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Explaining and Justifying Authoritative Decisions: The Case of Controversial Facilities for the Homeless in Rotterdam

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This article analyses the ways in which local executive leaders rendered account for the decisions taken on where to locate 19 controversial facilities for the homeless in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Despite the non-participatory nature of the decision-making process, executive leaders acquired a remarkable level of authority for their decisions. The analysis suggests that the accountability strategies employed by local executive leaders contributed substantially to this success. Specific ways of rendering account for the decisions made concerning the locations enabled local executives to develop the political repertoires necessary to make the authoritative decisions they deemed indispensable. Most important among these ways were the executives' recognition of the importance of forming direct, informal accountability relationships with local residents, the proactive rendering of account and the executives' partial control over the forums to which account was rendered. The author concludes that an authoritative ‘Decide - Announce - Defend’ approach may not yet be out of fashion in modern local governance. The findings suggest that we will better understand the practice of public accountability if we supplement the existing conceptual frameworks for analysing and assessing public accountability arrangements with an alternative conception of accountability that focuses on the strategic aspects of rendering account.1

1. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2009 EGPA Permanent Study Group Local Governance and Democracy, in the section themed New Forms of Local Democracy. The author thanks two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of the article.
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Keywords: Strong leadership; authority; controversial decisions; facility siting; public accountability

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Tilburg School of Politics and Public Administration,Tilburg University, The Netherlands

Publication date: 2012-04-01

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