Managing through COVID-19: Reflections from city managers and lessons learned

Sebawit G. Bishu, Leonor Camarena, Mary K. Feeney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our research centers on the role of city managers in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. We begin by asking: What was the experience of city managers during the COVID-19 pandemic? Drawing on interview data from 87 US city managers we identify four emergent themes: crisis management, organizational and leadership contexts, unintended outcomes, and administrative impacts. We then apply Comfort's (2007) four Cs—cognition, communication, coordination, and control—to the interview data. We find that cognition, communication, and coordination are critical to city managers experiences in crisis management and response. Control is largely related to organizational and leadership contexts and a key aspect in determining their reported success. We also find that city managers view unintended and administrative outcomes as a result of their crisis management process that reinforce their strategies. From our inductive analysis, we propose a Complex Disaster Response Framework of City Managers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1367-1386
Number of pages20
JournalPublic Administration Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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