Special District Reform: Enhancement or Impediment

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Special district governments are probably the least understood and seemingly the least studied unit of government. They occupy a unique place in the American government structure and have been described by the Little Hoover Commission as the workhorses of public service delivery and represent the most common form of local government. Critics of special districts cite a lack of efficiency/effectiveness, accountability, and transparency as proof that special districts have something to hide or are outright corrupt. Supporters argue that special districts are not broken and there is no need for broad-brush reforms. This study will advance the discussion of the role special districts play in local government by providing a historical perspective of special districts and by analyzing the merits of two opposing perspectives, institutional reform (traditional public administration) and public choice, through the dimensions of service efficiency/effectiveness and accountability. Using a mixed-methods approach including qualitative and nonexperimental quantitative analysis of various performance indicators from existing data sources, comparisons can be made between smaller local water districts (public choice structure) with larger water districts (reformers optimum structure) to show whether there are any significant differences between the parameters measured. Analysis of the data confirmed that there are no significant differences between small water districts and large water districts in fiscal performance, organizational structure, and customer relations indicators. Additionally, there were no observed differences between small and large water districts and the relationship of board meeting statistics.
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree Doctor of Public Administration
Public Administration, Government