Actor network relationship problems in local government
Carmont, P & Scott, D 2010, 'Actor network relationship problems in local government', paper presented to The crisis: challenges for public management: fourteenth annual Conference of the International Research Society for Public Management (IRSPM XIV), Berne, Switzerland, 7-9 April.
Local government bureaucrats are endowed with a major responsibility of serving a public to whom they are not directly answerable and of advising the representatives of the electorate. The elected representatives are the persons who are answerable to the electorate; however the bureaucrats who advise them are not subject to scrutiny by the electorate nor are they managed by the elected representatives. The result of this disconnected relationship can be that the bureaucrats cease to see themselves as servants of the electorate and instead regard themselves as the ultimate wielders of power, using this power to further their own ends or to harass and to intimidate members of the electorate in some misconceived exercise of power and egotism. This paper utilises a case study covering four years of local government interactions with the owners/residents of a building. The case revolves around a disputed land-use issue in which the bureaucrats sought network consensus to impose a new limitation of entitlement for existing titleholders. It applies actor-network theory to examine the occurrences and to identify the different actants that have taken part in the interactions and the roles that they have played. The actants in the case study fall into the following categories, local government bureaucrats, elected councillors, business representatives, unit owners, conciliators, land use and strata title legislation/regulation documentation and a building. It is found that opinions and desires of the bureaucrats can be “sold” to the councillors bymisrepresenting the truth and ignoring factual and legal evidence thereby attempting to subvert the true situation possibly as an exercise of power or to assist the representatives of businesses. However, the unwillingness of titleholders to enrol in the bureaucrats’ scheme of entitlement reallocation eventually caused the network to disintegrate and the proposed limited entitlement scheme was overturned; that is, the bureaucrats’ efforts to enrol other actants did not succeed. The unit owners were eventually able to obtain a solution because of the intercession by a conciliator. However, the process that was followed over the four years led to a major waste of local government resources and significant stress to the existing titleholders. Although it was not possible to determine the motivations of all of the actants, the detailed records of their actions can be used to explore how uncontrolled and improper behaviour by local government officers can be prevented. The case also illustrates the usefulness of Actor Network Theory in decomposing complex situations. By facilitating an understanding of identities and their efforts to achieve other actants’ enrolment, a richer depiction of the case is achieved.