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Democracy Works: The People Vs. The Bureaucrats In Flint

Ashley Nickels
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This week, we explore the questions of who governs in a democracy and what happens when the power is taken away from the people. Ashley Nickels, associate professor of political science at Kent Sate University, examines these questions through the lens of a municipal takeover in Flint, Michigan in 2011 that replaced elected city officials with an emergency manager appointed by the state. Nickels also challenges the notion that policy can be removed from politics and treating it as such has implications for democracy. The focus on austerity and cost cutting set the stage for the Flint water crisis in 2014 and, Nickels argues, left the city's residents with little power to change the situation. 

Nickels is the author of Power, Participation, and Protest in Flint, Michigan: Unpacking the Policy Paradox of Municipal Takeovers, which won the American Political Science Association's  Robert A. Dahl Award in 2020 — an award given to recognize scholarly work in the field of democracy. Michael and Candis discuss how Nickels's work picks up some of the questions that Dahl's landmark work on democracy introduced in the mid-20th century.

Jenna Spinelle is the Communications Specialist for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State. She is responsible for shaping all of the institute's external communication, including website content, social media, multimedia, and media outreach.