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‘We need more differentiation in municipal administration’

More allowance should be made for differences between municipalities, argues Geerten Boogaard, Thorbecke Professor of Local Government. The Municipalities Act could, for instance, offer a ‘menu of options’ for the decision on whether to have an elected mayor. Professor Boogaard will deliver his inaugural lecture on 6 March.

With the decline in voter turnout for municipal council elections, weaker municipal councils and dormant auditor’s offices, local government has been a cause of concern for several decades. Boogaard comments, ‘The greatest danger facing municipalities is that they will just become part of the state and no longer part of society.’ He therefore argues for more customised solutions, because no two municipalities are the same. Boogaard: ‘There is much more tradition of a politicised municipal council in large municipalities like Amsterdam than in some small municipalities, which are run more collaboratively by the executive and the council, like an association.’

Elected mayor

Boogaard argues that municipal councils should decide for themselves on such questions as whether their municipality will have an elected mayor. Here, too, the specific structure and culture of the municipality are an important factor in how successfully this is implemented. He takes the view that it is better not to have a single set of national rules for an issue like whether or not to have an elected mayor. Boogaard: ‘The Municipalities Act should offer a kind of “menu of options” for how a mayor is appointed, and the municipal councils should be allowed to choose for themselves. Obviously, they shouldn’t be able to make a different choice on a weekly basis. Let’s say municipal councils can reconsider their choice every twelve years or so – after two periods of office.

Transferring complex tasks to provincial authorities

There could also be more variation in the division of roles within municipal administrations. Boogaard mentions, for instance, the tasks in the social domain, in particular youth care. It might be better if small municipalities could transfer complex tasks to the provincial authorities, while large municipalities can continue to do them perfectly well themselves. ‘Minister Ollongren’s recent proposal that youth care in Zeeland should be moved back to the provincial authorities was an excellent idea.’

Recommendations for legislative changes

As Thorbecke Professor, Boogaard will make recommendations for legislative changes in the administrative system over the coming years. In his opinion, in the debate about administrative reform over the last ten years too little use has been made of helpful legislative design principles. There have been many reports about the proper roles of the municipal council, but these have just made the councillors even more confused. ‘That’s why my advice now is that we should go back to thinking more in terms of clear rules about powers, rather than continuing to fantasise about the kinds of roles and functions we might like to have.’

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