Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Councillor’s Dilemma between Strong Mayors and Citizens’ Needs

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Councillors appear to suffer from a legitimacy crisis vis-à-vis a stronger and more professionalised executive on the one hand and the new challenges presented by participatory democracy on the other. Since the early 1990s several reforms in Europe have fostered strong local executives and introduced directly elected mayors, envisaging for laymen councillors a role of steering and scrutiny. This has often translated into a weakened role whereby councillors often feel bypassed. By the same token new participatory initiatives have gained much popularity, often reinforcing the direct relationship between the mayor and the local community, while councillors struggle to renew their role vis-à-vis the citizens. This paper examines the case of Italy to draw conclusions on how councillors perceive their role after the reforms. Findings are based on data from four medium-sized Italian cities characterised by different socio-economic contexts and political culture: Trento in Trentino-Alto Adige, Prato in Tuscany, Sassari in Sardinia, and Lecce in Puglia. The paper argues for a rethinking of the councillor’s role by increasing the influence of council committees. Participatory processes could represent an important opportunity for councillors to strengthen their role of steering and scrutiny and re-engage with the local community, as they reinvent themselves as caseworkers, advocates, or facilitators.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-860
JournalLocal Government Studies
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2015


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