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Spring 2012 - 61810 - PA383C - Politics and Process

Issues and Opportunities in Local Government

Instructor(s): Eckhardt, Sarah
Unique Number: 61810
Day & Time: M 2:00 - 5:00 pm
Room: SRH 3.355
Waitlist Information:For LBJ Students: UT Waitlist Information
Course Overview

This course acquaints students with how public policy develops and is adopted in the American governmental system. It is normally taken during the first year. The course helps students understand the different settings in which policy develops and the factors that influence its development. Each section of the course uses different substantive policy concerns such as international affairs, social policy, community engagement, and resource and environmental regulation to explore how individuals and institutions initiate and/or give legitimacy to public policy, including the executive and legislative branches, the courts, interest groups, and individual citizens. The course also covers the dynamics of the policy process by focusing on the roles of and relationships among various levels of government and the concepts and models used to describe these aspects of policy development. The roles of ideas, concepts, and formal methods of analysis in policy development are discussed. Reading assignments and class discussion focus on case studies, legislative hearings, policy-issue briefs, court decisions, and theoretical works which highlight and explain the development of particular public policies.

Section Description

The course will focus on issues and processes for achieving collaborative governing at the local level.  It is taught by Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 2. The course is designed to improve one’s ability to analyze an issue, engage with others involved in same or similar issues, develop strategies for advancing policy goals, and advocate for specific policy implementation.  


Those in local government struggle daily with fractured and decentralized forms set in place to maintain local control and preferences.  “Local” has taken on a new meaning in a state where most of the population, however diverse, has moved into an urban band stretching from North of Dallas to Laredo. At the urbanized local level, governing requires collaboration between multiple local jurisdictions with separate but overlapping constituencies, taxing authorities, legal mandates and policy trajectories.  Governing well requires an understanding of multiple interests and collaborative strategies to advance them.

The class will focus on current issues and opportunities in local government and analyses, processes, and strategies for achieving collaborative local governing.  Study material will include class speakers, public hearing records, press coverage, and academic and legal writings.  Issues of study will be selected from current local attempts at collaborative governing such as:

  • Emergency Services
  • Health and Human Services
  • Transportation Planning
  • Green Space Preservation
  • Water availability and distribution

Students will work both independently and in teams.  Individual work product will include:

  • A Policy Brief and oral presentation outlining an issue and approach to addressing the issue
  • A Policy Analysis and oral presentation defining the issue, the legal, procedural and historical context of the issue, the competing interests, the relative merits of options for addressing the issue, and recommendations
  • An Advocacy Statement and oral presentation framing the issue and a preferred solution, championing the solution and addressing its detractors

Team work product will include:

  • Written and oral briefing in which the team assumes the roles of staffers briefing an elected body and its constituencies.
  • Written and oral presentation in which the team assumes the role of an interest group persuading an authority to take a preferred course of action.

Grades: No final exam will be administered.  Grades will be determined through a combination of 1. Self assessment, 2. Peer assessment and 3. Instructor assessment. Grades will be determined based on:

  • Class Participation - 20%
  • Research, preparation and delivery of team assignments
    •  Refining the charge – Policy Brief  10%
    • Work Session – Policy Analysis 20%
    • Public Hearing – Policy Advocacy 10%
  • Research, preparation and delivery of individual assignments
    • Policy Brief 10%
    • Policy Analysis 20%
    • Policy Advocacy 10%