While not exactly a local "government", homeowners associations are of particular interest in this context in that there are certain sorts of problems to which they seem like obvious and even necessary solutions, and yet I think they often highlight the worst of local government. A large part of the problem is sort of an averse selection or "attractive nuisance" feature they have, which is tied to the fact that the knowledge that someone is interested in serving on the homeowners' association tends to imply that that is not a person you would want to serve on the homeowners' association; they may attract some people who have a sense of duty that is not entirely misplaced, but they also draw anyone with an inclination toward officiousness, a certain kind of status-seeking, or peculiar axes to grind. The equilibrium here is that they be held in check by the constraint that normal civic-minded people find the prospect of getting elected, attending the meetings, and providing whatever other service is entailed slightly more obnoxious than putting up with the current board, which thereby consists primarily of people with at least slightly antisocial motivations.
One solution is something akin to Athenian democracy: part of your "homeowners association dues" is the obligation to occasionally serve on the board, which consists of a somewhat random sample of homeowners, which, as I noted, is likely to result in a majority that is at least less pathological than the group that would volunteer. I don't hate that solution, but I have in mind another set of solutions, driven by the same idea that what one needs is a system for attracting candidates for office who are motivated more strongly by something other than telling their neighbors what to do. What's particularly interesting is how squarely these three solutions fly in the face of the sort of thing that various progressive (in the best-preserved century-old sense of the term) and "good government" forces would tend to put forward:
- Allow, encourage, and maybe require that some of the board members come from outside the community;
- Circumscribe the job such that actually performing it is as unburdensome as is possible while getting the actually needed tasks handled
- Provide a salary for the job at a level that is at least on the brink of ridiculously generous.
So there's my advice: turn it into a well-paid sinecure open to outsiders in order that it best serve the electorate.