Study says mayor-council government more likely to have corruption convictions

A new study, published online in April 2019, concludes cities with the council-manager form of government, like Cleveland Heights, are 57 percent less likely to have corruption convictions than cities using the mayor-council form of government. CH will vote on Issue 26 on Nov. 5 to decide whether to switch to the mayor-council system in 2021.

The study was done by two professors in the School of Government at the University of North Carolina, Kimberly Nelson and Whitney Afonso, and was published in the latest edition of Public Administration Review, a peer-reviewed academic journal ( They looked at 2,759 U.S. cities with populations of at least 10,000.

The study analyzed corruption convictions “between 1990 and 2010 to determine which factors, including form of government, affect the probability that a corrupt act will occur. The findings indicate that municipalities with council-manager form are 57 percent less likely to have corruption convictions than municipalities with the mayor-council form.”

Nelson said her teaching and research focus on local government, and do not reflect any political agenda. She said the School of Government requires strict non-partisanship. Professors are prohibited from registering for parties or making political contributions. She is part of a team that travels the state training city managers, mayors, clerks and other officials from across the political spectrum in ethics, money management, leadership and personnel.

The study directly addresses the vote CH voters are facing: “Every year, local communities debate changing their form of government” from council-manager to mayor-council. “The argument is made that the mayor-council form provides greater accountability . . . than the council-manager. . . . In fact, oversight is lessened when greater political independence is afforded to a single person . . . and the evidence presented here suggests significantly higher levels of corruption associated with the mayor-council form of government . . . ."

The final paragraph states, “This study provides evidence that municipalities using council-manager form of government are less likely to have corruption charges filed than are municipalities with the mayor-council form of government. The prevention of corruption is critical to successful government, and this research presents a strong case for the council-manager form of government.”

The study also found that an elected mayor, only in a council-manager system (not the strong mayor system proposed in Issue 26), also helps lower the corruption rate. Nelson confirmed, "This does not mean a strong mayor in a mayor-council form."

Nelson said her data, which she believes to be the most up-to-date in the nation, shows most votes to change city government fail. Those that pass do so by a very close margin. From 1990 to 2018, she said, the number of council-manager cities, the most popular form in the U.S., was up 1 percent. Mayor-council cities were flat, and other forms of government were down 1 percent.

Nelson said, “If you look at research on places that change, they almost never realize the benefits they hoped to realize. The problem isn’t the form of government.”

Fred D'Ambrosi

Fred D'Ambrosi has been an award-winning journalist for 40 years, mostly as a TV news director in Cleveland, D.C., San Diego and Milwaukee. He's enjoyed living in Cleveland Heights since 2015. He is volunteer communications director for Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 11:38 AM, 10.01.2019