Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/283

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277
COMMISSION GOVERNMENT

is it so constructed as to provide for the performance of the actual administrative work by men of technical training and experience?

That a higher grade of municipal official has been secured under commission government is obvious from the higher standard of public service which, even opponents of the new government concede, has obtained under the new plan. It would be difficult to assign any one cause for this. No doubt the method of electing the commissioners at large, instead of by wards, has been largely responsible; for the municipal election is thereby made less susceptible to control by the ward boss. Thus, under election at large, the political leader who is known and recognized by the general electorate has an immeasurable advantage in the election over the ward leader who is without support outside the confines of his own ward—an advantage which tends to eliminate the latter type from the contest. Log-rolling is commonly regarded as the pernicious accompaniment of the ward plan of election, but log-rolling in itself is a lesser evil than the ward type of municipal candidate: the domination of the election by the ward politicians has frequently shut out the higher type of political leader from municipal politics.

However important a factor the general ticket plan of election has been in bringing a better grade of men into the city's service, the conspicuous character of the commissioner's office has probably been more important; for, if the elective officer under the commission plan had been wrapped in the same obscurity which gathered around that provided by the ordinary American city charter, it is extremely doubtful whether the character of the public official would have been perceptibly changed. On this point the experience of American cities speaks decisively. Nothing has been more influential in keeping competent men from the public service than the curtailment of the powers of municipal officers which took place during the latter half of the last century. In some instances these powers were juggled by the state legislature in the interests of the dominant party in the state; in others they were distributed among a number of newly created officials no one of whom was conspicuous for his power to accomplish results in the public service—a change which was likewise dictated by party interests. The result was the same in either case: whether the powers were usurped by the state legislature or divided among numerous municipal officials, the individual office became less important and the type of incumbent less efficient. Thus, the experience of these years proves that the character of a public office rises or declines according as the powers associated with it are increased or curtailed. It is this fact which furnishes the key to the success of the commission plan of city government.

In the commission government the public official has not been made conspicuous so much because of any cession of power to the municipality by the legislature as because of the concentration in a small govern-