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Municipal Park and Recreation Agencies Unite! A Single Case Analysis of an Intermunicipal Partnership

Troy D. Glover

Abstract


Between 1945 and 1975, the emergence of the welfare state in the United States and Canada led to the large-scale, direct delivery of several social goods and services, including parks and recreation, by the public sector (Pierson, 1991). By the mid-1970s, however, severe fiscal imbalance, deficit funding, and accumulated debt led citizens to call for greater fiscal responsibility and accountability on the part of the state. Consequently, public support diminished for existing levels of investment in social programs. In response, municipalities are now pursuing a wide array of methods to deliver public services, including parks and recreation. In particular, partnerships are very common and have spurned a litany of research dedicated to strategic alliances involving the public sector. Surprisingly, however, few studies within leisure research touch upon samesector alliances (e.g., public-public). Moreover, few scholars, if any, have chosen to investigate partnership arrangements involving two or more municipalities to deliver park and recreation services jointly.

This research, therefore, explores an intermunicipal partnership involving eight municipal parks and recreation agencies in Alberta, Canada. In short, the partnership involved a county contributing money to seven urban municipalities in exchange for allowing its residents to access urban center recreation facilities. An extensive review of related literature is provided, followed by a case study. A qualitative, single case design was employed using multiple sources of evidence that included semi-structured, in-depth interviews and document analyses. Insights from the partnership are compiled into a series of guidelines arranged around three stages in the intermunicipal partnership process: partner search, agreement preparation, and agreement maintenance. The author argues that certain conditions can either inhibit or enhance progress through each stage.

Practitioners, therefore, are encouraged to consider the following suggestions to assist them with the formation and maintenance of an effective intermunicipal partnership to deliver public park and recreation services: First, in selecting an appropriate partner, decision mal<ers must recognize (1) that intermunicipal partnerships involving the provision of leisure amenities cannot function effectively unless each partner is located within close proximity to each other; (2) municipal agencies interested in forming intermunicipal partnerships must be familiar with the resources that their neighbors possess before selecting an appropriate partner; and (3) intermunicipal partnerships are more effective if the partners have similar or shared values.

Second, in preparing a compatible agreement, (1) partners must outline the specific process for reviewing the terms of the agreements; (2) the agreement must state how lack of clarity and the inevitable incompleteness of the contracts will be dealt with; and (3) clear decision-malcing authority and the delegation of responsibilities must be assigned.

Finally, in maintaining a satisfactory arrangement, ( l) politicians and municipal residents must indicate their willingness to share existing, limited resources with other municipal agencies; (2) effective monitoring techniques must be applied to ensure efficient and effective service delivery; (3) participating agencies must recognize that their partner(s) remain a distinct entity with distinct ideals; and ( 4) trust building is necessary for a strong alliance.


Keywords


intermunicipal partnerships, alternative service delivery, recreation and leisure services, qualitative

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