Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/285

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279
COMMISSION GOVERNMENT

ciently typical. Commission government has drawn its elective officials from the class of sympathetic political leadership as well as from the "reform" or "intellectual" elements of the community. It would perhaps be accurate to say that the new system has generally meant a higher grade of politicians in the public service. "All this goes to show," writes a Houston citizen, "that such a thing as lifting municipal government from the level of politics is an iridescent dream." Perhaps it is best that this should be so; if commission government can make the popular leader a careful, responsible supervisor of the city's business, it will do what the aldermanic system has never succeeded in doing.

The logical result of the persistence of this political habit of the people to elect the popular political leader to public office has been usually the intrusting of the commission governments to men of sound but ordinary ability. Here again we encounter the mistaken impression which has had wide currency among those interested in the new form of government, that the commission governments have been run by men of extraordinary personal powers, by experts in administration. A review of the personnel of the new governments does not reveal the grounds for this assumption. Even the commissions which have had the greatest success in administration—for example, Galveston, Houston, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Haverhill—have not been made up of men of unusual attainments.

An appreciation of the deep-rooted tendency of our voters to place their cities in charge of men of ordinary ability has led some practical students of the question to assert that the commission plan is foreordained to failure because it provides for the popular election of the city's administrative department heads. "The rock upon which American cities have split is the popular election of administrative officials," a critic observes. The objection touches on the vital problem of the commission government—what the exact function of the elected commissioner should be. But, in the present stage of the development of commission government, it is not possible accurately to designate the commissioner's function as uniformly supervisory or administrative. In some cities he is in effect an active superintendent devoting his entire time to the details of his department; in the majority of cases, however, he acts in a supervisory rather than administrative capacity, and the actual work of the department is carried on by subordinate officials of technical training and experience. The varying charter provisions, some requiring the commissioner to devote all of his time to the work of his office, and others permitting him to devote but a part of his time, show plainly that the real nature of the commissioner's function is not yet clear even in the minds of the proponents of the new system.