Professional Cities: Accredited Agencies, Government Structure, and Rational Choice

Published date01 March 2018
Date01 March 2018
Professional Cities: Accredited Agencies, Government Structure, and Rational Choice 295
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 78, Iss. 2, pp. 295–304. © 2017 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12806.
Professional Cities:
Accredited Agencies, Government Structure,
and Rational Choice
Fabyan Estrada received his master
of public administration degree from the
University of Texas at San Antonio in 2014.
His career now focuses on compliance and
risk management in the finance industry.
E-mail :
Branco Ponomariov is associate
professor in the Department of Public
Administration at the University of Texas
at San Antonio. He received his doctorate
in public policy from Georgia Institute
of Technology and specializes in public
management and science and technology
E-mail :
Barbara Coyle McCabe is associate
professor at the University of Texas at San
Antonio, where she teaches organization
theory and economics for public affairs. Her
research interests focus on urban policy and
E-mail :
Abstract : Accreditation, long used to signal quality among hospitals and universities, has been available to police, fire,
and public works departments since the late 1980s. For public service departments, accreditation is a voluntary process
that demands significant organizational resources without a guaranteed outcome. Why would city officials devote
scarce resources to such an endeavor? Two explanations are examined. First, accreditation may be a rational response to
a history of trouble or the potential for future crisis. Second, municipalities may use accreditation to build a reputation
for professional administration of public services. The authors use Poisson regression to test these explanations on a new
data set of midsize cities.
Evidence for Practice
Faster-growing cities, larger cities with wealthier residents, and cities with greater economic disparities are
more likely to have accredited police, fire, or public works departments than other municipalities.
Organizational capacity (e.g., number of full-time employees) has positive effects on accreditation, while
fiscal capacity (e.g., per capita tax collections) does not.
Cities with the council-manager form of government are more likely to have one or more accredited
departments than other municipalities.
Barbara Coyle McCabe
Branco Ponomariov
Fabyan Estrada
University of Texas at San Antonio
F or the past two years, the deaths of African
Americans at the hands of city police have
sparked protests nationwide. Many called for
more highly trained police officers in response and
more police accountability, and specific legislative
steps were taken (Epp, Maynard-Moody, and Haider-
Markel 2017 ; Eterno, Barrow, and Silverman 2017 ;
Nicholson-Crotty, Nicholson-Crotty, and Fernandez
2017 ; Santora 2014 ; Waldman 2014 ). Demand for
greater professionalism among public servants is a
common reaction to trouble in cities, whether that
trouble takes the form of natural disasters, violence, or
allegations of wrongdoing. It is a response with deep
roots in American public administration, dating from
Progressive Era reformers’ efforts to change municipal
governments to boost efficiency and eliminate
corruption, cronyism, and malfeasance (Banfield and
Wilson 1963 ; Clingermayer and Feiock 2001 ; Knott
and Miller 1987 ). Replacing politically appointed
city employees with a professional public service was
seen as fundamental to the rational government that
Progressive reformers sought. Professionalism remains
important to public administration academics and
practitioners alike (Nelson and Svara 2015 ), but
assessing and explaining municipal professionalism
as an empirical phenomenon has proved difficult
(Carr 2015 ).
National accreditation of public service departments,
available for departments of police, fire, and public
works, is a relatively new development that acts as a
proxy for municipal professionalism. Accreditation
is a voluntary process that demands organizational
resources without a guaranteed outcome. At a
time when municipalities face shrinking federal
support, heightened state restrictions on taxes, and
undiminished demand for public services, why
would the officials of some cities devote resources to
accreditation? Using a census of midsize U.S. cities
with populations of 25,000 to 250,000, we rely on the
political markets framework to address this question.
The political markets framework holds that
institutions (particularly those dealing with
representation and form of government) affect local
policy choices by either impeding or advancing
competing interests in a city and by shaping the
incentives of elected and appointed municipal officials
(Frant 1993 , 1996 ; Lubell, Feiock, and Ramirez
de la Cruz 2009 ). Institutions raise or lower the
transaction costs for various interest groups seeking
the attention and action of city officials (North
1990 ). For example, a city ’ s electoral scheme—at-large
versus district or ward elections—determines which
“public” council members represent: either the

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