Слике страница

278. The Mayor and Council.


of stockholding by cities in private corporations, and provisions relating to franchises and to the regulation' and ownerships of public utilities. Even the briefest mention of them is beyond the scope of these pages.

The Maryland constitution,' however, by requiring for Baltimore, and that of Virginia, by requiring for cities generally, the continuation of the council as the legislative organ of the city, touch directly upon the subject of the present chapter and may well introduce its discussion of the council plan of city government. Both constitutions require that the council shall consist of two houses, but Virginia authorizes the general assembly to permit one house in cities of ten thousand inhabitants and under and also to establish, with the consent of the city concerned, other forms of governmental organization. Considerable detail relative to various associated matters is given, but nothing else that is unique among the constitutions.

Until within the last decade, municipal government in the United States was almost without exception conducted by a mayor and council. In early days the council was the only governing body: the mayor, according to the English system copied in the colonies, was simply the presiding officer, "a chief colleague among the councilmen." Usually he was chosen by them

5e. g., Ark., XII, 5; Miss., VII, 183; Tenn., II, 29; Va., XVIII, 185.
e. g., Ky., 163, 164; Mich., VIII, 25, 28.

Ariz.. XV, 3; Cal., XII, 23; XIV, 1; Ky., 199; Okla., IX, 18: Va., VIII, 125;
XII, 156b. See, also, Cal., XI, 19; Okla., XVIII, 7.

Cal., XII, 23a; Colo., XX, 1; Mich., VIII, 23, 25; S. C.. VIII, 5; Va., VIII, 125. The Michigan authorization, to be subject to three-fifths vote of electors, is as follows: "Any city or village may acquire, own, establish and maintain, either within or without its corporate limits, parks, boulevards, cemeteries, hospitals. almshouses and all works which involve the public health or safety."

The same constitution also provides (VIII, 22) that "subject to the provisions of this constitution, any city or village may acquire, own and operate, either within or without its corporate limits, public utilities for supplying water, light, heat, power and transportation to the municipality and the inhabitants thereof; and may also sell and deliver water, heat, power and light without its corporate limits to an amount not to exceed twenty-five per cent. of that furnished by it within the corporate limits; and may operate transportation lines without the municipality within such lines as may be prescribed by law: Provided, That the right to own or operate transportation facilities shall not extend to any city or village of less than twenty-five thousand inhabitants."

See, also, Ariz., XIII, 5; Cal., XI, 19; 0., XVIII, 4, 5, 6, 14; Okla., XVIII, Concerning water supply, La., 313, 314, 316; N. Y., VII, 7; Utah, XI, 6; Wyo., XIII, 5.


"For discussion of almost every phase of the relationship between cities and public utilities, see the Proceedings of the Conference of American Mayors on Public Policies as to Municipal Utilities, Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science, LVII, Jan., 1915.

1XI, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9; XI-A, 3.

VIII, 117, 121, 122, 123. See, also, Ky., 160.

3Munro, American Cities, 209.

from their own number or appointed by the governor; only irregularly, in the smaller places, was he chosen by the people. Usually councillors were popularly elected, but in a few the council was self-perpetuating. Its duties were legislative, execu tive and judicial, of which the last were, curiously enough, most important.

After the revolution and the adoption of the federal constitution, the influence of the national organization with its bicameral legislature and its principle of separated powers began to make itself felt in city charters as well as state constitutions. A council of two houses became the general rule. The mayor gradually came to be a distinct organ of government, and, like the councillors, a popularly-elected official. As early as 1796 the mayor of Baltimore was given the veto power and by the middle of the nineteenth century the mayor's power had grown so as fairly to balance that of the council. The latter, however, continued its legislative functions and, through its committees, directed the administration of the city. It had grown also in power and was at the summit of its influence, so that "counciliar supremacy" was typical of the times. Then came the administrative breakdown caused by the increasing complexity of municipal affairs and the declining caliber of the councilmen. The state legislatures intervened; popularly elected or even state-appointed-administrative officers were introduced and the mayor forged ahead as the most important factor in municipal government. The degree of his predominance, however, varied greatly among the individual cities. The appointment of administrative officers has gradually been left more and more to the mayor and he has come to be the recog nized administrative manager of municipal affairs. Meanwhile, the council in the majority of the cities has become unicameral again, but this simplification appears to have had little if any effect upon the proportion of governmental power which it exercises. Councilmen are usually elected to represent individual wards. Two large cities, Boston and San Francisco, however, have general tickets and a combination of the two methods is sometimes used when the council is bicameral.

As a type of government the mayor and council plan must be considered simply as a reflex of the political organization of


Early Com


the states and the nation. The advantages claimed for the system of checks and balances, namely, that it prevents high-handedness in the formation and execution of policy are obviously of diminished importance in a government whose policies are practically all determined by organic law or popular decision upon individual questions. This is the case in the cities of today and their governmental functions are, consequently, characteristically administrative in nature.

Born of imitation, not of reason or experience, the mayor and council governments have signally broken down in several inmission Gov- stances of municipal crisis. Thus in New Orleans, as a result of the war and reconstruction, municipal affairs became so intolerable that, in 1870, their administration was placed under the control of a mayor and seven commissioners, and remained so until 1882, when the council plan was readopted." Mobile and Selma, Alabama passed through a similar experience a little later.

280. Galveston

and Des Moines.

In 1879 Memphis, as a result of a succession of yellow fever epidemics, had become impoverished and greatly depopulated. The number of its inhabitants had, indeed, declined some seventeen per cent. in the previous decade, and the city had accumu lated a debt equal to nearly one-third of the value of its taxable property. In place of the existing municipal corporation, the taxing district of Shelby County was created and its government entrusted to a board of public works consisting of five members and to governing council of three. The latter managed the affairs of the city until 1891. Sanitary conditions improved, a new water supply was obtained, streets were repaved and population nearly doubled during the next ten years. Nevertheless, like its predecessors, this instance of commission gov ernment proved ahead of its time and did not recommend itself for permanent adoption.

The Galveston commission government of 1901, however, which was formed to restore the city from the ravages of the tidal wave disaster of the previous year, inaugurated a movement that has, during the last few years, established a new type

"This, it should be noted, was several years before Congress established commission government in the District of Columbia (1878).

"Scroggs, Wm. O., Commission Government in the South, Annals, Vol. 38, pp. 682, seq.

Acts of Tenn., 1879, ch. XI.

of American city government. The new system concentrates in the hands of a small board of officials-usually five-all munici pal powers and functions and depends upon the ease and informality with which the members of a small body can work harmoniously and be held responsible for their actions, to furnish effective and at the same time popular government.

The Galveston commission government charter, though intended as a temporary remedy, resulted in such an immense improvement over the old regime that the city determined to continue under it permanently. It was quickly followed by similar charters in Houston and, after a few years, in other cities, both in and outside Texas. In 1908 commission government was established in Des Moines under a charter which has since served as a model for this manner of governing cities.

The commission or "council" provided for under the Des Moines plan consists of a mayor and four councillors, elected by the voters of the city at large for two-year terms. The mayor, by terms of the charter, is also head of the department of public affairs and, by majority vote of the council, each of the councillors is placed at the head of one of the other departments,-accounts and finances, public safety, streets and public improvements, and parks and public property. Civil service examination is authorized for the employment of the officials and employes of the various departments. In all of these provisions the Des Moines and Galveston types are essentially the same.

The Des Moines contribution lies in its adoption, as methods of popular control over the centralized power wielded by the commission of the initiative, referendum and recall, and nomination by general non-partisan primary. All important franchises must be submitted to popular vote before going into effect.8


Commission government has spread with phenomenal rapid- Wide ity so that at present several hundred1 cities-mostly of less than Commission

"Laws of Ia., 1907, p. 48. For amendments, see, ib., 1907, 53-63: 1911, 37-40. The full text of the original charter is printed by E. S. Bradford: Commission Government in American Cities (1911), pp. 312, seq. See, also, C. A. Beard: Digest of Short Ballot Charters (1911), which includes the more important of the early commission charters.

For an Iowa account of commission government, see B. F. Shambaugh : Commission Government in Iowa: the Des Moines Plan, printed by the State Historical Society, 1912.

1Oct. 1, 1915,-357, excluding city managed cities, Washington, D. C., and St. Paul, Minn. In Kan. alone there are 40.

Adoption of

282. Theory of Commission Government.


The City

100,000 population, but including Buffalo with some 460,000 people,-have adopted it: few electorates have failed to vote favorably upon the question when presented to them and, excepting Denver, in no important instance has a commission city returned to the old type of mayor and council government.

The underlying principle of the commission plan lies in the fact that the government of a city is chiefly a matter of routine administration, the successful operation of which requires merely business-like methods. Rarely do questions of policy arise such as legislatures are expected to debate and weigh with care-and when they do they are of slight moment and of such simplicity that the people may intelligently vote upon them directly or entrust them to the good sense of administrative officers. The essential requisite of a satisfactory city government is, therefore, administrative efficiency, and administrative efficiency is best obtainable through a small body of persons who give their entire time to the work and are not hampered by checks and "red tape." A city commission is usually given a free hand and encouraged to act, but the people retain, through the initiative, referendum and recall, a method of preventing their action from becoming effective should it prove unpopular. "It has," according to Mr. Oswald Ryan,2

always been recognized in American government that where responsibility is centralized there is no danger of a subversion of democratic institutions. The New England town-meeting system, with its concentration of all important powers in a small board is essentially similar in this respect to the commission plan, and the town-meeting plan has been universally admitted to be the most perfect form of democracy ever devised."

Most of the arguments in favor of centralizing the governmental powers of a city in the hands of five men applies with equal or greater force to such centralization in the hands of a single individual. Furthermore, it is probable that in small cities one man-preferably one with ample knowledge of engineering can easily manage all of the municipal functions and avoid the waste and friction which a conflict of ideas concern

2Commission Plan of City Government, American Political Science Review, V, 38 (51), 1911.

$It should be remembered, however, as Mr. Ryan says, that the town meeting, not the selectmen, appropriates money for town expenses.

« ПретходнаНастави »