Michigan’s local elected officials report positive working relationships

June 5, 2019
Written By:
Mandira Banerjee

Illustration of two people shaking hands outside of a government building.

ANN ARBOR—Michigan’s local government leaders report mostly positive relationships among officials on their local governing boards or councils, according to a University of Michigan survey that assessed the tone of discussions and how often they reach consensus on issues.

Among local leaders, 38% report that relationships among elected officials are excellent, while another 43% report good working relationships. About one in five report that their relationship is just fair or outright poor between members on their board or council.

The survey was conducted to see if the hyperpartisanship that has caused gridlock and dysfunction in Washington, D.C., is also impacting local government in Michigan.

“Unlike Washington, D.C., where discourse currently seems to be so antagonistic, Michigan local leaders’ assessment of relationships in their jurisdiction are quite optimistic,” said Thomas Ivacko, associate director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at U-M’s Ford School of Public Policy.

Local leaders say their boards/councils are able to come to consensus on a wide range of issues facing their jurisdiction, including routine decisions, budgetary issues and even development issues that can sometimes divide communities.

“We do see differences when we asked about the tone of discourse, which appears to be a key factor associated with good vs. poor relationships,” said Debra Horner, project manager at CLOSUP. “Constructive discourse among officials goes hand-in-hand with positive relationships.”

Other notable differences that helped or hurt relationships included clarity of roles for elected officials and willingness to support decisions of the board/council.

The data come from the Michigan Public Policy Survey, an ongoing survey of Michigan’s 1,856 local governments conducted by U-M’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy. The spring 2018 survey received a 74% response rate with results from 1,372 jurisdictions.



Among the survey’s other key findings:

  • Local leaders from the West Central region are the most likely to rate their board/council’s relationship as excellent or good (86%). And although officials from the Northern Lower Peninsula and Southeast Michigan are the most likely to report fair or poor relationships with their board or council (24% and 22%, respectively), they are still much more likely to say their relationships are positive.
  • Local leaders from rural jurisdictions are the most likely to say that overall relationships among elected officials are excellent (34%) and jurisdictions that identify as mostly urban are the most likely to say that these relations are poor (9%).
  • Local leaders who are in appointed positions, such as city managers, are less likely than local elected officials to rate relationships among elected board or council as excellent.


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