Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
CITIES, Administration of American. When the constitutions of the Union and of the several states were framed, but few cities were already in existence the charters of which antedated the revolution. These cities are in this country the only exceptions, historically considered, to the rule of law to which all municipal administration is subject in the United States, and which received the sanction of two successive decisions of the supreme court of the United States—in the cases United States vs. Railroad Company, 17 Wallace, 329, and New Orleans vs. Clark, 95 U. S., 653—that a municipal corporation is a subordinate branch of the governmental power of the state; it is one of its creatures, made for a specific purpose to exercise within a limited sphere the powers of the state. The state may withdraw its local powers and government at pleasure, and may, through its legislature, or other appointed channels, govern the local territory as it governs the state at large. It may enlarge or contract its powers or destroy its existence.
—This doctrine distinguished American cities very widely, both in theory and in practice, from the cities of other countries. A retrospective glance at the political origin of other cities may be of service.
—When men were nomads, wanderers in search of food, their settlements, like those of our Indians, were made with a view to contiguity to fresh water and a hunting ground, located like tourists' camps, at some spot near fish or game. The city, if such it may be called, of the tribes, was not only the seat of government, but the gathering spot of the tribe, and wandered with the tribe when emergency called for its departure. The city, as such, first had its origin and became a permanent fact when agricultural pursuits attached men to a spot of earth for which they would fight and die, and to take them thence was to deprive them of the means whereby they lived. To protect this spot of earth and to provide a refuge, in the event of attack, for the agricultural settlers of the tribe, some elevated spot near their flocks and farms was selected which could be inclosed with a wall, and where cattle could be congregated in a moment of danger, and a common defense made against the common enemy. In the progress of civilization, whatever was deemed sacred by this community, or whatever was symbolical of its religious belief or æsthetic culture, was permanently inclosed within that wall. There the temple was raised; there the theatre was erected; there the government was administered; there within that wall could the freeman take his part in determining upon the persons who were to wield absolute sway over him. The city was the government the country around it was tributary to the city. Almost all cities of antiquity had this origin, this extension and growth; and the old republics were city governments which in process of time had become sufficiently formidable to conquer vast territories, both contiguous to the city and situated across seas. But all these territories were tributary to the city and to the institutions of the city. Even the empire of Rome was the government of the world by a city. There was no Latin nation, in the modern acceptation of the term, having its seat of government at Rome; but the Roman aristocracy, originally as citizens and subsequently as equestrians, centurions, senators, consuls and emperors, governed the wide world through the power placed in their hands in the small territory upon which the city of Rome was located. Rome was in no sense the capital of the ancient world, as Paris is of France or London of England.
—The cities of the middle ages owe their origin to the mark organization, and to harbor facilities. The location of a minister or cathedral is one of the causes of the origin and development of cities. As the cities of the middle ages grew in size, they became the homes of manufacturing and commercial industry which in turn developed wealth and which invited attack both from kings and warrior nobles. The guild, which is another term for combination, was the organization of each particular trade, by which the elders of a trade regulated the mode of its conduct and determined upon admissions to its mysteries and the rules which were to govern it. The only analogy between the trades union of the present day and the guild of the middle ages is, that they were both trade organizations for the government of hours of labor and methods of administration; but here the analogy stops. The middle age guild was an organization of employers as well as the employed; indeed, the employed could not become members of the organization until they had served a number of years as skilled workmen: the employers were the governing body and the rules of the trade were determined by them. The several guilds within a community would select eldermen of their own number for general conference with other guilds; and thus in time the guilds became formidable and powerful bodies of citizens within the cities, to the sturdy arms of the members of which, and their training and skill, the political government of the city, or the bishop of the town, if the origin of the city happened to be a religious seat, was compelled to look in moments of danger. The trained band of the guilds were the militia of the middle ages, and maintained the integrity of the city, prevented its capture and repelled attacks instigated by the desire for plunder or territorial aggrandizement. From mixed motives, therefore, of conciliating these guilds and humiliating the nobles, the cities could and did obtain, from time to time, large concessions—in Germany called freibriefe, and in England patents—by which a certain amount of local independent government was secured; and they were permitted to establish courts of leet, which had criminal jurisdiction within the borders of the city, and succeeded in obtaining the establishment of civil courts for the adjudication of questions involving smaller amounts, independent of the imperial or regal courts. At the time of Edward I. The ingenious device suggested itself to that politic prince, obtain the moneys which he needed as a free gift from the cities, boroughs and towns of England. He caused two deputies from each borough within the country to be sent to parliament along with the two knights of the shire, with power to consent to what the king and his council would determine; and this is supposed to be the origin of popular representation. The boroughs derived popular representation from the council called by Simon de Montfort in 1265, in the war with the barons against king Henry III. He also caused the knights of the shire to be accompanied by representatives of the boroughs; these boroughs included the cities, towns and incorporated districts which by that time had already grown to considerable proportions, and which wrested from the kings of England large concessions in the way of local government. London had, as early as Henry I., acquired a patent; many cities of England were chartered before the thirteenth century. The merchants' or chapmen's guilds, which were to be found throughout the towns and cities in the middle ages, were bound to each other by oaths and pledges; they paid a common contribution to the purse of the brotherhood; they built by their joint purse the guild hall, wherein they met to transact their affairs and occasionally to feast together; they punished fraud committed by one guild brother upon another; they assisted each other in times of sickness and adversity. When charters could not be obtained from the fear of kings and lords, they bought them out of the common purse. Being composed of freemen, and including all the more energetic and thriving and able inhabitants, these merchants' guilds became, by successive steps, what were subsequently called a corporation of boroughs. The courts leets were transferred from the barons to them, as an organized part of the community; they were the men who were styled, in charters and public documents, the "burgesses and good men of the town." In the "History of Leicester," by James Thompson, an account is given of the earliest days of these guilds, which opens up to us the functions and details of modern municipal officers. A meeting of the guild was originally known in the rules by the name of "Morwenspeche." As among the Germans, all consultations were connected with some convivial feast; a common building was constructed, in which the rude banquets and deliberations of the less wealthy freemen were held; and thus the Saxons brought the guild hall with their other customs into England. At their head stood the eldermen or aldermen; at the head of the aldermen stood the mayor or oldest aldermen. The form of the oath is preserved by Mr. Thompson, which is interesting as illustrating the fact that the guild is the primitive city government. It runs as follows: "This hear ye, Mayor and Brothers of the Guild: That I lawfully the laws of the guild will keep, and my guild in all respects will follow, whether among my brethren of the guild or whether I scot in the bishop's fee; and that I will warn my mayor and the good people of the commune if I know of any man who merchandises in the franchise who may be able to enter into the guild; and that I shall be obedient and observe all the commands of the mayor and his sons; and the franchises and the good customs of the town according to my power I will maintain. So God and his saints help me! Amen."
—The charters of the English cities were as various as their sites, but they all involved local self-government and wide suffrage in the selection of the government. At the time of queen Elizabeth, however, the courts held that, although the right of election was, by the original constitution or charter, in the whole assembly, still from usage, even within the time of memory, the by laws may be presumed giving the right of election to a select class, instead of the whole body. This decision was extorted from the judges by the crown with a view of establishing its own select classes in the various municipalities, the more readily to control the municipalities, which had by that time become formidable and had answered their purposes of checks against the nobles, but were intended to be shorn of their power to be checks against the prerogatives of the throne. As a result of this, the right of election being conferred upon a select few instead of the whole body, and the numerous changes which were brought about by the revocation of city charters in the reign of Charles II., the English municipal corporations, down to the great reform act of 1835, were close corporations, in which nepotism, wastefulness, ignorance and a considerable degree of venality governed the community; in which there was complete severance between the interests of the governors and the governed. There was no uniformity in their constitution or powers, the corporations was not the town or place, but a corporate body situated within it; and Glover says, in his historical summary of the corporate system of Great Britain and Ireland, as to the conditions of the municipal corporations prior to 5 and 6 William IV., chap. 76, that the number of corporators in some of these municipalities varied from 12 to 5,000, but usually averaged from 50 to 200. The titles to freedom citizenship generally comprehended those arising from birth, servitude, imperial purchase, gift or election.
—The governing bodies were formed by the close and corrupt system of self-election. In a great majority of municipalities the corporate officers, such as the mayor, or the other head of the corporation, the recorder, were frequently unprofessional, and the town clerks were appointed by the self-elected governing body from its own conclave. The most common and most striking defect in the constitution of the municipal corporations was, that the corporate bodies existed independently of the communities among which they were found. The most flagrant abuses arose from the perversion of municipal privileges to political objects. Thus the inhabitants had to complain, not only that the election of their magistrates and their municipal functionaries was made by a special class of citizens whose state in the community was no larger than their own, or by the persons unconnected with the town, but also of the disgraceful practices by which the magisterial office was frequently obtained, and wherein those who, by character, residence and property, were best qualified to control its municipal affairs, were excluded from any share in the election or management. The councilors were self-elected and held their office for life. When a death occurred, the remaining councilors supplied the place of the deceased. The commissioners, therefore, who were appointed by parliament to investigate the subject, reported that the municipal corporations of England and of Wales neither possessed nor deserved the confidence or respect of his majesty's subjects, and that a through reform must be effected before they could become what they ought to be—useful and efficient instruments of local government. During the same year of the report, lord Brougham succeeded in causing the passage of the municipal corporation act, already referred to. (Dillon of Municipal Corporations, 3rd ed.. p. 49.)
—This act of 5 and 6 William IV. inaugurated a general scheme of municipal government for all the cities therein named, exempting therefrom London city alone; which by reason of its immense size, multifarious interests and vast government machinery, to deal with that corporation—or rather, conglomerate of corporations—made a special act necessary for its government; which was passed in 1849.
—The administration of the cities of continental Europe bears an analogy whatever to either English or American conditions. The city is part of the imperial system, or it may be a free city, independent of the imperial system; in any event, it is not what the supreme court of the United States has declared. American municipal government to be, a subordinate branch of the state government, exercising, at a locality, in conformity with the American theory of the decentralization of power, the functions of the state government. While we still speak of city charters, it is clear that the weight of judicial authority in this country has crushed out all charted rights or special privileges on the part of the city; that the laws organizing a city government are precisely like other legislative enactments, subject to modification, change or repeal, as the will of legislations may direct; and that cities may be created or extinguished, as the legislative body of the several states may determine. This absolute right of the legislature is limited, of course, in many states, by the constitution of the several states imposing restrictions upon the legislature as to interference with local self-government. The constitution of the state of New York and the constitutions of various other states, recognize the country, town and city of the state as regular subdivisions of the state for purposes of government, and thus prevent their extinction. Certain officers are recognized and their election or appointment provided for within the different localities, and thus the legislature can not appointment officers for the localities or authorize their appointment or selection by any but the local authority, nor take away the election of the officers who are to hold away in the locality from the voters thereof. These are important constitutional limitations upon legislative authority, which, however, as we shall presently see, can be largely evaded and made nugatory for good, by devices but too well known to the members of our legislative bodies.
—There is, therefore, no longer any close corporate rights on the part of the city, as the middle ages presented to us, nor independent, sovereign existences, such as the cities of antiquity were. We have lost in fact, though not in name, our chartered privileges as binding contracts with the state; and the acts which, from time to time, are intended to secure our municipal self-government, although called charters, are constantly subjects to sinister and ill-advised legislative interference. On the other hand, however, we have gained a constitutional polity of state which, to some extent, secures decentralization of political forms of power, and immunity from having a foreign election imposed upon the city government.
—We shall briefly examine the New England town system, the forms of administration of American cities, the advantages of these forms of administration, the defects which flow therefrom, and the possible remedies for these defects.
—The most succinct account of the New England town system is to be found in the last edition of Dillon's Municipal Corporations. He says: "In the New England town proper the citizens administer the general affairs in person at the state or corporate or town meetings, through officers elected by themselves. The towns are charged with the support of schools, for the relief of the poor, the laying out and repairing of highways; and are given power to preserve peace and good order, maintain internal police, and direct and manage generally, in a manner not repugnant to the laws of the state, their prudential affairs. And for defraying these and all necessary and lawful charges, they may levy and collect taxes. The New England town affords, perhaps, an example of as pure democracy as anywhere exists; all of the qualified inhabitants meet and directly act upon and manage and direct the management of their own local concerns. These meetings are held annually in February, or March, or April, and other meetings at such times as the selectmen of the town may order.
—As the town, however, grew populous and large, the system of meetings of the electors in their original capacity became inconvenient and impracticable; and hence, in New England towns gradually merged into cities, and that which was done by the direct meeting of citizens is subsequently attempted to be accomplished by representatives.
—In the case of People vs Detroit, 28 Michigan, 228, we have presented to us a case showing the necessity for a representative system in a populous place. The legislature had provided that an important question should be decided by a vote of the citizens' meeting. Two meetings were held, but the noise, confusion and violence prevented discussion and determination; and this provision had to be repealed.
—In the case of Eastman vs. Meredith, 36 New Hampshire, 284, the distinctive differences between the New England town—indeed, it may be said the American city—and the English municipal corporations, was clearly and well stated by chief justice Perely, who says: "It is to be observed that municipal corporations in England are broadly distinguished, in many marked respects, from towns in this and the other New England states. There is no uniformity in the powers and duties of the English municipal corporations; they were not created and established under any general public law, but the powers and duties of each municipality depe3nded upon its own individual grant or prescription. Their corporate franchises were held of the crown by the tenure of performing the conditions upon which they had been granted, and were liable to forfeiture for breach of the conditions. They, indeed, answered certain public purposes, as private corporations do who have public duties to perform, and some of them exercised political rights; but they are not like towns (or cities) with us—general, political and territorial divisions of the country, with uniform powers and duties defined and varied from time to time by general legislation. Towns in New England do not hold their powers ordinarily under any grant from the government to the individual corporation, or by virtue of any contract with the government, or upon any condition, expressed or implied. They give no standing, in their corporeal capacity, to the laws which impose t6heir public duties or fix their territorial limits." And referring to the case then before the court, he added: "In all that is material to the present inquiry municipal corporations in England bear much less resemblance to our own in this country than to private corporations which are charged with the performance of public duties; and for these reasons the English authorities are but remotely applicable to the present."
—The charters of cities—charters so called, but really mere acts of the legislature of the various states of the Union—are frameworks of government made by the legislature for the city, as a necessity either of the city's growth, or as political party necessity may dictate. The general form is, investing the inhabitants of a particular territorial limit with corporate functions; defining the territory, dividing up the city into wards or districts; fixing the time for holding elections of city officers, setting forth who they shall be and what their functions respectively shall be; enumerating the powers of the city councils, and with more or less precision, the powers of the respective heads of departments; clothing the mayor, or the mayor and the common council, with power of appointment and removal of heads of departments, sometimes with and sometimes with and sometimes without nor, and sometimes with and sometimes without the forms of a trial; clothing the common council with power to punish infringements of its ordinances, and laying down regulations for the grading and opening of streets, and providing a method and machinery of taxation. In many of the states of the Union there are general acts for the incorporation of villages, towns and cities, and in some of the states there are constitutional requirements imposing upon the legislature of the state the passage of such general acts, instead of special incorporations. Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Michigan have such general acts for the incorporation of towns cities and villages. The constitutions of several states make provisions against too arbitrary interference with the rights of these localities, so as to secure decentralization of power. (New York and Illinois.) These provisions have, however, failed to accomplish their end.
—Two mistaken roads seem to have been followed in all legislation in this country as to cities, and which have resulted in disaster. Insufficient analysis has prevented our people from seeing that a city is at one and the same time a decentralized portion of the general government of the state and a co-operative organization of property owners for the administration of private property. The mayor, when he enforces an ordinance for the preservation of the public health, or when he sits, as he does in some of the cities, as a civil committing magistrate, punishing those who have committed a crime against the laws of the state and the rights of its citizens, performs a state function at a locality, and is a public state officer deriving his authority from the suffrages of the citizens in whose midst he holds sway. The mayor, when he signs an ordinance for the grading and regulating of a street between certain avenues, involving the payment by the owners of property on such street of an assessment covering the expense thereof, is a mere instrument to make and enforce a contract between property owners for mutual convenience as to such regulation of a street, which by reason of the diversity of interests and the perversity of some exceptionally ill-conditioned human beings, it is inexpedient to leave entirely in the hands of individual property owners; and therefore the law makes contracts through the instrumentality of the mayor for them. The police department of a city is part of the general governmental function of the state. The department of public works, except so much of the activity of that department as may be connected with the care of docks, water-fronts and the removal of encroachments from public highways, is mainly occupied with this general co-operative work for real estate owners in the city. Almost all the larger expenditures of a city government, the consequences of which are imposed as a burden upon property by way of assessment, were, in times not very remote, borne by property owners without calling upon the government to perform that function for them. Not a century ago most of the cities of Europe were not lighted, and persons who desired to enjoy the luxury of a light at night in the streets, either employed servants to walk before them with torches; or, if they wished to afford easy access to their houses at night, they employed servants to stand with torches or hung up lamps before their houses after sundown. When the desire for lighting became general, the character of this service or function was not changed, only instead of each particular property owner bearing his own expense, the city was uniformly lighted, and the expense, borne evenly between the owners of property. At first it was only a few streets that were thus lighted, and the expense borne by the inhabitants of those streets. And thus with paving, sewering and other matters strictly appertaining to the management of real estate, as contradistinguished from governmental functions.
—In applying the doctrine of universal suffrage indiscriminately to the management of mere property interests as well as to governmental functions, a state of affairs has been created in American cities by which the great mass of non-taxpayers and unthrifty inhabitants obtain the control of all these expenditures relating to property, in which they have, it is true, a remote interest, but no direct pecuniary interest, and which puts the tax payers at the mercy of the tax eaters. It gives the handlings of vast sums of money (in the city of New York upward of $30,000,000 a year) to the political organizations of the cities and state; makes the city offices the largest source of revenue to the various political parties; and makes the possession of the more important municipal offices largely the turning point of success or non-success of one or the other political party in the state. Hence, however carefully may have been framed the constitutional provisions intended to prevent the interference by the legislature or of the state officers with the city government, the American politician has found means to make such constitutional provisions almost wholly nugatory and waste paper. For instance, the citizens of a city elect a democratic mayor and a republican, at the head of its public works, and a republican common council. By the organic law of the city government the mayor is clothed with power to remove the chief of public works, and has a large amount of discretionary power in relation to the other departments of the city government, and he is the dispenser of patronage within the city. The republican legislature, determined to have in the hands of its own party the expenditure of the $30,000,000 raised and expended in a city like New York, thereupon passes a law amending the charter of the city of New York, by which, without changing in the least the names of the officers or depriving the citizens of New York of the right to elect their officers, they completely redistribute their functions, strip the mayor of all substantial power, place thenceforth the power of appointment and removal of officers in their republican common council, give to the head of the department of public works all the executive power which had therefore been possessed by the mayor; and while the people still have their mayor whom they have elected, he is a mere shadow, a political form wholly disemboweled, so far as the legislature could effect that result, and his whole vital force transferred to other departments.
—A notable instance of these devices was performed by the charter of 1870. A contest was then waged to dethrone the infamous ring which held sway in the city of New York. The ring became apprehensive that the people might, under the leadership of what was called "the young democracy" oust them from power, toward which the first step had been taken by the removal of Mr. Tweed, who was then deputy street commissioner, by the then street commissioner, Mr. George W. McLane. The loss of his office threatened, of course, his political influence. The Tweed charter was immediately thereupon passed by a legislature subservient to the ring, vacating the office of street commissioner, annihilating the Croton department, vesting all the powers in the commissioner of public works within five days after the passage of the act, and requiring Mr. A. Oakey Hall, the then mayor and one of the ring, to appoint that commissioner. The term of the new commissioner was to be for four years, two years, therefore, beyond the time of the mayor's own election. The common council was stripped of all legislative function, the power of the governor to remove city officers on charges was repealed, and all powers of removal were taken away from the city government. Impeachment was restricted by the condition that the mayor alone could prefer charges; a trial could only be had if every one of the six judges of the common pleas were present; the offices of three of the five heads of departments were granted for five years under the form of appointment by the mayor, and of course it was prearranged who the appointees were to be, to Peter B. Sweeney, Thomas C. Field and Henry Hilton thus superseding Mr. Green and removing Messrs. Stebbins, Russel and Blatchford. The department of police was remodeled and the terms extended to from five to eight years, with the power of the mayor to appoint; and he accordingly appointed Messrs. Henry Smith, B.F. Manierre, Bosworth and Brennan. The departments of health, fire, excise, charity, taxes and building, by an amendment passed a few days later, were also remodeled. Mr. Connolly and Mr. O'Gorman, who had already been respectively the comptroller and corporation counsel, were reappointed for terms extending long beyond the period of the mayor's term for which he was elected. Of the men who were thus appointed many of them proved public thieves. The Mayor, Tweed and Connolly were a board of special audit for the purpose of determining the validity of outstanding bills against the city; and the first result of the amendment to the charter was a meeting on the fifth day of May, 1870, at which an order was made for the payment of six million three hundred and twelve thousand five hundred dollars ($6,312,500) of which only about 10 per cent., as was subsequently shown in evidence in the trials against the ring, had any valid basis whatever. Of these six millions of dollars, Tweed got about 31 per cent., a brother of Sweeny, 10; Watson, 7; 20 went to other parties in the interest of the ring; 33 nominally went to mechanics, but two-thirds of the nominal amount of their bills was inflation and was again subdivided with other knaves. During the year 1870 these public officers of the city of New York stole not less than $15,000,000 outright, and the amount could not have aggregated less than $25,000,000 or $30,000,000. If to the amount stolen outright is added the amount extravagantly and wastefully expended in sinecure offices, the performances of unnecessary work, fraudulent contracts, and what not, it is safe and within the mark to say that one-half of the city debt of $130,000,000 represents absolute plunder. This would have been largely impossible if the line of demarcation had ever been strictly adhered to, of intrusting to the property owners who were immediately to be affected thereby, the expenditure of public moneys relating to property only. Many of the more mischievous legislative interferences with municipal government would have been impossible had the powers to be wielded by public officials, as well as their mere official names and a description of the locality of the voters who are to elect them, been intrenched and imbedded in the constitutions of the states.
—The ills from which New York suffered were borne by other cities of the Union to a lesser extent, but still to some considerable degree. The United States census of 1880 exhibits the startling fact that the total bonded indebtedness of the cities of the United States is $682,096,460, of which the amount created before 1860 is $51,222,598; adding to that sum the whole total of $71,071,140, represented by the refunding of accruing indebtedness during the 20 years, and we have a total of $122,293,738 of indebtedness in 1860, as against $682,096,460 in 1880, "a trembling contribution" not appreciable counterbalanced by either increase of population or increase of wealth during the past 20 years.
—The commission appointed in 1877 by the governor of Pennsylvania say, in their report, "that a carefully prepared table, showing the increase of population, valuation, taxation and indebtedness of 15 of the principal cities of the United States from 1860 to 1875, exhibits the following result: increase in population, 70.5; increase in taxable valuation, 156.9; increase in debt, 270.9; increase in taxation, 363.2." Every increase in population of a city and enlarged area of assessment should normally result in a decrease of debt per capita, and a decrease in taxation: because both the natural increase of the population and the increase in taxable valuation of properties would naturally create economies in all the services rendered to a great city which the municipal administration undertakes to supply.
—To cite a few examples of the growth of debt from 1867 to 1875, we shall take such cities only the public works of which were, in the main, already constructed before 1867. The debt of New York in 1867 was about $33,000,000; in 1875, about $123,000,000. The public debt of Philadelphia in 1867 was $35,000,000; in 1877, $64,000,000. St. Louis, in 1867, about $5,500,000; in 1877, $16,500,000. Pittsburg, in 1867, $3,000,000; in 1877, $13,000,000 Chicago, in 1867, $4,750,000; in 1877, $13,456,000.
—In 1876 a commission was appointed in the state of New York to consider the evils incident to city administrations, and to device a plan for the government of the cities of the state of New York. The commission were unanimously of opinion that some radical change in the method of selecting officers and giving fixity of power in the hands wherein it was lodged for city government, must be made, and that nothing short of constitutional amendments would reach the evil so as to prevent this mischievous legislative interference from year to year. The commission drew attention to the fact that the debt of the city had grown from 1850, when its population was 515,000 and its indebtedness $12,000,000, to $18,000,000 in 1860, and to upward of $100,000,000 in 1871. The expenditures of the city were, in 1853, $3,230,000; in 1870, about $30,000,000. Of this debt, the commission says, "the larger part of it represents a vast aggregate of moneys wasted, embezzled or misapplied." The cost of opening and improving highways or for putting sewers in streets is, of course not included in this vast aggregate of moneys annually levied and debt rolled up, because the cost of those improvements are by way of assessments levied directly again upon the land, and they never figure as part of the ordinary expenditures of the city. The main causes of the existing evils, the commission found to be, first, incompetent and unfaithfully governed boards and officers; secondly, in the introduction of state and national politics into municipal affairs; thirdly, in the assumption by the legislature of the direct control of local affairs. To prove to what proportions the evil of the multiplicity of laws relating to the city of New York had grown, the commission quoted a remark made by chief justice Church in a judicial opinion: "It is clearly unsafe for any one to speak confidently of the exact condition of the law in respect to public improvements in the cities of New York and Brooklyn; the enactments with reference thereto have been modified, superseded and repealed so often and to such an extent that it is difficult to ascertain just what statutes are in force at any particular time." (62 N. Y. R., 459.)
—The remedies suggested by the commission were contained in a series of section of a proposed article of the state constitution, by which the legislature was prohibited from passing any law for the opening, making, paving, lighting or otherwise improving or maintaining streets, etc., and all such authority was conferred absolutely upon the city government; and except by vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each legislative chamber it could not impose any charge of any kind on any city or civil division of the state. The proposed amendments required that all local work or improvement in any for a city, before it becomes a charge upon the city, shall be passed by the board of aldermen of the city. The legislature was intended to be made powerless to make any change in the organization or in the distribution of powers in the city government or in the terms of tenure of office, unless by an act passed upon the application of both the board of aldermen and of the board of finance, respectively, to be first approved by the mayor; or, in lieu of such application by the city authorities, the act making such a change was to receive the sanction of two successive legislatures. The commission, recognizing the fact that a city administration was in part the administration of private property and in part a government, sought to organize a board of finance, to be elected by payers of upward of $250 rent a year, or owners of $500 worth of property on which taxes are paid. This board of finance, however, was to have no initiative as to expenditure, but simply to exercise a veto power on proposed expenditures by other departments of the city government and a confirming power as to the appointment of the two officers only, the comptroller and the corporation counsel, who, by their combined acts of mal- or non-feasance, might heavily charge the city with debt. The commission, recognizing the fact that the passions engendered by the annually recurring party strife for the election of state officers prevented its citizens from calmly considering the merits of city officers who may at the same time be voted for, recommended and framed a section of the proposed article to secure spring elections, so as to separate city politics from state and national politics. Restrictions were imposed on the creation of debt, and an amendment to the state constitution was suggested, by which minority representation could be fairly tested in city government. This effort at reform failed, because the legislature for 1878 neglected to submit the constitutional amendment to the people. In the interim between the submission of the report, which had been received at the time of its issue with considerable favor, and its proposed submission by the legislature, a demagogic cry of "disfranchisement" had been raised against the scheme, because of the creation of a board of finance; and politicians of both parties were apprehensive that any step taken by them to forward the commission's plan by voting for it in the legislature or aiding in having it submitted to the people might result in harm to them; they therefore united in ignoring the work of the commission in the legislature next succeeding the submission of the report; and it thus failed of adoption.
—Other states, notably Pennsylvania and New Jersey, moved by the same pressure, (Elizabeth, N. J., having actually become insolvent in consequence of the load of its public debt), appointed commissions to devise a plan for the general government of their cities. Both these commissions, warned by the cry which had been raised against the plan of the New York commission by politicians and demagogues, refrained from making any recommendation involving a discrimination, if not a limitation, of the suffrage, as to the financial officers of the city, but in other respects dealt with the subject very much in the same spirit as the New York commission, and the labors of which unfortunately met with the same disastrous result.
—The other mistaken step which has been taken is, that in changing from the pure democracy of the New England town to the representative system, we have not in the representative system preserved the pure democracy by the representation of the whole community, instead of a mere majority.
—The mistaken course here referred to is one from which our representative system suffers as a whole, the most injurious consequences of which are, however, felt where population is most dense Modern democracies must use the representative system for the taking of the sense of the community, for reasons already referred to. While in the representative body so selected, the majority, of course, should govern, it by no means follows that the majority only should be represented; but on the contrary, no true majority government can be had by means of the representative system unless all are represented. All the varieties of minority representation which, since the labors of Mr. Fisher in this country, and Mr. Hare in England, have been suggested, the cumulative plan, the list system, the single vote, the preferential plan, etc., with which students of political economy and government are more or less familiar, have in view the representation of the whole of the community instead of a part; so that taking the sense of the whole instead of a mere majority. Had, by any accident, such a system prevailed in our cities, so that common councilmen and boards of aldermen had been elected upon a general ticket, and each voter had been permitted to vote for but one, or each voter to have as many votes as there were persons to be elected which he could cumulate and distribute as he saw fit, the tax payers could at all times, even without exclusive representation, have secured from among their number a proportion of representatives to sit in the board of councilmen or aldermen. This would have injected into the boards of aldermen or councilmen of cities as conservative element sufficiently powerful to have checked the reckless extravagance and peculations which have marked the administration of American cities within the past generation. Such a reform would not create the prejudice and opposition that is awakened by the suggestion of a limitation of the suffrage; indeed, it is more thoroughly democratic than is the prevailing system, and in all probability American cities will have to look to this method of representation as the only practicable way of securing a reasonably adequate representation in the municipal representative bodies of tax payers or men who have a stake in the community. The tentative efforts that have hitherto been made in the way of minority representation, by giving to the majority party two out of three aldermen to be run in a district and the minority the remaining one, is, on the whole, worse than the prevailing majority system; because it makes a nomination equivalent to an election, and makes the party caucus supreme, as they have nothing to fear from the adverse votes of the people. This system has been tried both in Illinois and in New York, without real success, to reach the deeper seated evils of our municipalities. Every sincere advocate of the reform known under the general term of "minority representation," should repudiate such party representation schemes, as in fact minority representation, and refuse to have the failure consequent upon such efforts laid to the door of totality or minority representation.
—In the New York charter proposed by the committee of seventy for the government of the city of New York, and which failed of adoption by the interposition of governor Hoffman's veto, the plan of minority representation proposed was to create a board of 40 aldermen, electing eight in each of the five senatorial districts in the city of New York by the cumulative plan, giving to each voter in the district eight votes and allowing him to cumulate them upon one or to distribute them among the eight, as he saw fit. This plan was intended to give freedom of election within party lines and would have enabled, had it been adopted, the tax paying voters in the district, independent of party lines, to get together and secure the nomination of at least two or three aldermen in each district: this result would have so disintegrated the political machines that, in all probability, within a short time after its adoption municipal politics would have been independent of federal and state organizations, by the introduction of a set of independent officers in the administration of the city, whose positions were acquired and held independent of the political machinery of both parties.
—The defects of administrative machinery of American cities lies generally, 1. In the appointment of departments not responsible to a central authority. The mayor, though made nominally responsible for the good conduct of the city government, is generally so hampered as to appointments and as to removals from office, that no true responsibility for malfeasance and malversations can be said to attach to him, if the nominally subordinate but really independent officers fail to perform their duty. The objection that is ordinarily raised against clothing the mayor with sufficient power to hold the subordinate officers responsible, is that by means of such power he can secure his own reelection. This evil, formidable as it is, is less mischievous, however, than the one which has been created in its place, the existence of a set of officers elected or appointed without direct responsibility to anybody. 2. The failure to intrust to the legislative body of the city sufficient legislative power. The city of New York is an illustration of this, where the chiefs of any one of the seven principal executive departments have larger discretionary power, greater patronage, and are more important officials than the whole board of aldermen. 3. The arbitrary interference of the legislature with city affairs and city officials, actuated in the main by purely party considerations, or personal interests. This creates such a multiplicity of laws in relation to the city administration that the legal condition of all the departments is one of hopeless confusion, and imposes debt charges one after another upon the inhabitants of a city, upon the assumption or necessity of which they have never had an opportunity to express an opinion.
—The course to be taken to reform these evils is: 1. Constitutional limitation upon the power to create indebtedness; 2. Constitutional inhibition on the legislature to interfere with the cities' administration, unless such legislation is demanded by the inhabitants of a city in some formal manner; 3, Remodeling of city charters so as to center responsibility in the mayor and the board of aldermen, and to subordinate the executive heads of departments to the central executive and to the legislative department of the city; 4, The introduction of minority representation, by which all the citizens may be fully represented in council or aldermanic chambers, or the creation of a board of tax and rent payers in lieu of minority representation, to act as a check upon extravagant expenditure.
—In the cities of Australia, where the democratic spirit has had almost as free scope as in the cities of the Union, a plan has been recently introduced by which, although all citizens are permitted to vote, additional votes are given to the larger tax payers in proportion to the amount of their ratable property. In an elaborate report on this plan made by Sir Charles Dilke and Mr. Ware to the Cobden club in 1875, it is claimed that this system works admirably. It is proper to add, however, that the additional votes arising from increased wealth have been limited to four at most in any one individual, so that the community has no reason to complain of any very serious discrimination in favor of the richer as against the less fortunate citizen.
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