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The Dutch Anomaly: Appointed Mayors, Can Appointed Mayors Cope with Role Changes and Societal Demands?

Abstract

In almost all countries in Western Europe mayors are local political leaders, whether elected directly by the local citizenry or by the local council. Dutch mayors, however, constitute a deviant case. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century central government appoints them from outside the local political elite; hence they are neither local nor political. Such a way of appointing the mayor easily could give one the impression there has been little dynamism in the mayors role and position during the past decades. That however turns out to be a serious misunderstanding. The office of mayor in the Netherlands was and is the subject to serious change. While the office still carries a lot of ‘natural’ authority (although diminishing), its content – responsibilities, interdependencies, expectations – has changed rather drastically. Mayors have more or less become modern professional administrators even though they consolidated some of the traditional advantages of their office.In this paper we first of all will give a brief overview of the mayoral office in Western Europe, applying typologies that have been developed in recent studies. Then we will sketch the Dutch mayorship, its history as well as the selection procedures. The next step is to discuss recent developments. Three kinds of developments are relevant. First of all changes in the selection procedures, as a result of which the local councils have gained an almost decisive influence on the actual selection of their mayor. Second development is the significant increase of the mayors’ capacities and responsibilities. Thirdly, society seems to demand stronger leadership and to focus on the mayors in this quest. Tensions between these developments, and between the responses to them, are likely to emerge. We will explore the ways present mayors cope with those tensions.Questions then are, whether tensions arise between the various developments in the mayoral office and if so, which tensions; which mechanisms exist to cope with those tensions; how the way mayors get their job (appointment with strong local influence) affects the coping mechanisms, and what risks the mayorship runs (for instance from a democratic angle).
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