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New book by Ruth Prins 'Mayors put to the test'

Book on Dutch mayors governing local order and public safety.

Dutch mayors have been responsible for ensuring local safety and order since the introduction of the first Local Government Act in 1851. However,  the societal, administrative and political environment in which the Dutch mayors address local order and safety has changed drastically. One of the biggest changes is the fact that over the last decades both citizens and politicians have become increasingly worried about a wide variety of public safety problems. As a result, the mayor’s traditional responsibility for local order and safety now extends to a much wider variety of local safety problems including rioting, football games, radicalization, soft drugs, domestic violence and organized crime. The main argument of the book is that this ever growing trend of securitizing local issues has fostered an expansion of the mayor’s formal position, as well as new actions and roles in daily public safety governance. 

In order to tackle new threats to public order, national government has granted Dutch mayors various powers. Examples of these new powers are temporary home restrictions for perpetrators of domestic violence and the power to temporarily hold specific groups and individuals in custody if they are considered a threat to public order. Not all sections of Dutch society are happy with these developments. Many stakeholders claimed the Dutch mayor´s traditional role of shepherd would be overshadowed by his or her new role of local sheriff implementing these new and far reaching powers.

This book combines national and local studies on the position and role of Dutch mayors in local safety governance between the years 1990 and 2010. Research findings demonstrate that mayors did not become local sheriffs firing with big guns at everything they do not like. Instead, mayors took on a leadership style that is best described as ‘super networker’ deploying a  facilitative leadership style which is strongly focused on bringing it all together in terms of actors, resources and goals. Mayors manifested themselves as powerful and dependent players while tackling new public safety issues: powerful given their formal and exclusive powers; dependent because, in practice, these powers are counterbalanced by new dependencies between mayors and their many public and private partners united in local governance networks (social workers, police, private security companies, housing corporations).

The book concludes with a translation of research findings into multiple implications for the practice of local governance in general and for mayors in particular. These range from selecting a suitable leadership style to ways of framing contemporary public safety issues and making use of national powers in local societies. 

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