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Government Finance Officers of Arizona August 8, 2008 Martin Vanacour, PhD “The Politics of the Policy Process” PowerPoint Presentation
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Government Finance Officersof ArizonaAugust 8, 2008Martin Vanacour, PhD“The Politics of the Policy Process”

Setting The Stage1. As finance administrators and staff, you are part of the policy process, however, do you know how the politics of the policy process works?2. Do you know how to be effective with your city/town manager and the elected officials?3. Do you have the necessary political savvy skills and why do you need these skills?4. What are the keys to success in becoming a trusted part of the management team?5. Why are some of my best ideas not brought forward or complimented?

6. How do I gain the trust of the management team?

7. How can politics be a rational and an irrational process at the same time?

8. Politics and policy setting is like working “in a swamp” (Cayer & Weschler). What is the “swamp”?

9. Can I learn the necessary political savvy skills to be an effective team player?


One of the most important and yet the most challenging part of being a finance or budget department head is developing and maintaining a positive, effective, and productive relationship with your city manager and your council.


Effective and productive relationships among the city manager, staff, and council do not occur by accident. Rather they are nurtured and sustained through deliberate efforts.

political savvy7
Political Savvy
  • Intuition
  • Experience
  • Insight
  • An ability to know when an item or project is ready to be presented.
  • Understanding every public issue begins with politics and ends with politics.
  • Understand the “Swamp” concept of government.
  • Running for office (“I, I, I”.) Getting policy approved is “we, we, we.”
political savvy cont
Political Savvy (cont.)
  • Understanding sometimes the most powerful person on the Council may be the one that cares the least.
  • In our political system there is an equal and opposite reaction to every political issue.
  • The best rational and technical decisions may not, and should not always override political decisions.
  • The Councilmembers of yesterday are not the Councilmembers of today, and will not be the Councilmembers of tomorrow.
political savvy9
Political Savvy
  • When to tell
  • Who to tell
  • Who not to tell
  • What to tell
  • How often to tell
there is a new activism from mayors and councilmembers
There is a new activism from Mayors and Councilmembers
  • What and How?
  • Role as ombudsman
  • Single issue politics
  • Elected Officials spend much more time on the job in city hall.
  • Trend toward directly elected Mayors (Informal but substantive powers.)
  • District system of election
  • Translators for their constituents
  • New direct interest by local officials in implementation and understanding the process.
  • Administrators are inextricably involved in policy making activities.
  • Term Limits
  • Short goals and objectives versus long term policy issues.
  • Blurring of lines between policy and administration.
  • The new activism of today’s Mayors and Councilmembers.
“We can not solve the problems of today with the same consciousness that created them.”

Albert Einstein 1933

developing trust
Developing Trust
  • In our business you only have your name and reputation. Lose it and you may never get it back.
  • Develop good, accurate, concise information.
  • Stand behind what you present.
  • Treat all Councilmembers the same.
  • Make clear and concise presentations and answer the questions asked.
  • You need to make the ComplexSimple.
  • Understand who are always watching you and why.
  • “The City Council has the absolute right to be right and the absolute right to be wrong”….Jack DeBolski
framing the issue
Framing the Issue
  • What do you want to clearly say and who is your audience?
  • If you do not frame the issue, it will be framed for you.
who is watching you
Who is Watching You
  • Your elected officials
  • Citizens
  • Your employees
  • Bond rating agencies
  • Corporate/business that may wish to relocate to your community
  • Regulatory agencies
  • Media Representatives
moore s strategic triangle
Moore’s Strategic Triangle

Politics (Politically and Legally Supported?)

Creating Public Value

Operations (Is it administratively feasible?)

Outcomes (Is it operationally feasible?)

Mark Moore, Creating Public Value; Strategic Management in Government, 1995, Harvard.

Almost every public action aimed at creating public value is contestable as well as methods, process, procedures, and outcomes.
3 t s in management
3 T’s in Management






People only see what they are prepared to see. Ralph Waldo Emerson


Council’s Expectations of Staff

  • Don’t cause us embarrassment
  • Be non-political in a partisan sense
  • Help make our job easier
  • Give us accurate and current data
  • Leave personal bias out of reports; arguments should
  • stand on own merits
  • Provide guidance when requested
  • Provide short, well-written reports
  • Provide several options when suggesting possible
  • solutions to a problem

Council’s Expectations of Staff


  • Present requested information in a timely manner
  • Show us how to avoid known pitfalls of recurring issues
  • Be accessible
  • Be respectful regardless of how you feel personally
  • Keep us equally informed; do not show favoritism
  • Provide historical continuity where appropriate