Слике страница


From a short experience with county government I believe its present inefficiency results from two main causes: first, that all counties are under the same form of government regardless of their widely varying conditions; second, that the law provides for innumerable local elective minor officials with overlapping duties and divided responsibilities.

When our county government was first developed, the conditions in all counties were practically the same. The state then had a scattered and rural population. These conditions have changed until now a single city occupies more space than one entire county, as in the case of New York county. The cities of Buffalo and Rochester comprise practically all of the inhabitants of Erie and Monroe counties and most of their assessed valuations. Westchester county represents still a different development. This county contains three cities, one of which has a population of over 90,000; 25 villages, most of which have populations of from 5,000 to 18,000; besides 18 towns. The population of the entire county is well over 300,000 and the assessed valuation of property exceeds $360,000,000. Some of these 25 villages have a larger population than entire up-state counties and much greater assessed values. There are other counties of the state where the conditions are not fundamentally different from what they were a hundred years ago, the population being still rural and scattered. Owing to the fact that all counties have had the same form of government, each county, as it has grown in population and assessed property values, has had to resort to special legislation in order to meet its more complex needs. Such a method has resulted in producing a mass of conflicting and confusing statutes which are a serious block to efficiency and responsibility in administration.

Some years ago order was brought out of the chaos of special municipal charters by classifying the cities according to the size of their population and by providing within each class a choice of several forms of government. With the constitutional convention approaching, an opportunity is afforded of


giving the counties the benefit of a similar classification. Counties like Westchester should no longer be hampered by archaic laws that have ceased to meet the requirements of the county, nor should the smaller, less populated and less wealthy counties be compelled to adopt a form of government unsuited to their simpler needs.

Any change in the constitution permitting the classification of counties should be in the broadest form, leaving the legislature to determine the details of the classification. Such a revision should grant a much larger degree of home rule to the counties than that they now enjoy. It is absurd that every county must obtain special legislation at Albany in order to make even trivial changes in its administrative methods. In Westchester there are two large hospitals connected with the county almshouse, and all patients in these hospitals must first be committed to the almshouse as paupers before they can be admitted to the hospitals. There is a widespread desire in the county to have patients received in these hospitals without first stamping them as paupers, yet this cannot be done without special legislation at Albany, although the county pays the entire expense of these hospitals, and they are administered by a county official. Why should the time of the legislature be taken up by a purely local matter and why should not Westchester citizens admit patients to their own hospitals on their own terms? Such local and special legislation should be removed from Albany and located in the counties. This would result in much benefit both to the counties and to the state.

The confusion and lack of responsibility that come from electing innumerable officials and governing boards cannot be better illustrated than by the situation in Westchester. There are some 25 county officials and a board of 42 supervisors; there are 19 town boards of 7 members each; there are the 3 city administrations; besides the 25 villages, each of which has its board of trustees, consisting of from 5 to 12 members. To these bodies must be added 173 school districts each with a board of at least 5 trustees. These school districts do not conform to town or village lines and in several instances villages spread beyond the limits of one town. Yet all of these

218 independent boards can issue bonds and appoint officials without regard to any other board. Allowing five members to each school board, six to each village board, seven to each town board, two overseers of the poor to each town, forty-two supervisors and various elective town and village officials such as constables and assessors, we have a total of at least 1,400 elected office-holders in one county. Is it any wonder that under such conditions responsibility is divided, with increased taxes and decreased efficiency as the result?

There are many minor difficulties in our present form of county organization such as the lack of an administrative head of the government, making impossible therefore the coördination of the various departments; but the two difficulties that have been especially mentioned are the most important, namely, the uniformity in county government enforced by state laws and the multitude of minor elective officials. I see no way for the counties to meet their present and future responsibilities unless constitutional changes give them sufficient freedom to permit each county to adopt a form of government suited to its own constantly changing conditions. Such amendments must provide for a greater degree of home rule and must reduce the number of elective officers. It is only by centralizing control and thereby focusing responsibility that the standards of county government can be raised.

EDITOR'S NOTE.-A valuable contribution to the discussion of county government will be found in the president's address, by Graham Taylor, at the National Conference of Charities and Correction, Memphis, Tennessee, May 8, 1914. See "The County-A Challenge to Humanized Politics and Volunteer Coöperation," Proceedings of the Forty-First National Conference of Charities and Correction, pp. 1-14.

See also "Administration of Justice in the Modern City," by Roscoe Pound, Harvard Law Review, vol. xxvi, pp. 302-328.





Professor of Social Legislation, Columbia University; President of the Academy of Political Science

HE business of a constitution is to formulate in general


principles the mutual understandings of a people with respect to their government. It defines powers, it sets up agencies of government to execute and carry out the principles it formulates. In defining powers, a constitution partakes of the nature both of a grant of power and of a limitation of power. As has been said at the other sessions of this meeting, the problems of government are very different to-day from what they were twenty years ago when we last revised the constitution of the state of New York, and from what they were one hundred years ago or more, when we adopted many of the general statements of governmental powers which have found at place in each successive constitution of the state from the earliest times. The constitution when it defines powers necessarily sets limits, by virtue of such definition, upon the powers of government. There is therefore greater need than ever before in our history to examine the constitution, because the socialwelfare tasks of government are more pressing and complex from the point of view of the limitations that are set up, either consciously or unconsciously, and that operate to impede the carrying out of a special policy with respect to any of the problems that are enumerated here on our program this morning. and with respect to many others which might equally well be suggested.

We may perhaps render a service to the delegates to the constitutional convention, who are willing to pay any attention whatsoever to the proceedings of this meeting, if at this session we

1 Introductory address as presiding officer at the meeting of the Academy of Political Science, November 20, 1914.


follow the plan in the minds of the program committee and consider how far the subjects that are before us this morning present well-defined social policies that demand governmental action, that the people desire to have carried out, that have been widely considered and publicly debated, and upon which there is a well-known, definite public opinion, and yet upon which action is impeded, prohibited, or restricted by the statement of principles and the definition of powers which we find in the state constitution as it exists to-day.

The intelligent and scientific consideration of the problems of constitutional revision in New York or elsewhere demands a scrutiny of the constitution as a whole from the point of view of the limitations it places directly or indirectly upon the power of government, as an instrument or agency of society, to deal with social welfare. People are increasingly looking to government in all its forms-national, state and local-as a force working all the time and capable of exercising, as no other agency can, the collective power and intelligence of the community. The aid of this powerful force is sought in the accomplishment of their aim to establish and enforce standards and rules of conduct, such as those required in the control of industry, labor legislation, public health and sanitation, fire protection, and like activities; or to execute enterprises of such magnitude that no agency with less power and resources than government itself can undertake them, such as town-planning, social insurance, and so-called public utilities of various kinds.

There is no more significant change in the popular concept of government within the past century than that found in the desire of the people to use it as a powerful instrument to attain the positive ends of social welfare rather than as a negative and repressive agency to secure protection of life and property. As a recent writer on the British system of constitutional control of the functions of government very truly says:

In the modern state it is everywhere being recognized that there are possibilities of beneficial collective action which only the state, as representing the community, can effectively carry out. But at no time has it been more necessary to have clear ideas as to what the state

« ПретходнаНастави »