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Leadership in an Age of Devolution: County Commissioners’ Role in the Implementation of Appalachian Ohio’s Welfare Reform

PAQ, Vol. 29 No. 1, (2005)

What constitutes effective leadership by county commissioners
in the implementation of welfare reform? How do contextual factors
influence leadership? Findings are based on interviews and surveys of
county commissioners in Appalachian Ohio, conducted in 2000. We
focus on county commissioners’ relationships with Ohio’s Department
of Job and Family Services and with county welfare agency directors,
and on the commissioners’ perspectives on devolution. Commissioners
provide mixed assessments of the state, but uniformly positive reviews
of county welfare agency directors and the concept of devolution.
Evidence exists of effective leadership, but it is limited in nature. We
discuss lessons learned about the implementation of welfare reform by
county government.
When asked for an example of a county commissioner
exercising leadership for the betterment of welfare policy in an
Appalachian Ohio county, a former state official did not have to think
very hard. He cited the case of a commissioner who used her status in
the community to pull together representatives from a local college, the
Community Action Committee, the county’s economic development
office, and the local welfare agency. These four organizations that
often operated in a disjointed manner, combined forces on several
goals. These included bringing new jobs to the county, conducting a
needs analysis related to broadband communication, and working with
the private sector in order to implement welfare reform goals. The
official concluded that actions such as this were relatively rare; he
estimated that no more than 15% of commissioners exercised such
leadership skills (Kalis 2001). What constitutes effective leadership by
county commissioners? To what extent is leadership constrained by
contextual factors, such as the rural nature of Appalachian Ohio
counties and the skills of welfare agency directors? These questions are
at the heart of this paper

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