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Politics or Professionalism to the Rescue? The Friedrich-Finer Debate in the Context of State Intervention on Michigan

Author: SHU WANG and ANDREW CROSBY
Published in PAQ, Vol. 43 No. 4

Who should come to the rescue when a local government is fiscally ailing: professionals or politicians? Michigan Public Act 436 of 2012 authorizes state government to intervene in local fiscal affairs by appointing emergency managers. Political officials and residents have resisted such interventions, arguing political officials should restore fiscal health. This conflict illustrates a classic accountability debate between Carl Friedrich and Herman Finer in public administration literature: that between technical merit and political control. Using interviews with state and local managers as well as elected officials, we explore whether bureaucrats and emergency managers view accountability differently than elected officials when under state intervention. We find emergency managers and local bureaucrats tend to adopt Friedrich’s view that technical merit should drive decisions, and elected officials tend to adopt Finer’s view that restoring financial health should be a politically driven process. Finally, we offer suggestions for state and local collaboration moving forward.
Keywords: Friedrich/Finer Debate, Accountability, Federalism, Fiscal Federalism

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