher-level governments are either overlooked or inconclusive in the literature. To resolve the inconsistent findings, this paper applies the logic of intergovernmental political competition to synthesize hypotheses on the conditional intergovernmental influences and the moderating effect of managerial turnover. Using the 2015 ICMA Sustainability survey, the multilevel regression model provides empirical supports for most of the hypotheses. The findings also show local government could be more responsive to external influences due to turnover events.

In sum, the purpose of this dissertation is to make contributions to the studies of the interaction between urban politics and collaborative governance in the field of environmental policy. By exploring the conditions where turnover events are advantageous or disadvantageous for local choices of service delivery modes and green development strategies, it could outline underlying mechanisms of the linkage between turnover events and organizational performance. These findings would also advance the knowledge on urban sustainable development by providing micro-level explanations, since local officials would make policy decisions on sustainability in the interest of their concerns about career trajectory.

Dr. Huang is a graduate of Florida State University’s public administration Ph.D. program and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Environmental Policy & Behavior in University of California, Davis. This post is based on Dr. Huang’s dissertation abstract. You can learn more about this project here. You can learn more about Dr. Huang here.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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