Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/281

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
275
COMMISSION GOVERNMENT

THE REAL PROBLEM OF COMMISSION GOVERNMENT
By OSWALD RYAN
DEPARTMENT OF AMERICAN HISTORY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY.

THAT no problem has laid a severer tax on the political genius of our people than the perplexing problem of city government every student of our political experience knows. Ever since James Bryce called attention to "the one conspicuous failure of the American people"—the failure of the city governments—our publicists and statesmen have been searching restlessly for the model system of government which was to rescue the cities from inefficiency and misrule. Incidentally, a certain class of politicians has exerted itself with equal vigor to render ineffectual the efforts of these workers for a new municipal era.

To say that the new forms of government which constitute the fruits of this reform quest have been complete successes in practical operation would be as far from the truth as to say that they have been complete failures. Practically all of the new forms of city government launched during the past thirty years wrought some sort of improvement in municipal conditions; but, with one exception, it can not be said that any one of them proved so efficient as to give promise of becoming the prevailing municipal system in the United States. Each new plan was set in motion amid brilliant prophecies for the future city government; but in due time the charm which had brought the initial success wore off and the prophecies went unfulfilled. The tale was "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

A striking exception to the usual reform tradition is apparently revealed in the story of the commission plan of city government. About ten years ago a great tidal wave swept a substantial part of the city of Galveston, Texas, into the Gulf of Mexico, and the necessity arose for supplanting the notoriously inefficient aldermanic government of that city with a government which should be equal to the task of restoration. A plan was devised by which all municipal powers were intrusted to a single body of five men, each one of whom was given supervision of one of the city's departments, for the proper management of which he was held responsible. The new system, which came to be called the "commission plan," proved unusually efficient and was adopted by several other Texas cities. To-day more than a hundred cities located in all parts of the country are being admirably governed