Metropolitics and county government in Texas

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1976

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Life in metropolitan areas has long been the subject of analysis by social scientists, but few studies have dealt with county government as an integral part of such environments. The literature of political science has generally given scant attention to counties. This study observes county government as part of the metropolity. Using the 16 counties in Texas which had 1970 populations in excess of 100,000 persons, the study seeks to determine the role of counties in the urban centers, their formal and Informal processes for making decisions, the roles and behavior of the officials, the functions and services they perform, and the trends developing in their expenditures. Questions centered on how the counties have responded to urbanization, how they have managed to survive with apparently few structural or functional changes, and what different roles will probably be required of counties in the future if they are to be responsive to their urban environments. Systems analysis was used as the conceptual framework so that the metropolity could be seen as a total unit and the role of the county could be studied within that context. The systems method enabled the research to link social, economic, cultural, and attitudinal variables to the political behavior of the actors in county government. The county has been a contributor to the general fragmentation of authority in the metropolity. The study points to a governmental unit that is limited in its capacity to convert demands into policy outputs, especially regarding urban problems. The structure is confusing to the average person. While there are numerous elected officers, none appear to be in charge. It is difficult to hold any of them responsible for the state of affairs. Nor does the state legislature seem overly concerned. Few debates are held in the Capitol concerning reforms of county government. Despite its ineptness, however, the county’s survival is not in danger. It has achieved substantial support over time due to specific responses provided in traditional services and because of the legitimacy it has acquired by its long tenure. Population shifts are pushing counties toward filling public service gaps in the urbanized unincorporated areas and toward providing area-wide services. The county has a potential here that is getting attention because of the need for such a unit of government in the modern metropolity. The counties will either obtain the tools necessary for response to local problems and begin to use them, or they will revert back to their original status as arms of the state, leaving other governmental units to provide most of the specialized local public service needs of metropolitan areas.

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